Do you keep tabs on your energy usage?

by , Conversation Editor Energy & Home 24 October 2012
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Last week was National Baking Week so I made cookies for the team. With this week being Big Energy Saving Week I’ve been pondering how to celebrate – so I got up-close and personal with my energy monitor.

Female with cardboard cut out smile

OK, so the thought of eating a cookie might be a little more appealing to most than the prospect of setting up an energy monitor, but bear with me, as I’m going to convince you it’s fun and educational.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, an energy monitor is designed to help you keep track of your electricity use and ideally help you cut your electricity consumption.

Energy monitors usually consist of a handheld display unit, a sensor/clamp that attaches to your electricity wire and a transmitter that sends information from the sensor to the display unit. If you have a smart meter it should pick up readings remotely from your meter

Some energy companies provide free energy monitors to let you keep on top of your energy usage, but you can also buy the devices yourself.

Real-time energy usage

Setting up the monitor part was easy, but I have to confess I was a little fearful attaching the sensor part to an electricity wire at the meter. It was safe to do so on my box as the wire was encased in plastic. But if you find that the wire is frayed or exposed – don’t touch it – you’ll need to call an electrician.

When all the bits are set up you need to add a few details to get the most out of your monitor. I have to confess that I had no idea what I paid per unit of electricity, and although the instruction details told me to check a recent statement, it took quite close analysis of my bill to actually work this out. Our energy experts at Which? have warned me that the unit price doesn’t take into account other costs on your bill, so you need me to take the monitor’s estimated spend with caution.

You need to have the monitor within range of the sensor for it to pick up the readings, but this just takes a few moments of walking about the flat to kick in. Now comes the fun bit – watching the dial fluctuate as you use electricity across the house.

How far will you go?

I imagine they’re quite entertaining for families with children, as it’s a nice visual way of understanding how you use energy and your children can then play a proactive role in monitoring your usage.

And if you’re a big kid like me, you’ll enjoy rushing round the house switching things off to see the usage bar go down, and in the example of my monitor, the smile gauge on the monitor widens. I’d advise against telling your partner that they can’t watch the telly or use the computer so as to not upset the monitor – I’ve learnt these tips are not well received!

My energy monitor is proving to be fun for me as I’m in a fortunate position – I live in an energy efficient flat and therefore my monitor has a permanent smile on its face. But, for those who live in less energy efficient properties, perhaps you’d prefer not to be reminded of the high prices we pay for our energy in the UK?

And maybe my feelings will be short-lived? When we surveyed Which? members last year, only 40% thought their energy monitor had helped them reduce their electricity and 28% thought energy monitors are more hassle than they’re worth.

Do you have an energy monitor and has it changed the way you use electrical devices in your house?

48 comments

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rarrar

The energy monitors widely available only monitor electricity use.
For most people gas provides the major part of their energy usage. ( my gas usage is 2.5x electricity usage)
In winter reducing the electrical energy used will be partially balanced by an increase in the gas energy used to provide heating.

There is nothing like reading meters weekly or monthly to get a full picture of your energy usage.

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ellen

rarrar I agree probably because we have nothing better to do we take meter readings every day it is a ritual at 6 o clock every evening. ( I have just discovered how to reach my favourite topic entirely about Energy saving)

Today it is in the papers by the Energy Savings Trust, that small changes can save you cash as well as emissions. They particularly mention showers.

I am happy to report that after watching a documentary on Submarines a while ago, that I am now following a shower routine which must save me at least half or maybe more of the water and the electricity to heat it. When you put the shower on, soap yourself with liquid soap and shampoo while the water heats up, then step under the shower to rinse off.

When baking the units double, I think this may be a big way of using less. by changing cooking patterns. We use a Halogen oven, and rarely use the big one. Use a tiered steamer for veg, meat and fish, even joints can be cooked this way.

Gas saving of 30% are met by a really intelligent/weather compensator central heating control.
Solar is another saving, At this time of the year we can make what we use, we are looking for every small gadget that will improve our mission. We have changed the dishwasher, washing machine fridge, but still need to change the freezer, that still keeps going though. Is it best to change and get the savings or is it worthwhile forking out for a new one?

