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UK energy supplier Scottish & Southern Electric (SSE) is to offer credits to customers who cut their energy use or install low-energy appliances. It also wants to cut the carbon footprint of the power it generates by 20 per cent over the next nine years.

The credit scheme, which will come in later this year, will be for domestic customers only - in contrast to similar schemes from US energy giants such as PG&E, which also offers rebates for buying low-energy data centre gear.

An SSE spokesman said the company's business customers already have different tariffs and supply contracts.

SSE said an average residential customer could receive credits totalling £100 in the first year by taking a series of actions such as cutting their gas and electricity consumption by 10 per cent (worth a £15 credit), choosing paperless bills (a £10 credit), installing £200-worth of loft insulation, and buying one new low-energy appliance.

The credits will be a one-off payment, and are in addition to any savings on the energy bill. They can only be spent with SSE, however - either as a bill rebate, or to buy more low-energy products or appliances.

There is no word yet on what will count as a low-energy appliance. However, with more and more of the energy consumed in homes going into PCs and other high-tech gear, SSE can't achieve its aims by focusing on fridges and lightbulbs alone. For example, an old unmanaged PC may consume 150W or more - that's up to four times as much as a well-designed newer model with good power management.

"It may seem odd for a company to actively work to reduce demand for its core products, but we believe it's the only way forward that is sustainable for our business and for society as a whole," said Ian Marchant, SSE's chief executive.

"Homes account for a quarter of the UK's carbon emissions. We can't turn the clock back to the days of candles and log fires, but we can turn it forward and use modern technology to hasten the move towards a lower-carbon society. Put simply, we want to reward our customers for doing the right thing."

SSE claimed it supplies a higher proportion of renewably-sourced electricity than any other UK supplier, and said it has set a target of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide its power stations generate by 20 per cent per kilowatt.

It added that it also provides customers with electricity usage display devices, to show what is consuming power around the home.

Of course, there is an element of self-interest for SSE in all this. As well as the publicity that comes from going green, energy suppliers everywhere can see how fast demand is growing, and are anxious to avoid California-style brown-outs. Encouraging their customers to use less energy is, therefore, self-defence.

The credit scheme will come in before December, said SSE. It added that it needs to ensure its customer service and other systems will be able to support it properly. ®

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