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Energy: out of sight, out of mind?

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 20 October 2009 at 10:17 am

This week is Energy Saving Week, so it seems as good a time as any to think about energy and what it means to us. Despite the constant calls on us to be more energy efficient, the reality for most people is that we know next to nothing about our energy consumption.

Most of us have a grasp of how much money we spend on electricity, but this knowledge does not translate into an understanding of the relative costs of running individual lights and appliances according to recent research by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) in Bristol. That's not really surprising as a quarterly bill, sent after we've used the energy, is all most of us have to tell us about our electricity use.

We are all due to get smart meters in our homes by 2020, and it would make sense if they are designed to make it easy for us, the energy users, to understand and manage our electricity use better; rather than just to benefit the energy providers. CSE's research shows that if we leave it to the market, that won't necessarily happen. Most of the home energy displays currently on the market don't provide the information that people want.

To transform energy from something that's invisible, to something both visible and intelligible, the study came up with strong recommendations. Focus on money: the cost of energy use, not the power used. A wide range of people tested a variety of home energy meters and came up with a core specification for a useful meter.

An ideal smart meter should show at a glance whether current consumption is high or low using a graphic indicator. That enables you to see easily the relative (and cumulative) impact of each appliance you turn on. In addition, the default  screen should display the current rate of consumption as a rate of spend (£ per day), and a cumulative daily spend in £s.

Further options available through pressing a button would be the spend in the last seven days, day by day; spend in the last complete week, spend in last complete month; and spend in last complete quarter. The meter should be mains powered, but with an internal battery so you can take it from room to room.

Using the home energy meters had quite an impact on the people in the study, who knew very little about their energy consumption - particularly about what used more or less energy. Comments include:

"I learned how lazy I am with lights - I'm always leaving them on."

"I had the cooker and washing machine on at the same time - I was so shocked at the amount of kilowatts I was using! I am only going to wash when I have a full load."

"When using my vacuum to clean my car it got very hot. It seemed to be using a lot of electricity. I cleaned out all the filters and the monitor went down."

Electricity and gas are a relatively big expenditure for many of us, so the sooner that we get meters that help us understand what we're using the better. I hope too that the government takes notice of these findings, and doesn't leave the design of the smart meters to the market. After all, the energy companies want us to buy more of their product (however much the government tells them to help us reduce our use). 

If you don't want to wait, why not get a home energy meter. You might even win one if you rate your installer on YouGen!

Photo by Andy Butkaj


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1 comments - read them below or add one


HeatandEnergy.OrgComment left on: 23 October 2009 at 12:49 pm

I agree fully with your views however I fear that too much capability will alienate users as it will undoubtably make the meters more complicated.

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