Lights Out

I buy my Electricity from Octopus Energy, a firm which is committed to selling only renewable power. I mentioned in a previous post that here in the UK prices for most things are rising sharply, especially for electricity and petrol. I gather Gas is going up too but I don’t use that. So I am trying to be careful and cut my spending where I can. Therefore when I had an email from Octopus setting out a challenge to reduce my bill I was interested. They pointed out that a big reason for the increase in their prices was the global rise in gas prices. Obviously as a renewables company they don’t use gas but the National Grid have to have old gas fired power stations on stand-by for times when everyone switches appliances on at the same time – times such as early evening when workers get home, the heating goes on, the lights and TV are switched on and they make a cuppa and start to prepare a meal. Renewables can’t be controlled in the same way as the old power stations and so far battery / storage technology is not able to save the power generated on a sunny or windy day and release it when it is most needed. If those peaks of demand could be evened out it would be much more feasible to look to a totally renewable future.

So an experiment is underway. If I signed up for the challenge I would be given a series of 2 hour slots when I was asked to reduce my consumption from my average by a certain percentage. If I succeeded the power I did use would be free. This is all possible because I have a smart meter which apparently sends a reading to them every half hour. They could calculate my average use during the time slot and then set a target. Plus they could know if I had met it. It sounded like a good plan. I checked that Laura was up for it too – although she lives independently in the cabin her electricity comes through my meter so if she turned everything on while I was trying to cut usage it wouldn’t work – and she was.

The first slot was a week last Thursday. Unfortunately I forgot to turn the heating off before going out! I came home an hour in and immediately shut it down. I knew that Laura had left only her fridge/freezer connected so I expected the smart meter display to go green. It stayed orange! No appliances were on so where was it going? How was I still using almost 1Kwh? That was 19p per hour spent! I turned off all the lights and checked everywhere. My laptop and phone were on charge but they were full so presumably taking nothing or very very little. The router and its relays? No idea but I will find out. And then I realised – I have 2 bulkhead lights in the carport which are fitted with daylight sensing bulbs but no switch. That was deliberate so that no-one had to remember to switch them on and I had assumed they took very little power – but they were unnecessary. Another light in a tiny hallway between the kitchen, stairs and my workroom was also on all the time. I switched off the main switch on the consumer unit for the house thinking that the freezer and fridge would be fine for the remaining 45 minutes and sat doing stuff on my laptop (on battery) by candlelight! I have now had an email to say I missed the target of 40% reduction by 1%! Which means that next time I should succeed. And I had learned something.

The next morning I took the bulbs out of the unswitched lights and strung up fairy lights instead. They are on switched sockets so I only use them when I need them, they take almost no power, and whilst they are not as bright as the old bulbs they are good enough to see my way across the space. I am not sure how much these changes will save me but now I am on a mission to check EVERYTHING with a power supply! Obviously the big user is my heating but if you read my previous post (if you missed it you can find it here you will know I am onto that.

This Friday I was given another slot. I switched the heating off a quarter of an hour before it began and went round every socket switching off everything I could. I got down to 1 – 2 pence per hour! In the process I discovered that I had never disconnected the router on the satellite internet system because it is under my bed! One small saving for the planet – one bigger saving for this woman! I tried switching on a few things to see how much difference they made. The mobile router and its relays take about 2p per hour – not much but left on 24 /7 it is £175 a year. I feel I have to have the internet on in the day but it is no big deal to switch them off at night when I go to bed and fire it up again in the morning. Those experiments mean I used about 10 pence worth of power in the 2 hours – good news for Octopus who will give it to me free. Obviously I could play a game and use, say 58% of my average thus getting them to pay for as much as I can but someone must have pointed that out because now they are offering a choice – get what I do use free or get paid for what I DON’T use. On the basis of Friday that would pay me well.

Of course all this does is displace my electricity demand to a different time. In the morning I had done a load of laundry, baked bread and a cake, made a batch of soup and vacuumed the bedroom carpet – all well before the challenge started. The heating had been on and the house was warm so losing it for 2 hours was no big deal. At 6:35 I switched it on again and the smart meter went red as it recharged the tanks and pumped water round the radiators. But this is an experiment to see what is possible. Maybe there will be differential pricing in the future with one tariff when demand is low and another when it is high. Lindy’s house still has an ‘Economy 7’ meter with cheaper fuel after 7pm. So she only cooks anything which needs a long simmer or bake, or runs her washing machine and dishwasher in the evenings. She assures me that having got used to it she manages fine. The stew she cooked one night is quickly reheated in the microwave the following day when she wants to eat it. She is also using her woodstove more for long slow cooking – which I will be able to do too when mine arrives.

Octopus do have a special tariff which tracks the wholesale price of electricity every half hour. At times it is free or, even better, you get paid to use it! The downside is that at others it is much dearer than the normal price. I can choose to use appliances when it is cheap but the heating would be more tricky to control so finely so until that is sorted I will stay as I am.

In a funny kind of way I am enjoying investigating all this and although ‘1p per hour’ sounds very little it all mounts up so I will keep chipping away at the bills. It is an interesting challenge – How low can I get it?