You may remember that a while ago I spoke about the first national Smart Meter Challenge, involving 15 families newly equipped with smart meters and smart energy monitors, to better understand how this new and innovative technology can help people be more energy efficient. So with this week being the Big Energy Saving Week, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share with you some of the findings I’ve found most interesting from the Challenge.
The households taking part in the smart meter challenge had an eye-opening first few weeks, discovering how their gas and electricity usage adds up through different household activities. And while all consumed energy differently, they were united by the sense that smart meters are revolutionising how they think about and control energy in their homes. And with this improved clarity and control, consumers can use their smart meters to identify news ways to save energy, reduce bills* and carbon emissions.
A photo of challenge participant Deborah Auton with her smart meter - British Gas via Stephen Shepherd Photographer/Guardian
Here’s some of my highlights from households involved in the five week Smart Meter Challenge:
Week one – The families were given the opportunity to get togrips with the smart energy monitor and see whether it changed their energy behaviors.
Many of the households already tried to do small things to reduce their energy use but found that by having a smart energy monitor, these actions quickly increased because they were more aware about their energy use. The families liked using the ‘traffic light’ system on their monitor to provide a snapshot of how much energy they were using and tried to keep it in the ‘green’ through activities like switching off appliances left on standby and only boiling enough water for just one cup of tea rather than the whole kettle.
Dariusz said, ‘I’ve been really enjoying getting to know the smart energy monitor. This thing is brilliant..My wife and I have been concentrating on trying to keep the monitor green. We’ve started to change our behaviour. In fact it began when we plugged the monitor in – as soon as the light changes from green someone will ask: ‘Why has it changed? Who’s left a light on?’
Week two – The participants were asked to select three energy saving tips to see what difference this made to their energy consumption.
Our families discovered that making small changes were easy and made a big difference, such as washing clothes at 30 degrees instead of 40. We also found that once they started to think about energy saving, they began to explore longer term savings from fitting items like LED lights and were even inspired to come up with their own tips, such as keeping a mug by the kettle to measure and boil only the amount of water needed.
Lynne said, ‘The tips have all made us think differently about energy; how we can save it and how we have been wasteful in certain areas. So, that's something that we will definitely continue to concentrate on’.
Week three – This week’s challenge required families to work out which household appliances were the worst for guzzling energy and to see whether switching items off, rather than leaving them on standby, made a difference.
The households were impressed by how the smart energy monitor helped them identify which appliances were the most energy intensive. As a result they felt empowered to tackle areas where the biggest savings could be made. They were surprised to find out that their top five energy guzzlers were the iron, grill, hair dryer, toaster and shower rather than the things you might expect, like the TV or vacuum cleaner. As a result, some of the families said they would now prioritise energy ratings when buying new products.
Paul said, ‘I really enjoyed this week - one night, we left all the items on and then the following day, we turned everything off: the kettle, the oven, the microwave, the televisions… and over that 9 hour period we saved 10 pence. That doesn't sound a lot...but over 24 hours, and then over period of a year that saving is quite significant’.
Week four – The households were asked to do a ‘digital detox’, whereby no digital devices would be used for two hours twice a week, to find out what impact this had on their household.
The participants became aware of just how many devices were switched on all the time, which assisted their identification of turning off appliances not being used, such as the radio. Most of the families also felt that the digital detox enabled them to be more proactive and spend quality time together which they hoped to continue after the challenge. However, for some of the participants who spent a lot of time alone at home, the detox made them realise the importance of some devices in helping them connect with the world outside.
Andy said, ‘My wife and I are now very much aware of just how much time is spent with the TV or computer on, whether we're using them or not. It will certainly have an impact on our behavior which will make a noticeable difference to our bills’.
Week five – The final challenge involved each household giving rooms in their home a ‘five minute energy makeover’, based on everything they had learnt from the challenge.
In the bathroom the families found that making small changes to water use were really effective, such as reducing the boiler temperature by a few degrees or not running the shower for a long time before getting in. Some families also found alternative, low-tech solutions to reducing their energy use in the kitchen by washing up dishes in the sink more regularly rather than using the dishwasher and using a steamer to cook vegetables more efficiently.
Kate said, ‘While it is a little scary to see exactly what you're spending minute by minute, it is an excellent way to really keep track of what things are costing and where you might make small changes to save money. It has been surprisingly easy to make these changes and there are many that I will continue to do…’.
As you can see, smart meters have transformed the lives of the families in our challenge and their relationship with energy. Outside of this challenge, British Gas is leading the installation of smart meters having delivered over one million in UK homes and trained more than 1,200 Smart Energy Experts. And with the Government wanting smart meters rolled-out as standard across Britain by 2020, we look forward to helping even more people in Britain become a nation of smarter energy users.
You can read more about some of the households taking part in the challenge in their smart challenge blogs.
* Research conducted by Oxford Economics estimated that smart meters can help reduce UK energy consumption by 5%, while nearly two-thirds of our British Gas smart meter customers estimate savings of up to £75 a year.