Energy monitoring – Is it worth it?

Over the last few years we have seen a steady increase in the number of energy and utility companies offering these little electronic gadgets aimed at monitoring the amount of electricity we use.  The question for me is, do they actually produce a nett end reduction in the amount of power used in the home or small office.  We all know the importance of monitoring energy consumption, but is this the way to do it?

Energy monitoring in the home

With the costs of energy rising and also our thirst for IT gadgets and standby buttons, the need for controlling or at least understanding where and when our energy is becoming more and more important.  In the home it is very easy to waste electricity, you know, walk out of the room and leave the TV on for a while.  Leave lights on, keep chargers plugged in all the time.  But on the flip-side it is not easy to actually reduce the energy requirements that we actually need.  For example, you have to charge your phone or you have to have some lights on at night.  Or cook, heat water and/or similar.

home energy monitoring deviceSo far the main solution to this has been to either buy or obtain (from the utility company) a small battery operated unit like the Owl one.  (Owl website).  Since the most basic unit, they have vastly improved things with a USB version, whereby the unit can store 2-years worth of data and link it to a PC.

Google Power MeterGoogle Power chart

A couple of years ago Google announced a new service called Google Power Meter and it has only very recently spread to the UK.  In effect it is a way to view your current energy usage through your Google account in a very similar format to Adwords reporting style.  So far as I understand it, it is being supplied through two companies in the UK and the main focus so far is domestic.  But there doesn’t appear to be any major barriers to rolling it out for larger and more industrial applications.  Here is an excellent and more in depth write-up.

Smart metering

According to the BBC website, “By 2020, every home in Britain will be fitted with a smart meter – a device that shows exactly how much gas and electricity is being used.”  This allows energy companies to meter houses much more accurately and could spell the end of the estimated bills in the future.  It has also been suggested that these smart meters could be used to automatically adjust a user to the most appropriate tariff even during the day.

But is is worth, monitoring energy at home?

Right so you’ve bought your shiny new portable energy monitoring device or perhaps you’ve signed up to Google Power or go a smart meter.  What next, you spend a few days or weeks glancing at the numbers on display and perhaps running around switching off lights.  Perhaps you have started shouting and point at the display with the kids for leaving stuff on.

You’ve got an electricity bill of maybe £500 per year, this device has cost you £30-50.  So you need to save 10% before you actually save anything.  These units also require batteries, so you’ve probably spent a few pounds on powering the unit.

My main point/question is, do you consistently save power by using these units?

My personal view on this, having used a unit for a while on and off.  Once you have identified the main electrical wasters, it seems to lose its purpose.  Don’t let me put you off, because any energy saving is always good, not only for your wallet, but also for the planet/environment.  But I would say, that anyone with even the smallest amount of energy sense, will be able to make the savings, without buying one of these items.  The Google power metering system looks a better long-term bet for energy monitoring, because you can see trends over longer periods of time and I feel that you become much more in control.