Meanwhile we continue adding to our list of projects, some costing little some a lot. but everything must save something.
Can’t Which list some of the newer products, I realise a large part of Which is by reporting product performance by consumers, so only the larger named products seem to be put forward.

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Cara

I’ve had an energy monitor for the last 2 years. It has definitely helped me to reduce energy. For one thing it highlighted how much energy all our halogen downlighters were using, so we’ve replaced most of them with LEDs. Also great for showing you when your teenage kids have left stuff switched on upstairs… I’m part of a local sustainability group called Muswell Hill Sustainability and we’ve been doing a detailed carbon footprinting project with 100 local residents. One of the findings was how few people knew how much energy they use!

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Edward

Hi Cara, Muswell Hill Sustainability sounds really interesting. I’m part of a new organisation, the Homeowners Alliance, (also based in Muswell Hill!) which represents homeowners and those who aspire to buy a home. We have a load of guides on everything from buying a place to how to avoid rogue tradesmen (http://hoa.org.uk/advice/). We also have one on reducing energy bills. It would be great to hear about your experiences of energy usage and how to reduce this is your community. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

[Hello Edward, we've removed your email address as we don't allow contact details on Which? Conversation. Thanks, mods.]

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Peter England

My energyEgg saves me consumption simple by switching things off.

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jo g

While I don’t have an energy monitor, I do have a comprehensive spreadsheet that I update at least every fortnight, which gives me a good idea of our energy usage. Luckily our meters are accessible so this is no great hassle.

The spreadsheet tracks current usage, estimated daily, monthly and annually. I also update whenever I have an electricity or water bill or top up the gas meter (we’re on CHP so pre-payment is the only to pay for our gas) so the annual estimate is more accurate. I also submit electricity meter readings whenever I take readings. As this is a new flat, first time I’ve had CHP or a water meter, and haven’t cooked with electricity for ages, I wanted to understand our usage. So far we seem to be on track with £10 a month for our water – at the last bill point we were about £2 in credit, which is not bad!

Submitting the electricity readings regularly has meant that EDF has realised we’re being over charged. 4 months in and we were almost £80 in credit on £34 a month (there’s only 2 of us in our flat and we turn most things off at the socket when we’ve finished with them). So they’re reducing our monthly payment to £1 a month from November! While that seems a little silly, I am pleased they’re keeping an eye on our credit/debit situation and not letting us build up a huge credit with them. I will now have to lie down with my feet up after being nice about an energy company!

Am tempted to get a flashy energy monitor as am basically a big child ;)

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wavechange

I don’t have an energy monitor, though I do have a cheap device that shows how much power individual plug-in appliances use. It shows that some items use quite a lot of powr in stand-by mode.

I am fairly careful about not wasting power, and have been most of my adult life. I have just come back from staying with friends who leave everything on standy, lights on in unoccupied rooms all evening, an outside light on 24 hours a day and far too warm for me. At least they are gradually moving towards energy-saving lighting.

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pvsolaruk

Why not buy them an energyEgg for Christmas.. They are on Amazon so it can even be delivered!

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tpoots

The irony is that the energy meter actually uses electricity itself and therefore adds to the consumption figures…

I must admit though, before installing one of these I had no idea just how much energy the hoover and kettle were using(!!).

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wavechange

Brilliant. That reminds me of people buying computers in the 80s to keep an eye on their finances, only to find that buying the computer had made a mess of their budget.

Hopefully energy meters don’t take much power.

According to my monitor instructions it costs £1 a year to run – so I thought it was worth the investment :-)

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tpoots

In that case I’ll forgive them then ;)

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rarrar

As tpoots says many people have no idea of which devices account for most of their houses electricity bill and are therefore worth concentrating on.
The media are full of reports of grossly over estimated usage by the likes of mobile phone chargers being left plugged in etc while cutting down a little or changing how you use dishwashers, washing machine and tumble dryers etc will for most people make significant savings.
Cutting down on heating however is the big winner.

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wavechange

I agree rarrar, but getting people into the habit of switching off things when they are not needed is a good idea. We should not assume that everyone will take the trouble to find out how much – or little – power everything they own uses.

It’s a good idea to associate heat with cost. Anything that gets warm or hot when in use is consuming power and costing money.

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rarrar

Good points wavechange, producing a culture change of always switching things off is very important and also relating heat to energy = costing money. Keep it simple !

