Can energy monitors really cut bills?
As the weather starts to turn colder it's time to start thinking about heating the house for the winter, and the higher energy bills we'll see as a result.
We need to keep our homes warm, of course, but there are plenty of ways that most of us end up using energy that we could have gone without.
It's not always clear exactly how and where energy is being wasted, however.
That's where energy monitors come in. In this article we'll look at how these devices work, in theory and in practice, and then look at three of the best models available at the moment, and what makes them so good.
Energy monitors: how they work
Monitors are simple devices that plug in to any socket and display household energy use.
Not smart meters
Lets get one thing out of the way first.
Energy monitors shouldn't be confused with smart meters. Those are the new, more accurate replacements for standard energy meters that are set to be installed in all UK homes by 2020.
Smart meters are similar - they also claim to offer a more detailed overview of energy use and abuse - but they are being installed by the energy providers and will be overseen by them, just like the meters we have now.
So you could wait for a smart meter instead of buying a monitor, but you might be waiting six years and during that time you could reduce your bills instead.
Choosing energy monitors
Wireless energy monitors models are made up of two parts: a transmitter, which sits near to the electricity meter, and a wireless screen that displays energy usage, usually in terms of how much electricity and CO2 is being used and the cost for each hour.
Some models can work out projected energy use or plug into a computer for a more in depth analysis.
Most models can't tell you how much gas you're using, though some can.
There are also monitors available that plug into a socket. These are generally regarded as being slightly more accurate than the wireless options, though they'll only measure the usage of devices that plugged into them.
That means they can't be used to get an overview of household consumption and that you'll always have to leave out the impact of appliances that are direct wired, like alarm systems, lighting circuits, ovens and central heating pumps.
Using energy monitors
Energy monitors don't save energy. Changing usage as a result of what the energy monitor says saves energy.
Satisfied users agree that it's all a matter of experimentation, finding the best ways to save. That means being willing to take the time to become more aware of energy use by doing things like:
- Setting up the right tariff: the cost per KwH which you can find on your bill. This will make any costs the meter shows more accurate.
- Checking at the end of the day not many things need to be running when you're asleep so it's a good time to check the monitor and see what can be turned off.
- Testing many appliances have energy saving modes, or ways you can make them use less energy, like turning off standby mode. Monitors are a good way to test whether those measures really make a difference.
Do they cut bills?
Studies disagree on the affect that monitors have on real usage but agree that the savings are fairly small: some say they reduce use by 3%, others that it's more like 30%.
It's hard to tell partly because it obviously depends on how much energy the house was wasting in the first place.
Homes that are already pretty efficient may not save that much but there's certainly the potential to make big savings, and just become more aware of energy use.
Energy monitors: our top 3
Energy monitors are available from the suppliers as part of special contracts but, as we've covered before, the problem with those is that they then charge a higher rate for the actual energy which is not going to be worthwhile.
Luckily, you can pick up monitors for as little as £20, though top models cost more than £100.
1. Wattson Classic 01
Let's start by looking at that top end of the price range. The Wattson Classic 01 is about £120 at the moment but it's far more advanced than most models.
The design is simplistic and chic, mood lights show households energy use, and users can monitor individual appliances, find the projected cost for the whole year and connect to a computer to show closer analysis of energy use.
It's also able to measure the effectiveness of home energy generation measures like solar panels.
Given the savings available through energy monitors most households would be better off with a cheaper device though, even though the Wattson does looks good, something like...
2. Efergy Elite Classic 3.0
For less than half the price of the Wattson, about £30 as we write this, well respected energy monitoring firm Efergy are offering a clear and simple wireless monitor.
It shows energy use in KwH and what that means in pounds and also has a memory function, so you can track energy use over time.
It's also known for its accuracy, which can be a problem with some monitors.
3. Efergy EMS 2.0
Efergy also do one of the best rated plug in energy monitors around.
It's about £20 and, again, shows energy use in KwH and what that means in pounds. It also has a battery backup so you can look at it even when its not plugged in between the socket and the appliance.