About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Electricity monitor

Our electricity provider has sent us a new toy to play with: A free gadget that measures and displays our electricity usage in real time. I'd been thinking of buying one of these, so I was very pleased to get one for free, but I did wonder why they'd do that. After all, the main purpose of the gadget is to help us reduce our electricity usage, which is not exactly in their interests.

Reading the small print, I thought I'd found the answer, "We reserve the right to monitor your usage, including time of day usage." (I should explain that the thing comes with a link-up to online software). Decent time-of-day usage data are highly valuable to an electricity provider, so they can optimise their output.

I've been very interested to see how much power different things use. The fridge and the central heating pump are our main 'background' users of electricity, taking 100-200 Watts each, but not all the time. I was relieved to see that the laptops use very little - about 40 Watts, and again, not all the time. Right now the monitor is displaying zero, although I have the computer plugged into the mains.

electricity monitor reading zero with computer
The little light by the power cable shows the laptop is plugged in and switched on, but the electricity monitor says it's drawing no power

This big users are predictable, but still startling. We all know that electric kettles use a lot of power, but seeing the monitor shoot up to 2.5 kW is a striking reminder of that fact. I'm sure it's going to encourage me to heat less water (so it's on for less time) and to make the tea straight away, so I don't have to reboil.

The washing machine also uses kilowatts, but I'm not sure I'm ready to switch to hand washing just yet. The real biggie, though, is the shower. We have an electric shower which is pathetically feeble, yet still manages to use 7.5 kW, and we use it for much longer at a time than the kettle. We really must crack on with those solar panels!

As well as power consumption, the monitor has a built in thermometer and displays the temperature. At first, I thought this was an added bonus. Most lists of tips for saving energy include advice to turn the thermostat down a degree or two, so a thermometer fits with that approach. However, this one is slightly different.

The accompanying booklet informs us that a temperature "below 17°C is considered too cold for healthy living," and "If flashing it is below 13°C, please turn your heating up." This thing is geared up to tell us to increase our heating, but will never tell us to reduce it.

Ever since it came into our house, this thing has been complaining that it's too cold:

Electricity monitor flashing warnings at me. I had trouble taking these photos, but the one on the left has no temperature information whereas if you look closely at the one on the right (or the one above), you'll see it says "too cold" and "11" in the bottom right hand corner*

Not only does it complain, but it consistently reads two degrees lower than the old fashioned thermometer we have on the wall. Call me cynical, but this company sells gas, too...


*We do keep our house cool but I have to agree that, even allowing for the two-degree error, 13°C is on the chilly side. This is because our central heating has broken, but that's another story.


  1. You are from hardier stock than me - I find 17 is the lowest I can tolerate or my hands are too cold to function! I don't mind wearing extra jumpers etc, but gloves aren't terribly practical!
    I found our monitor a bit of a useless gadget after the initial gasping at the power guzzlers. After that, it was just kind of preaching to the converted.

  2. I think I may find it annoying as well as useless, before long. Right now it's not only warning me that it's too cold, but also that I'm in danger of exceeding my target (because I did a load of washing this morning) and the 'Gridwatch alert' is on, which is nothing more than a very basic clock, which comes on between 4 and 7 every evening.

    Yesterday I linked it up to the online software, and found some very odd energy saving tips: "Use a ceiling fan to cool down" - it's obviously not receiving the temperature data! - "Close blinds or net curtains during the day" - er, why? Oh! As opposed to closing the curtains! - and the one that amused me most, "Wear clothes again instead of washing them!"

    Still, it did give me a pretty graph, and I like nothing better than a nice graph.


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