As part of our ongoing series with the folks at British Gas, this time we’re looking at the roll out of smart meters around the world. These days it’s well accepted that tackling environmental issues, such as energy consumption, is something that needs to be done at a global level. Compared to some of our European neighbours, I think it’s fair to say we consider ourselves to be at the forefront of new technology. However, when it comes to embracing smart meters, we’re far behind the likes of Italy where an incredible 94% (37 million) households now use smart meters.
In fact, the roll out of smart meters is being embraced around the world. According to research by Berg Insight, conservative estimates forecast that between 90-130 million meters will be installed every year from now until 2022. In the USA it’s predicted, by the US Energy Information Administration, that nearly a quarter (23%) of electrical customers now have smart meters.
Closer to home, in Ireland, there was a large-scale trial of smart metering which aimed to achieve a 2% decrease in energy usage as well as to assess the response of customers to this new technology. Following the success of this trial, the Commission of Energy Regulation announced the approval to rollout smart meters between 2014 and 2019.
In the UK, in addition to the work being done by British Gas, there is also a trial by Northern Powergrid which has implemented a “Customer-Led Network Revolution”. This involves trailing a number of smart grid solutions and energy efficient technologies such as solar PV panels, heat pumps, electric vehicles and the installation of 14,000 smart meters in the North East and Yorkshire.
The programme will also deploy new technology on the electricity network and implement commercial solutions such as tariffs and different pricing structures. Northern Powergrid aims to create a successful and beneficial smart grid solution and is trialing ‘time-of-use’ tariffs to encourage the use of electricity during off peak periods.
You can find out more about smart meters in this video from British Gas and via their dedicated web site.
We are working with British Gas on a smart meter campaign. The words and opinions above are ours, however this should be considered a ‘sponsored post’.
We’ve already given away a digital camera as part of our collaboration with the folks at British Gas, who are looking to raise awareness and uptake of their smart meters. This week we’re going to take a look at the ‘journey so far’ and share some additional information about why this technology represents the future.
As part our work with British Gas, I had two smart meters installed at home earlier this year. In addition to the aforementioned benefits of not having to manually take and send readings, the other key benefit of smart meters is the improved visibility of how much energy you are consuming. This is possible thanks to a nifty energy monitor which wirelessly communicates with your meters and gives you a history of your energy usage as well as the cost.
It’s quite entertaining (and, of course, informative) to watch the monitor change as you turn on a kettle, or hit the standby button on your slightly-bigger-than-needed TV. You end up running around the house trying to work out what’s using electricity – which I guess is the point! Admittedly the novelty of this does wear off after a while but then you start to use it differently, for example comparing usage month to month.
British Gas have produced the following interactive infographic which takes a look at energy consumption:
Perhaps it’s because I’m a geek at heart, but ultimately I have the opinion that you can’t have too information when it comes to how much you are being charged for services such as gas, electricity and your phone. With the latter of those, I’ve always opted for itemised bills, simply because I don’t like to have any grey areas when it comes to why my bill was X amount. The roll out of Smart Meters is a step in the right direction for bringing clarity to your energy bills. British Gas have released this slick video which aims to highlight the benefits:
We’ve teamed up with the folks at British Gas to look at how they’re introducing Smart Meters to their customers. This comes off the back of a recent EU directive which set the ambitious target of having smart metering systems in 80% of UK households by 2020. British Gas are seen as leading the way in rolling out smart meters and they are working with blogs like ours to help raise awareness of the benefits of this ‘smart future’.
So, what does a Smart Meter do?
Smart meters replace current gas and electricity meters. British Gas are doing this upgrade free of charge. In addition to the new meters you’ll also get a smart energy monitor (that can easily be placed in a kitchen or dining room) which shows your energy use in pounds and pence. Readings from the smart meters are automatically sent to British Gas, which means you don’t have to submit your meter readings – avoiding the sometimes back breaking task of getting under the stairs with a torch! It also brings to an end the era of estimated bills. British Gas uses the consumption readings to provide you with a full array of clever insights into your consumption, including personalised energy efficiency advice.
You can find out more about the technology via their microsite and this YouTube video:
What are the other benefits of these new meters?
In addition to eliminating estimated bills and giving customers highly accurate usage information, the roll out is also going to benefit the UK economy too, as summed up nicely in this infographic:
Did you mention a competition?
