There’s a British Gas tariff that includes a free energy meter (the tariff itself involves paying by direct debit and submitting meter readings via the Internet etc.) and being a new customer, when I was told I was getting one of these meter’s sent – I thought i’d better read up on how they work and what you actually do with them when they arrive.
Basically, you get a small ‘collar’ which you wrap or attach around one of the main cables coming out of the electricity meter (no messing with exposed wires of anything like that) and a wireless receiver which (depending on make and model) shows you energy consumption and other historical usage data.
What actually happened was that once I’d got through the relatively simple tutorials, I then got embroiled in reading lots of comments from experts who were less than enthusiastic about the accuracy or value of such meters – smart meters as they’re commonly referred to.
It seems the problem lies with the fact that many devices (especially low energy using devices like standby settings and energy saving lightbulbs) draw so little power that the meter can’t register it (or worse multiplies the true usage to compensate. The result, many claim, is a meter reading that isn’t nearly as accurate as comparing monthly meter readings and therefore the meters are of little or no value.
However, supporters of smart meters point out that, even though they may not be totally accurate, they do encourage homeowners to adopt more energy saving habits. Small things like switching off light bulbs, using cooler wash settings, not leaving computers turned on (one comment I read was a gentleman who turned off his computer but never the protected power supply and consequently was amazed to see how much switching off could save) etc.
It’s common for homeowners to sweep around their home when they first get their meters, switching on various appliances and watching the amount of usage on the meter. As we’ve ascertained, the reading may not be that accurate but it may give you an idea of ‘how much’ energy is used and you may be able to adjust your habits accordingly. Even boiling the kettle with enough water for your drink rather than just boiling a whole kettleful saves energy (and more importantly money).
It’s probably not an exact piece of mathematics or science but assuming (for arguments sake) each kettleful is enough for 4 cups of tea, quarter filling it is like getting the next 3 cups free based on your old habit of boiling the whole kettle for just one drink.
Suggestions include writing notes and sticking them on the backs of doors or above light switches as reminders to turn off unwanted items if you’re leaving the house.
Small differences and changes in habits to be sure but imagine if everybody made the same adjustments to their daily lives?