GUEST ARTICLE: Imagine if your grocery shop had no prices marked on the shelves and they simply billed you with a lump-sum statement every quarter. Yet, this is how most households and businesses pay for their electricity consumption. Using Power Meters can help you gain control and cut your power bill.
If you’re the one that pays the power bills, I bet you can tell me (roughly) the dollar amount of those bills. But do you know how many kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity or megajoules (MJ) of gas you use? And how much each of your appliances are contributing and at what time?
Most people cannot answer the first question, and only those with some form of energy monitoring in place can answer the second.
You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure
Households and small businesses are feeling the pinch from ever rising utility bills. What’s worse, is those making positive change (by reducing consumption) may not even be aware of this (because all they see is their bills getting larger).
To address this, there are three key ways that you can better understand your consumption and start saving:
- Read your bill – This sounds obvious, but very few people actually do it. What I am referring to here is the consumption information, in particular a summary chart (presented as kWh or MJ per day). Almost every utility bill has one, and it is an excellent tool to track how you are going from bill to bill. They usually show a comparison with last bill, or even better, same period last year. This will allow you to track the changes you make over the long term.
- Use a plug-in power meter – The next step in understanding your consumption should involve working out roughly how much each of your appliances are contributing to the overall bill. Generally, these power meters will allow you to track instantaneous power consumption (in watts) or power usage over time (kWh). Steplight sells a basic but accurate power meter for $35. (Note that some of the cheap units available from Bunnings, Coles and others are rather inaccurate – so cheapest is not best in this case.)
- Install a wireless energy monitor – This is a little more involved, and a good quality monitor will set you back around $150. However, these devices are proving highly effective at informing and motivating users into action. They work by sensing the current draw of your entire home (or workplace). This is done by a current clamp at your meter box which clamps around your main supply cable. This signal is sent inside to a display which shows you exactly how much electricity you are using and how much it is costing you.
Reduce Your Electricity Consumption By 5-15%
It is true that doing the above three things won’t change your bills on their own. Simply owning a power meter doesn’t do much for your energy usage! What these actions can do well is motivate change by improving your understanding of how you are using energy.
In fact, many studies show how much can be saved as a result of this ‘informational gain’. A comprehensive literature review by the University of Oxford states:
The norm is for savings from direct feedback (immediate, from the meter or an associated display monitor) to range from 5-15%… There is some indication that high energy users may respond more than low users to direct feedback – The Effectiveness of Feedback on Energy Consumption (pdf)
Some studies have shown that these monitors will help you save 40% of your usage. It all depends on how you turn the information into action.
Anecdotally, we are getting great feedback from users. Everyone seems to find their own way of using these devices and uncovering previously unknown loads. As one resident from our recent Northwest Sydney Energy Efficiency Program said “We enjoy using the energy monitor, it has confirmed our current energy efficient practices and helped us find some other areas to reduce energy“. Other comments included:
We found out the heat pump wasn’t working properly and had it repaired. The whole family checks the energy monitor to see what needs turning off. – Resident, Castle Hill
The beer fridge is getting the sack. – Resident, Rouse Hill
The monitor has taught me that our air conditioner uses power in standby. – Resident, Seven Hills
We now turn off all the power points. It’s amazing. – Resident, Stanhope Gardens
We have now changed all our lighting to energy saver globes. The kids are also checking their energy use and turning everything off before they go to bed. – Resident, Baulkham Hills
I have been having a great time finding my energy guzzlers and turning them off. – Resident, Baulkham Hills
We’ve started earth hour every day. – Resident, Woodcroft
I check it every morning! – Resident, Oakhurst
For further information check out the products mentioned above or Steplight’s free guide: measuring and monitoring energy consumption (PDF).
This guest article has been written by my friend Ryan McCarthy co-owner of Steplight Pty Ltd which assists households and small businesses in reducing their ecological footprint especially electricity usage.