Yes, well remembered! To celebrate the launch of this campaign, British Gas have kindly provided us with a Kodak EasyShare Sports camera, which has 12 Megapixels fixed focus lens, a 2.4” (6.1 cm) LCD, and also captures video… and can go almost anywhere since it’s also waterproof (3 m/10 ft) and dustproof!
As we accumulate more and more gadgets the number of four-way extension blocks needed to provide power for them all increases too. But the humble four-way isn’t the only solution, these days there’s a wide choice of kit to help you power and control your various devices. Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting options.
The problem with standard four-way extensions is that many of today’s gadgets are powered by chunky transformers. Often these are so big that they block part of the adjacent socket so that you can’t plug anything else into it. The Pivot Power looks like an oversized bike chain but its clever design lets you bend it into different positions so that you can use all of its five sockets no matter what shape and size your adaptors are. It has built-in surge protection too and costs £29.95 from prezzybox.com
A different solution to the same problem is the cutely named PIGGY6. A much neater design than the standard, flat extension strips it provides six filtered mains sockets in a circular configuration making them more easily accessible. In addition it features a built in HomePlug 3-port Ethernet bridge so that you can tidy up your network connections too. The PIGGY6 is avalable from solwise and costs £51.11.
Whilst it looks like it’s just a chunkier version of a standard extension strip the ENER011 has a trick up its sleeve. Four of the six sockets can be controlled from your PC via a USB port. They can be programmed to switch on and off at a particular time or triggered by an event. You can pre-program the unit for timed switching via the PC then unplug it and use it elsewhere, so you could use it to switch lights on and off when you’re away from home for example. The ENER011 Costs £49.99 direct from energenie4u
Also from Energenie is this GSM controlled power socket. Send it a text and you can switch power to a device on and off from anywhere. It can accept commands from one master phone and up to four others, it sends a text to the master phone whenever it’s switched so you always know its status. There’s a temperature sensor included too so you can use it to turn on a heater for example if things get a bit chilly, plus it has an internal clock for timed switching. It costs £129.99 from energenie4u and you need to add a pay-as-you-go SIM card.
Sweex PP210 Intelligent UPS
Uninterruptible power supplies have long been popular in the business world but have always been rather pricey for home use. The Sweex PP210 though offers protection for up to four devices at an affordable £89.99. It gives a backup time of approximately 20 minutes in the event of a mains failure allowing you time to power down in an orderly way. It also features an Ethernet pass through socket to protect your network connection against surges. Plus there’s software that allows it to be monitored from a PC via a USB port so you can trigger an automatic shut down if there’s no one around when the power fails. You can buy one at maplin
The downside of being always plugged in … is that I’m always plugged in. That might seem a little obvious but the various shiny gadgets that I’ve accrued as a professional gadgeteer litter my house the like children and pets of more balanced individuals, all sucking electricity and draining my finances. Wouldn’t it be great if I could keep tabs on everything I’m spending. Wouldn’t it great if I knew how much all these devices cost me. Wouldn’t it be great to be … in the Loop.
Loop (yes I’m smooth) is a cool energy saving device that tracks exactly how much energy you use, when you use it and shows you how much it’s really costing on your tariff. When I tried Loop out I was concerned that it might be “fiddly”. For the most part it’s one of the simpler installations I’ve done. There’s an illustrated process to guide you through every step, which is handy. You need an online account and then to plug a dongle into your broadband router and clip another onto the cable by your electricity meter. This was the most difficult bit as I live in a tiny flat (London living), and gaining access to my electricity meter required some allen-key based ingenuity. That small hurdle aside, things are relatively simple and Loop lets you know when you’re up and running and immediately starts measuring your energy.
And boy do I use a lot of energy. Loop provides a live energy feed providing all the depressing details, in kWh, CO2 and hard cash. It was really good being able to wave a screen with exactly energy usage in front of my housemate in an accusatory fashion. There are even charges for spending over time. I do love a good chart. You can also set hard targets for budgets over set time periods which I also loved – I harbour a secret dream to be an accountant. Loop is also empowering as it you can compare you exact usage on various tariffs and shop around for a great deal.
For too long households have had to put up with complicated bills, often based on estimated usage. For the first time, Loop gives you everything you need to make the right energy choices, from up to the minute usage information on what you are really using, right through to knowing when you can and should switch to get a better deal.
