Monday, 3 July 2017

Would you like an itemised electricity bill? Please help make this possible.

When you go shopping in a supermarket you expect to see the price of each item marked and if you are watching the pennies you probably have a good estimate of what the final bill will be before you go to the checkout. But when you get your electricity bill you have little idea how much of that is for the lighting, the TV, the washing machine, the freezer or whatever. Would you like to know? There are companies working on this. They are developing algorithms to look at your electricity use at high frequency (many times a second) and recognise the patterns of use from each of your appliances so they can calculate how much each one is using. At the end of each day they will be able to tell you how much energy you have used and what for (at least for the major appliances) so that you can calculate the cost and the carbon emissions. For the last two weeks I have been helping this to come about by taking part in a study conducted by Informetis. You can help too.

Informetis is a spinout from Sony Corporation and they have their European headquarters here in Cambridge at the Allia Future Business Centre in Kings Hedges Road. Their product is called Home Snapshot; it was originally developed in Japan and they want to develop the UK European market too. However, to do that they have to teach their system to recognise our appliances. They are currently monitoring my fridge and freezer, washing machine, dishwasher, tumble dryer, TV and kettle. The equipment is a bit like the power monitor I sometimes use only a bit bigger. You plug it into the socket and then the appliance into the monitor. Here is a picture of the monitor on my kettle. Most of the others are in cupboards where the appliances are plugged in. The monitor box have flexible leads so they can be used even in awkward places.

Informetis monitoring box marked by the blue arrow.

People sometimes say to me they know how much energy they use for different appliances but I find this very hard to believe unless they have actually measured them. It is astonishing how varied appliances can be. I know this from my work for DECC on the Household Electricity Survey. I used data from that to put in average values for appliances use in the home electricity calculator on my website but they are only averages. For example in the survey the average washing machine cycle took 0.5 kWh but I know mine uses twice that (it is about 20 years old). In the survey we also found some freezers (and a few fridges) using a great deal more power than they should - a more recent study found this is more often than not due to them being set to run colder than necessary. (see Reasons why your freezer may be using too much electricity). Other appliances are hard to predict too: TVs can take anything from 50W to 100W or more and it also depends partly on the settings. So it is really hard to know which are the main energy hogs in someone's house and if there is something using more than it should. A product like Home Snapshot could tell you.

Before you can reduce your electricity use effectively you need to understand what you are using it for. Anything that helps towards that goal has to be a good thing. That is why I am taking part in the Informetis trial (they are also offering a gift voucher as a thank you). It only takes a couple of weeks. You can get more information about it here.

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