Electricity prices continue to rise, so it’s no surprise that there are an increasing number of gadgets on the market that claim to be able to help save money on our bills. They’re called things like Home Energy Monitor, Electricity Usage Monitor, or just Electricity Monitor. Then there’s another kind which, confusingly, has a similar name: the Smart Monitor.
Used properly, both can help you compare electricity use and find ways to cut costs. However, there is considerable confusion about what they do. Which.co.uk conducted a poll and found that of the 2,400 respondents, a third thought they were the same thing. They’re not, and the differences are important.
You’re Getting Smart, Whether You Like It Or Not
Smart meters will be installed by your energy supplier. You’ll get one for gas and one for electricity – and you have no choice. It’s a government-backed initiative to replace all existing home and business meters. If all goes to plan, you’ll have yours by 2020.
Most people’s first question on hearing this news is whether they’ll have to pay. It’s likely you will, but the cost will probably be wrapped up in your bill somehow. How much it will cost you, nobody yet knows. Actually, you’re already paying for meter readings (whether you realise it or not), and the new Smart Meters don’t ever need to be read – so it’s swings and roundabouts. Any difference should be minimal.
The next question is probably “how will it save me money?” The simple answer is, it won’t – at least not directly. Smart Meters are just a more accurate way of measuring your consumption, and save your energy provider the hassle of having to come to your home for readings.
The good news is, thanks to the built-in screen you have access to the same information your electricity company does. What’s more, it’s instant reporting. You don’t have to wait until you get your bill and then wonder what you were using that was so expensive – you can simply turn something on and see what happens.
So you’ll be able to compare electricity use at different times of day – with different appliances – and modify what you do accordingly. You might want a calculator handy, but it should be relatively easy to work out a number of ways to make savings.
What Can You Do, Right Now?
Although around one and a half million Smart Meters have already been installed, it’s almost certainly going to be a while until you get yours. Those already working are part of various pilot schemes – and may not even be the actual meters eventually used. Full-scale roll-out isn’t planned to start until 2015, so what can you do in the meantime?
That’s where Electricity Monitors come in. These usually come in three parts: a hand-held or table-top display unit, a sensor and a transmitter. The sensor goes on the main meter cable. It’s not wired in – it clips on – so there’s no danger. It works out the current flow by measuring the small magnetic field generated. The transmitter is plugged in to the sensor, thus sending the information to your monitor, wherever in the house you happen to be. You should get electricity usage in kiloWatt hours (kWh), actual cost (Â£) and also carbon emissions (tonnes of CO2), so you can keep an eye on how environmentally friendly you’re being too.
Some energy companies will provide you with an Electricity or Energy Monitor for free, depending on what tariff you are on. If you’re doesn’t, you can get them from a range of major high street stores and supermarkets or order them online. Prices range from around Â£20 to over Â£100, depending on specification.
In operation, they’re much like Smart Meters. The way they display the information might differ, but you can test each of your electrical appliances and gadgets to see what effect they have on your usage. If you compare electricity consumption across lots of devices, you can put together an accurate picture of where your biggest costs are and what savings are possible.
Spend Now Or Wait?
If you’ve managed without an Electricity Monitor so far – and you can’t get a free one from your energy supplier – should you bother? After all, if a Smart Meter does the same job, won’t you just be wasting your money if you buy something now?
The government-backed Energy Saving Trust (http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk) said that if you compare electricity use from just the devices in your house that are on standby, it would be possible to save between Â£50 and Â£100 a year. If switching a few gadgets off could make that big a difference, it’s easy to see how much more you might save using the precise readings from an Electricity Monitor. You could recoup your investment by the time your next bill comes in and be able to carry on making reductions until the new Smart Meter takes over.
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