Energy is becoming increasingly expensive, but do you have any idea how much electricity and gas you actually use each day? Or how much water you consume? In most countries, energy consumers pay monthly advances on their domestic energy consumption. Once every year, they receive their final statement informing them of their total annual energy consumption. This enables them to compare it with their consumption in past years. However, is this enough to trigger them to set about using energy more efficiently?
The energy bill
Usually, the final statement may give us a few sleepless nights, worrying about the fact that our energy consumption increased instead of decreased. We may even go so far as to call a family meeting about using energy more efficiently. For the following two weeks, everyone will pay more attention to each other’s energy habits. However, well-entrenched habits die hard, and slowly the focus on energy consumption will slip our mind... until next year’s final statement. For most of us, the final statement occurs too infrequently to motivate genuine long-term changes in behaviour. It takes more to truly change our habits.
Several years ago, Sarah Derby (Oxford University) published a study looking into the effectiveness of indirect and direct feedback in controlling how we consume energy. Depending on the situation, she found that indirect feedback resulted in 0–10% savings in energy, whereas direct feedback led to 5–15% energy savings. For North American ‘pay-as-you-go’ systems with a clear link between consumption and payment, savings amounted to 10–20%.
So how do we get direct feedback?
First, there exist stand-alone energy meters that plug into an ordinary electrical socket between the mains and the appliance. These measuring devices indicate the appliance’s energy consumption and show the daily, weekly or in some cases even monthly average consumption. That is a good start, especially in determining whether an ageing refrigerator or other appliance needs replacement by a new model with an A+++ energy label. Too bad for the measuring unit, but it will soon lose its usefulness when the new refrigerator is installed.
Another disadvantage of stand-alone measuring devices is that they are spread throughout the home and the display (or feedback) is not always easily accessible. Reading the display at socket level, just above the floor can often require some uncomfortable physical contortions. It becomes even harder to read the display when the socket is located behind the device.
Integrating modern technology
Today, most Integrated Home Systems (IHS) offer various ways to map energy consumption. Often, this data is read from one touch screen at a central location in the home. These screens can also control the IHS as well as tell you who is at the front door. Such screens not only inform you of the current energy consumption, they also give you last week’s, last month’s, and even last year’s energy consumption. In most cases, they also enable you to monitor the energy production level of your PV solar panels.
Several manufacturers enable the viewer to visualise the energy consumption in monetary value, rather than kWh or m³, a rather arcane number for most people. In this way, people can immediately see what it costs them to use certain devices at different times of the day (multiple rates), or what they can save by lowering the heating by even a single degree.
If you do not want a touch screen attached to the wall, your smartphone, tablet or computer can keep you informed via direct feedback about your home’s energy consumption anytime, anywhere.