Chris Saunders, CEO at Navetas, the company behind Loop
The Loop starter kit and 12 month subscription to Loop online is available to buy now from Amazon, priced at £29.99, with a money back guarantee if you don’t save in the first 12 months. For more information visit www.your-loop.com
Just how logical is kinetic energy? Extremely, I’d say, because unlike wind power that requires wind – too bad if it’s a still day – or solar that requires the sun – too bad if it’s a cloudy day, which is usually the case in the UK, well in Manchester anyway! – Kinetic energy relies solely on motion.
According to Shape Up America, the average person takes anything between 900 to 3000 steps every day! Given that as a species we are ostensibly always on the move, together with the fact we have cohesive motives to save our planet plummeting into irreversible destruction, it surely makes sense to harness the energy produced by walking.
This is the reckoning behind a team of British scientist’s creation of the simply named “Energy Harvester”, a device that converts body movement into electricity and is then capable of powering small gadgets, such as GPS trackers. The device was unveiled in July 2012’s issue of the journal ‘Smart Materials and Structures’ and is designed to be worn on a person’s knee.
What Michele Pozzi, the project’s leader, has referred to as a “compact and truly wearable harvester”, comprises of an outer ring that, which rotates as the knee joint moves and is equipped with a 72 plectra that in turn move four energy-generating ‘arms’, known as bimorphs, attached to an inner hub – In simpler terms, the vibrations caused by the movement is generated into energy.
According to Reuters, the “Energy Harvester” can presently harvest approximately two milliwatts of power but researchers perceive the gadget being capable, with a couple of enhancements, of exceeding 30 milliwatts.
Whilst Reuters may over-zealously refer to the “Energy Harvester” as being a ‘novel device’, the seemingly unanimous desire to yield kinetic energy into power has seen a splurge of kinetic energy devices sprout up in recent years.
The kinetic charger from nPower, the nPower PEG, – an acronym for ‘personal energy generator’ – for example, despite being first unveiled as a prototype in 2010 when it gained second place at the Consumer Electronic Association’s i-Stage competition for start-ups, became available to buy this month, at a retail price of $170.
This passive kinetic energy charger is designed for backing up the power supply of handheld devices has a 2,000 maH battery. According to nPower, the nPower PEG can be hooked on to a backpack or belt loop and meets customers’ demands for energy that is ‘away from the power grid’.
Have you ever had an electrical appliance damaged by a power surge? If you have, you will know how intensely infuriating power surges can be, and if you haven’t, I’m sure can appreciate how intensely infuriating such an incident would be. If your house is anything like my house, you will have a mesh of wires coming from plugs precariously positioned in an overloaded mains adapter and leading to various highly technical gadgets and devices in every room, just crying out for a power surge. You could either carry on waiting for the day that almost inevitable power surge occurs and knocks every out, making you lose unsaved data, or, worse still, such sudden hardware failure causing damage to highly expensive gadgets, or get wise, and install a new Masterplug Surge Protected device. And with Christmas coming and a new load of gadgets arriving, the latter could definitely be worth the investment.
Market leaders in portable power, Masterplug, has launched the next generation in surge protection, giving consumers the chance to, not only save money on electricity bills, but also avoid potentially costly bills to repair damaged equipment.
These flexible home and office solutions come in the form of glossy black and silver-trimmed units that are complete with modem, USB, LAN and telephone ports and are ideal to use with iPads, digital cameras, MP3s, PCs and smart phones.
Masterplug’s new series, ranges from a highly space-effective Power Tower device, which is ideal for multi-tangled plug and wire scenarios, such as the one in my home, to the Power Block, which also offers multiple ports, to single units with one socket.
In the current financial climate that shows no sign of abating and there even being talk of a ‘double-recession’, everybody is keen on saving money on their bills. This, therefore, could be Masterplug’s next generation of power protection devices, greatest selling asset, as the Power Centre unit offers a Master/Slaver functionality, which, by reducing the amount of power wasted during stand-by functions, could help consumers reduce their energy bills.
Have you ever wondered about how much electricity you’re using? No? Well, you should. Because if you use too much, you’re killing the planet and stealing from your children. Don’t have children? Your stealing from your family’s children. Live a solitary, lone existence and hate everyone? Well, okay – this probably isn’t the gadget for you.