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Malcolm R

I don’t have an energy monitor device, but do it manually – reading gas and electricity meters monthly and checking against historical use. This is easy with digital meters.
I did an estimated energy audit on my bungalow (as reported in another conversation). It means listing the power consumption (kWatt) of anything electrical – normally given in the product literature and packaging – and estimating the hours per day in use. Multiply kW by hours used = units consumed – which is what your energy company charges you for, usually in pence per unit or kWh (kWatthour).
So if you can make this effort you soon get a picture of where your main energy use is, and whether you can make any significant savings. In my case, a plasma TV, a computer, and kitchen appliances account for around 60% – so I can see where I could save, or at least understand where my money goes.
If you have CFL lights then switching off gives very small savings. If you have incandescent (old type bulbs) then it is worthwhile switching off or changing to CFL.
It’s a one-off effort. Using an energy monitor as far as I can see does not take account of how many hours a day individual appliances are in use. You might have a 3kW kettle (40p an hour to run) but you only use it for short periods at a time – each use costing around 2p.

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par ailleurs

I tried one for a while and it is quite revealing to see which appliances use the most electricity. The main problem though was that I am already pretty obsessive about wastage of any sort around the house. The monitor showed quite clearly that some appliances were old and better replaced with something modern, especially a 20+ year old freezer tucked away in the garage. Then of course you have the choice of spending money to save money in the long term or waiting till the old appliance fails and in the case of this freezer I’m sure it would have outlasted me!
As for the rest it proved that energy-saving bulbs are sensible even if you prefer the old incandescents,not all TVs etc are too bad on standby (although I still turn off completely at night) and larger desk top PCs are surprisingly hungry beasts when working on full power. Other things like washing machines etc are using a fair bit of power but aren’t on all the time so won’t be replaced till necessary.
So, after learning what I more or less knew already, I stopped using the gadget. I suppose they might shock a few into changes but most people seem to be happy carrying on as before and moaning about ever increasing bills.

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Chris, Gloucester

Charlotte,
You say.
“When we surveyed Which? members last year, only 40% thought their energy monitor had helped them reduce their electricity and 28% thought energy monitors are more hassle than they’re worth.”
I would agree with that. In fact I think for most people once the novalty has worn off an even smaller minority would regularly monitor usage.
I’ve had an electricity usage monitor for a few years now and believe it has saved me a significant amount of money, and the monitor itself was cheap and they are even being given away in some quarters. But I think that as someone who does monitor usage on an ongoing basis I would be considered part of the small minority of energy anoraks.

Now given that we might agree electricity monitors are generally a good idea, but getting people to take notice of them on an ongoing basis and acually make any savings is not, why is it that “which” still supports the principle of smart meters?
“We believe smart meters can help people save energy” I keep hearing from “which”.
Given that from a consumers viewpoint these things are only glorified energy monitors, If few people take any notice of electricity monitors on an ongoing basis what makes “which” think people will take notice of smart meters?
Plus of course these won’t be cheap. they’ll cost all of us a proportion of £11 billion through our energy bills.
Just think of the improvements in real energy efficiency that money could pay for?
Improvements which are automatic and require no monitoring or changes in the way people use energy, and perhaps most significantly “no novalty to wear off”?

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Chris, Gloucester

“Now given that we might agree electricity monitors are generally a good idea, but getting people to take notice of them on an ongoing basis and acually make any savings is not”
That is: is not working, or proving difficult.

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Malcolm R

Two salient comments were made above – paraphrased – “we should not assume people will take the trouble to find out how much power their appliances use” ans “people don’t continue to take notice of energy monitors”. Two comments perhaps:
1. Provide people with this information (it isn’t always easy to find, or to dig out old manuals) – even if it is typical power of generic appliances, and typical daily usage. For those who are not able to do this for themselves, it is a good start. Which? could collate this information and publish it.
2. If you can’t be bothered with it, then you can’t be that bothered about the money it might save you. Make an effort to get the reward – you can’t just sit back and expect everything done for you.

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Peter England

Why buy an energy meter which gives you statistics when you can invest in a product which you can set and forgot to stop the family wasting energy by switching the appliance off. This also saves you standby. The energyEgg makes a different to your bills, it not just show.

New smart light switch is coming out soon. It’s on my shopping list for sure.

