The Energy Challenge was introduced in a Transition Kentish Town hosted event in September, and already a number of households have signed up.
The idea is that representatives from three local Transition Initiatives monitor their electricity use over an agreed time, using real time monitors with the data recorded either automatically or manually and participants reporting back at meetings to discuss ways of reducing their energy use.
Local environmentalist Prashant Vaze gave a talk on his previous experience of a local monitoring scheme, and energy and IT consultant Paul Tanner talked about his experiences of the metering challenge and looked at ways of automating and presenting the data.
The Energy Challenge arose out of three local Transition Initiatives – Transition Kentish Town, Transition Tufnell Park and Transition Dartmouth Park – doing their own talks and films, but wanting to co-operate on something practical.
Within the three groups there is experience of a previous energy monitoring project – the HiCan Home Energy Metering Project – which successfully monitored energy use over ten weeks in teams of six with 22 households, and resulted in an overall energy saving of 11% from baseline and in some cases as high as 57%. The winning contestants had 29% overall savings. All the teams except one managed to reduce their electricity use. This has obvious monetary and environmental benefits.
Prashant explained that each contestant had to attach a small sensor and wireless transmitter around the wire near the electricity meter which sends information to the display unit which tells them their power use either in kW or pence per hour. The display units had batteries and could be carried around from room to room.
The second type of meter was a plug in meter. This was inserted into the electric socket in-between the appliance and the mains electricity. It is used to measure the power use of single devices.
Each of the contestants was asked to complete a spreadsheet about their home and household and to fill in information from their standard electricity supplier meter every fortnight picking the same time and day. The first two readings – a fortnight apart – were intended to establish a baseline use for their household. The real time display meters and plug in meters were provided after week two and they were then asked to try and reduce their consumption in competition with each other. Readings were taken every two weeks for a six week period.
Several people wished to retain the meters after the competition was over, and others wanted to buy one themselves.
Prashant said that the competition aspect was of interest to some people and it had the effect of galvanising effort. Four events were held over ten weeks.
Some of the issues arising from the HiCan project will hopefully be addressed in the new project, which will include a lot more automation. This will hopefully reduce the time spent filling in spreadsheets, along with some of the physical problems about reading the display, due to location, and programming in tariff data.
Increasing automation (recording of data to a site, which can be anonymised, but also available to the individual participant through a password or app) will allow more time for feedback, group work and to institute behavioural changes.
The potential to automate and collect data is significant, along with the pooling of the data into groups, and the ability of both groups and individuals to access the data in a readily understandable format.
Paul Tanner said in his talk that average household energy prices rose from £600 in 2004 to £1,200 this year. He said if you can’t measure, you can’t manage and the advantage of automating the data is that it gets around the inconvenience of recording manually.
He showed via a series of graphs from automatic monitoring systems of temperature, energy use and costs, how money is wasted unnecessarily on heating. And he said 80% of domestic energy use goes on space and water heating.
And he went through some useful gadgets including the Network OWL which connects via Wifi, with no monitor required, and other web and phone apps. He also outlined Social Meter software, which is intended for this project.
Ten households from the three Transition Towns have already signed up to the Challenge which is due to start in January. One interesting feature is that they are from a diverse set of households and housing stock, ranging from three bedroom Mansion blocks to two bedroom seventies built flats, and 4-storey Victorian and other housing types. They also range from single occupancy, couples and families.
The Energy Groups have already agreed a bulk discount with OWL.