Sunday, 5 February 2012

Turning energy monitoring into energy savings

You don't need to wait for a 'smart meter' to start monitoring your electricity usage. There are lots of energy monitors which you can buy,  starting from around £30, which clip on to your electricity supply cables and monitor the current. (This isn't actually the same as monitoring your energy usage, because we have alternating current which isn't always quite in phase with the voltage, but its close enough for most purposes). These monitors are an enormous advance in that your electricity usage is now visible to you. However, that isn't the same as making it easy to reduce. Here is some advice gleaned from my own experience, that of my friends, and from a recent article in Energy Policy magazine [1].

  • A supply monitor will help you keep an eye on your overall consumption but to see where the energy is going you need to check on individual appliances. This is much easier if you also have a few plug in monitors - some kinds will talk back to your central display. 
  • Most households only achieve savings of 5-15% - but this is still worth having and will quickly pay back the cost of the meter.
  • Whether your motivation is to save money or carbon emissions, the best strategy is to set yourself a daily or weekly target. However, you will cause yourself needless anxiety if this is too ambitious.
  • You will probably find yourself looking carefully at energy labels when you buy new appliances. The A-G rating isn't everything though - that only tells you how a product compares to other similar ones. A small B rated fridge could use less energy than a large AA one. The label should tell you the energy usage in kWh too, though you may need your glasses to read it.
  • People differ in what they regard as essential and what is a luxury. Do you really need the mood lighting in the sitting room? How much is it worth to you, to run towels through the tumble dryer to get that extra softness? Could you get by with a hand saw for chopping wood for the stove? The monitor makes the impact of those choices plain - but it's still your choice.
  •  To be useful your monitor needs to be visible,  so it had better look nice, and ideally you should be able to read the display from a reasonable distance and without glasses. Colour and design really do matter a lot for this (and you won't often here me say anything like that!).
[1] Making Energy Visible: A qualitative field study of how householders interact with feedback from smart energy monitors. Tom Hargreaves, Michael Nye, Jacquelin Burgess, Energy Policy 38 (2010) 6111-6119

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this! I'm trying to find information on power monitor and this has definitely helped me in this process.