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Nick

My meter reduced our usage significantly the first year tho’ one child kept leaving things on when he went out. I used to look at it and go to his room and switch everything off! It also showed up a fault with a chest freezer in the garage as the seal had gone so it was on a lot. I hardly look at it now especially as said child has left home. I gave him one and he obsessed over it as it was his bill! Maybe an energy meter would a good leaving-home present.

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Peter England

Now he could do with an energyEgg. Just set and forget and it will switch the appliance when no one is in the room. I switch off 3 plugs at the same time in difficult corners so it save my time too!

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Malcolm R

The energyEgg is an interesting domestic use of a presence detector. I suggest you need to look at the economics if you want to save money, as opposed to simply energy.
For example, lights – a room with 2 lights off a switch would cost about £30 a year in electricity if incandescent, or £7.20 a year with CFL. An egg light switch costs £18.99 – so I’d choose CFL only, unless you are in the habit of leaving them on all day or all night.
For appliances you might leave on, the higher-power ones would be a good target such as heaters, TVs maybe, computer maybe, if again you are in the habit of leaving them on all hours. But modern appliances on standby – my DVD and TVs say they only consume a watt or two, and in the case of TV need to be on standby to download information. So no great savings here.
Kitchen appliances – usually on cycle timers and presence detection is not a factor.
All I am saying is you need to judge not only what you might inadvertently leave on and for how long, but how much it will cost you (kWatts multiplied by hours used multiplied by you unit rate – say £0.13 per kWatt hour) and then balance that against the cost of the kit.
I’d be interested in where users find savings and how much.

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wavechange

Switching off computers in this way might not do them any good. It would be better to set the computer to shut down itself.

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pvsolaruk

malcolm

I have 3 energyEgg’s around the house. 1 in lounge connected to TV and lamps around the room. 1 in the kitchen for computer screen, speakers, light and tv and 1 in the office connected to a power strip for laptops and printers etc. I can’t say how careless I’ve been in the past and not switched things off, however this year we have saved 10% off our M&S Energy bill and received a £30 voucher for goodies..
Is it all down to the energyegg’s I can’t be sure however, It does switch the TV off when I fall asleep in front of it, and when i pop out of my office for 5 minutes lunch which takes 30minutes so it saved 25mins a day at least.. We do use the single switch on the egg to turn things off on many occasions but the young adults in the house, have been known to leave things on.

No energy monitor in the world will tell you how much you have wasted, however the energyEgg has the advantage by doing the job for you if you forgot. People shouldnt be put of by price or do some lengthy cost analysis as the energyEgg has a 3 year warrenty, batteries last about 8 months and are small price to pay against the 9% increase in energy costs this year.. I also remove the risk if something is left on by mistake.. After all we are only human!

So the basic calc.. My eggs cost £150, my usage has gone down by 10% which is about £90 a year plus M&S £30 voucher. As prices have gone up this year I expect the bill to be the same.. If each egg saves me £30 a year as the manufacturers claiming is possible then £270 is worth having.

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wavechange

Peter/pvsolaruk

I live alone and am quite good at switching off things when they are not needed. I don’t need one of your devices never mind three of things.

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Malcolm R

Cara and Edward – sustainability group and homeowners alliance. One of the problems that has been alluded to by yourselves and elsewhere in this conversation is that some people simply do not know how much energy they use, or I would add, where and how much; so they don’t know what to tackle first to make savings. Secondly, many do not have, or don’t know how best to use, the internet and are unable to compare suppliers and make savings. These people need help to assess their bills and choose more appropriate suppliers. A local face-to-face organisation is necessary to help with this, isn’t it, as it all depends upon a particular persons circumstances. Cara – can your sustainability group fulfil this function? If there was a campaign to help these people look reducing their bills who else could they be directed to?

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Malcolm R

wavechange – energyEgg advises “Simply set the computer to go into sleep mode after a period of time, and then set the energyEGG timer to a slightly longer period. Your computer will now go to sleep before the energyEGG switches it off, ensuring a safe shutdown with no loss of data”.

I wonder how many will find these devices more useful than simply remembering to switch off power-hungry devices when not required – not a criticism, a genuine question. Where do people find them useful and what real savings do they make routinely?