OWL is a company that pride themselves on creating devices for lowering your power consumption. It has a beautiful font and uses lots of green on its packaging. It also makes the OWL Wireless Electricity Monitor. We’ve tested it to death (figure of speech: it is still taking pride of place on our mantelpiece) and have got some pretty positive things to say.
Unlike some energy monitoring kits, the OWL’s Sender and Display units didn’t come paired before use. This meant that there was a bit of instruction-reading and button pushing before it’s ready to monitor. This isn’t much of an issue, but coupled with the fact that it has one of those annoying screw-in battery cases and you’ve got the two annoyances with the product. The only two.
Other than that, you see, it is quite marvellous. Even the aesthetic of the device has a wonderfully retro charm. Intentional or not, it is certainly endearing. If only it had been finished in bakelite.
On the well-designed display unit, the display of the important information was clearly a big deal for OWL’s engineers. The information on current usage takes up over half the screen. Hitting the “Mode” key will scroll the main display through your current KW (electricity) usage, how many kilograms of CO2 you’re pumping out an hour (0.022KG at the time of writing) and your cost per hour.
Under the main information display are two more sections. One provides you with a time, date and temperature reading, all of which prove more useful than one might think. They turn the OWL into a one-stop box for your household data needs.
The other section has a long-term version of the information displayed in the top box. For instance, mine is telling me that I’ve used 90.974KW/H since installation, created 0.0418 tonnes of C02 and spent £11.371 on electricity.
You can reset these totals at any time (with the reset button on the back), or you can hold down the ADJUST key to change it from total to an average reading for the day, week or month. It’s a neat little feature.
Ideally, it would have been nice to enable a scrolling mode which runs through all of the options, or mix and match – to display current energy use combined with total cost. However, as it stands it’s extremely easy to navigate and very responsive.
For a unit with a mere three buttons, there are a plethora of options to set if you want to delve particularly deep. You can change the tariff rate to work out your exact spend based upon your energy suppliers rate, although variable rates are a bit awkward. On/off peak times can be defined (with up to six variables allowed), but the option to drop the cost after a certain usage is not available.
You can also set an alarm to alert you if you go over a certain power usage. It is extremely difficult to find a reason for this function – set it too low, for example, and it’ll go off every time you turn on the kettle or run the iron. Set it too high and you’ll only hear the beep when the dishwasher and washing machine are engaged in an energy death-match, refereed by the fan-assisted oven and his tireless linesman, the power shower.
For green-freaks, the best thing about the device is the PC connectivity. Plug it into your computer and minute-by-minute power usage for the last 30 days will be uploaded to the OWL software. If you forget to do it within thirty days, the device also stores day-by-day power usage for nearly two years. There are plenty of different options to display the data, too. From live usage, to historical usage, to a tariff comparison chart, for finding the best deal for you.
Your usage history can also be displayed on the device, but it is nowhere near as nice a bit fiddly. Only the most neurotic of energy-savers would go to the trouble of viewing the data with the various button-presses that it entails.
Of course, no energy monitoring device would be useful without the guarantee of an accurate reading. It all comes down to the sensor device attached to the transmitting unit, which clips on to the power cable on your electricity meter. Tom at Owl cleared up the technical details for us:
The sensing device is basically a current transformer. It converts the magnetic field generated by the alternating current going through the live cable (coming from your house’s electricity meter) into a low voltage signal which is sent to the transmitter. It is this conversion process which controls the accuracy of the overall device, the better the build quality of the sensor the better the device accuracy can be.”
“We pride ourselves in very well made sensors, accurate down to a starting power load of 40W, and low power usage sensitivity of around 14W. Above 1A the best we guarantee is 10% accuracy and above 3A we deliver better than 5% accuracy.
While we couldn’t test those figures, we did manage to conduct a MacGyver test – that is, a test cobbled together from the things around us. Basically, we turned off everything except for a 100w bulb. Taking into account various electrical anomalies, the power reading should be between 90 and 110 watts – the closer to 100 the better. OWL told us 97. We were thrilled.
You see, we also had another energy meter device installed for comparison, and it rolled in at around 76 watts. The OWL was 11% closer to our prediction than the competing device.
This test was such a low-tech solution that naming the other monitor would be unfair – any number of things could have affected that outcome. However, with such a close relation to our prediction, it does show that the OWL is a pretty accurate monitoring system – and one that is recommended.