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wavechange

I think I will rely on my computer to do the job. I leave a UPS switched on all the time too. The router is on a timeswitch so that it is off overnight. I am careful to switch off other things.

I can see that an occupancy sensor could help in the domestic environment but perhaps getting the whole family to act responsibly would be better. I wonder how much energy would be wasted if we were all to wait for a gadget to switch off power rather than doing this when leaving the room.

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pvsolaruk

WaveCharge

I have 3 energyEgg’s around the house. 1 in lounge connected to TV and lamps around the room. 1 in the kitchen for computer screen, speakers, light and tv and 1 in the office connected to a power strip for laptops and printers etc. I can’t say how careless I’ve been in the past and not switched things off, however this year we have saved 10% off our M&S Energy bill and received a £30 voucher for goodies..
Is it all down to the energyegg’s I can’t be sure however, It does switch the TV off when I fall asleep in front of it, and when i pop out of my office for 5 minutes lunch which takes 30minutes so it saved 25mins a day at least.. We do use the single switch on the egg to turn things off on many occasions but the young adults in the house, have been known to leave things on.

Where do people find them useful and what real savings do they make routinely?
The answer is ‘where they waste most electric’, however saving any electric is saving cash in you pocket especially now prices have gone up by 9%. I could shout at the kids to turn things off but the energyEgg does this work for me, allowing me to talk to them about the things that matter.

The egg does have a switch too!. great for switching 3 adapters off at the same time.. The sensor is for when you forget to switch things off..

Pete

Hi pvsolaruk, although it’s great to hear about new products, we don’t allow advertisements on Which? Conversation. You can find out more in our commenting guidelines.

Also, try and make sure you stick to one username, as this is also against our terms and conditions.

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Cara

Message to Charlotte – do you know if Which is going to review LED replacements for halogen downlighters anytime soon? I think it would be really appreciated by members.

Thanks for your comment Cara. I’ve checked with our testing team and they’ve confirmed that they’re currently looking into the possibility of testing directional (spotlight) LED lighting. There are no formal test planned as yet, but we’re looking into how and when we might test these products in the future.

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Malcolm R

Hello Jennifer. I’m a bit unsure about your comment re advertising. Is this about the user name or Energy Egg?

Hi Malcolm R, my comment wasn’t directed at you, so you’ve nothing to worry about! Thanks.

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Malcolm R

No Jennifer, I didn’t think it was – I took it to be referring to the one above your comment and wondered what was being criticised. If it was concerned with reference to energy Egg in that comment then I would take issue with you, but it may be something else. It wasn’t obvious to me.

Hello Malcolm, it’s a mixture. There is some connection between pvsolar and energy eggs. At the moment, the discussion is broadly on the right side of the line, but there is a danger that it could become more overtly advertising of a product to be bought from a particular company. If you’d like to talk more about our moderation, please email us: http://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us

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Malcolm R

Thanks Patrick. My comment is then that unless we discuss specific products or services – and energyEgg has been referred to several times – much of the value of the discussion may be lost. I for example did ask for peoples assessment of whether and where they found the Egg likely to save money – taking into account its cost. But I thoroughly understand youyr point about advertising – the conversation is a place for genuine comment, not promotional comment for possible commercial reasons. Although I suspect many commentators will see such contributions for what they are.

Malcolm, please feel free to talk about products as you wish. It is only when it is promoting something in a way that would benefit your own or your employer’s business where it would breach our T&Cs:

“Any content you add to the website will: not promote your own or your employer’s business, seek to recruit new staff, or otherwise include any advertising or promotional material”

Let’s try and get back on topic :) Although I’m intrigued about my energy use (I’d like to spy on my housemates and give each of us scores on how much energy we use), I’m not sure I’d have the patience in the long term.

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Malcolm R

I made a rough estimate of my energy usage split amongst lighting, various appliances, computer, TV etc. It is worth doing to see how much each appliance uses and where to best target action to achieve savings. It didn’t take long and does pinpoint what is worth adressing, and what is less significant. It also helps show where energy saving devices may, or may not, be cost effective. If people are serious about saving energy, they need to understand their usage. It is usually a one-off exercise – a bit of effort to get a reward.

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pvsolaruk

WaveCharge
I’m sorry to hear you live alone, but it’s good to know that you know how to switch things off. However, many families don’t follow your excellent practise.
Energy monitor don’t help either in switching appliances off, they actual add you your bill in a small way.

I really dont see the point of monitoring your usage if you dont have an automated way of doing something about it.. Smart Grid devices should be able to control the appliance from a central console. Switching then on/off if necessary, by smart apps. We have a long way to go to conserving out energy usage.

We just had a power cut for 6 hours yesterday.. Our food in the freezer stayed frozen too. Just many me think, we could save power every day if we had a timer on the freezer?

Jennifer,
I’ve changed my picture, but unable to change my username.. For the record PV Solar, are not associated to the energyEgg as far as I’m aware. Its a company that I no longer wish to be associated with them any manor at all.

[Hello, we've just slightly edited your comment as it broke our T&Cs. Thanks, mods]

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wavechange

Peter/pvsolaruk

You don’t see the point of monitoring usage unless you have a way of doing something about it. I disagree, and believe it is important that we are all aware of how much power our appliances, etc. consume. That will provide information to help decide how energy can be saved by an individual or family.

You might have no association with PV Solar, but what about Lovat Energy Savers? Guess what they sell. :-(

Hello Peter, unfortunately you’re not able to change your username on Which? Conversation. So instead, we’ve updated your username to display as ‘Peter England’ from now on – I hope that’s okay. Please note, you will still need to use your previous username in order to log in. If there’s any issue with this change, please contact us and let us know. Thanks!

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Malcolm R

pvsolaruk – wavechange is quite right – many people are quite capable of switching appliances or lights as needed. I have a fairly typical house and have estimated what automatic (presence detecting) switching might save me. The cost of the kit outweighs any saving I might make. But there will be other households where circumstances will differ. It’s just worth doing a rough calculation before you spend your money.
Re your freezer – in the power cut your freezer temperature will rise. When the power returns the freezer compressor will work more than normal, using more electricity, to reduce it back to the correct temperature. You will use less electricity of course – none in the power cut – but your food may suffer.

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Peter England

Wavechange, Malcom.

According to my belkin monitor my freezer is likely to use £2.70 per month, so power so the savings for the 6 hours while the power was off was between 3p and 5p.. And I would agree that it is hardly worth the effort of testing the thermal qualities of the unit to see if I used much more power when the power can back on.. I spent £28.50 on the monitor at Homebase, so it still hasn’t actually saved me any money? So how do I save and what is the pay back period i can expect after buying this simple monitor..

Perhaps the energy companies get a grant for giving you the monitor. How much is the tax payer spending on smart grid over the next 5 years?

A sensor which automates when there is no movement in the room, and then switches the power off after a time period will save you money instantly..Especially if people tend to leave things switched on. Even savings on standby power will mount up. Isn’t it worth investing if the future.

The fact is we dont know how much we power we actual waste in the home.. I was surprised how much my family wasted before my purchase. My laptops have batteries, so am I saving money by using battery power instead of mains power? Probably!

Monitors need to become a lot lot smarter to make themselves useful.. For instance They need to be able to provide a history of usage by appliance type and inform you by email when the appliance is using more than its average consumption within a varient range.. This will give you an idea when the appliance is going wrong, or in the case of a freezer when to defost it.

If you know of a good monitor that actually saves money and is reasonably priced then let all us know. I know of a sensor that could pay back its cost within 12 months and it has a 3 year warrenty..A sound investment for any family.

Pete
ps Temp of freezer was at -10c after 6 hours.. so it could have gone a few more hours before the food as at risk.

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wavechange

Peter

My suggestion is just to switch things off when they are not being used. A little self-discipline will help ensure that nothing gets left on when it is not needed. Let’s assume that the fridge and freezer are left on all the time. You have a monitor, so you can measure how much other appliances use. That is useful to decide how best to make economies.

I suggest that you don’t switch the freezer off frequently. If the compressor has to run for a long period it will get hotter than normal and may fail prematurely.

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wavechange

As Malcolm says, your food will deteriorate if subject to temperature variations. If it gets too warm then some of it may thaw and refreeze, which ruin it and risk growth of bacteria.

The best way to save money is to check that the freezer is close to -18C. If it is colder, the compressor will run more and waste electricity. Ensure that the freezer heat exchanger is well ventilated and away from sources of heat.

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