Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Disaggregated Homes: Household energy consumption without major consume...

Disaggregated Homes: Household energy consumption without major consume...: I've already noted that the tumble dryer, washing machine and dishwasher account for a quarter of Alex's energy consumption. However...

Time for a new approach to electricity - how we can solve the energy trilemma together. Introduction

It’s time!
Time to make electricity affordable.
Time to save the planet.
Time to keep the lights on.
If I told you that you could make a significant contribution to doing this without even reducing how much you use, and without any expensive equipment, would you believe me?
Most people probably wouldn’t.
They might say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there must be a catch.
But there isn’t!
In the UK, every winter weekday, from 3 to 8pm, peaking at around 5.30, we use seven large power stations ( 7 Gigawatts) worth of electricity more than we do at any other time. Why? Because some people are coming home from school and from work, and it’s getting dark. Most offices, factories and shops are still working.
But here’s the good news – that peak, which is about 14% above the normal daytime level, can be easily avoided.
If we all shifted our consumption out of the peak by an average of just 350W (3½ bright old fashioned light bulbs) the problem would be solved.
If you ask people in the electricity industry, most of them will tell you that the problem will be solved by smart meters – unfortunately it won’t!
Smart meters in themselves will not switch anything off, much less work out when to delay consumption for specific appliances. They will allow for more complicated time-of-use tariffs in future, which will penalize us for using electricity at peak times, but even these will rely on us to respond by switching things off or delaying them coming on.

Monday, 1 December 2014

How many hospital beds does it cost to provide extra electricity at peak times - or to timeshift it?

Depending on whether you take the EDF or the EU figure, Hinkley C will cost us the consumer/taxpayer between £5000 and £8000 per kilowatt of capacity. To underwrite this, the Government is committing us as taxpayers to a wholesale price guarantee to EDF of £93/MWh, which is 9.3p/unit. To get the corresponding domestic retail price, you can  at least double this figure to 18p.

What are we paying for and are there cheaper ways of getting it?

The 3.2GW capacity of Hinkley C equates to 120 Watts for each UK household.

Timeshifting 120W per household is not onerous. If each of us used delay timers, as fitted to modern appliances, it would very easily eliminate the need for such a power station.

All we need to do is set our dishwasher, tumble drier or washing machine to
come on at around 2-4 am when national demand is at a minimum.

Each of us would then save £600 to £1000 in new capacity costs, at no extra cost to anyone. We just need to remember to buy appliances with delay timers when we come to replace them.

Or do we have a spare £24 billion for the next new power station?  It's over ten times what George Osborne has just promised the NHS as a top-up.

At £255/night, it's 94 million hospital bed nights.

Tell your friends!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Hinkley C - what we can do personally to control the cost of new power stations.

Some searching questions came up when the National Grid disclosed in late October that national power generation capacity would be at a seven year low this winter. The safety margin – spare capacity - fell from 17 per cent three years back to around four per cent for the coming cold season. Generator shutdowns and closures were blamed for the steep drop. The National Grid made predictably soothing noises. Yet the point had been lit up, in flames, on national media a week earlier as a huge fire spread across four cooling towers at Didcot power station in Oxfordshire. True, Didcot was back on stream the next day. But electricity output at the plant will be less than four-fifths of normal levels for some time. And the power station serves around a million people. Do we need to worry? The short answer is probably not – or not that much. Yet the UK’s shrinking power reserves throw into sharp relief a longer-term issue that everyone among the UK’s 64 million people will need to consider, even if their prime concern is keeping household bills down. You could call it ‘The Energy Trilemma’ – keeping the lights on, keeping the bills down, and preventing climate change. It’s often presented as a huge conundrum. Yet there is a surprisingly simple answer. How can anyone make such a bold statement? And, if true, why isn’t it being done already? Each winter day in the UK, between 3pm and 8pm, we use about 14% more electricity than at other times . People are coming home from work and school. Yet many offices and factories are still hard at work, and burning power. It’s cold and dark, so we use a lot of electricity. Britain wants to cut greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050. And with power costs spiraling year on year, businesses have a strong financial incentive to cut their electricity consumption during those peak hours. At home, it’s another story. We can try shifting our use of power-hungry appliances to different times. But unless you’re on an Economy Seven tariff or have solar panels, you are unlikely to benefit financially. Or are you? Hinkley C, a new nuclear power station, got the construction go-ahead from the EU in late 2014. It will yield 3.2 Gigawatts of power, or 3.2 million Kilowatts of power. The estimated cost was also hiked from £16 billion to £24.5 billion. That works out at nearly £8,000 per kilowatt. On current usage, we need about one kilowatt each for every person in the country. But the key point is that this applies only at peak times. The decision to build new power stations is based on estimates of future peak demand. It’s also assumed that domestic consumers – you and I, assuming we’re on the mains – will do nothing to reduce our individual peak demand because we have no direct financial incentive to do so. But we do have a very significant collective incentive to do something about it. That’s because every kilowatt we stop using at peak times contributes to a large cost saving on building new power stations. The saving is around £8,000 per per person if we carry on building nuclear power stations like Hinkley C, and the cost will rise. In the long run we’ll have to stump up these sums through bills or taxes, for the government subsidizes the construction costs of new power stations and needs to get the money back. So how can we avoid paying? By switching our peak consumption times. That goes for immersion heaters, dishwashers, washing machines and tumble driers. And there’s no need to reduce our overall consumption, either, though it’s useful in terms of bills and the environment alike. Shifting our use of power-hungry appliances that aren’t especially time-sensitive away from 3pm-8pm peak period would largely eliminate the peak. And with modern appliances, it takes no effort at all, simply because they’re usually fitted with delay timers. For instance, if you normally start up your dishwasher at 7pm, you could delay it for anything up to 20 hours - without having to get up in the middle of the night. (I set mine to start at 2am.) Immersion heaters are another clear example. They don’t need to be on all the time. So if you have one, you can fit a time switch and the water will stay hot. (I set mine to switch off at 7am, back on again at 8pm. And if I happen to want a piping hot bath during the day, I can easily override it.) There’s a strong precedent for taking collective action of this kind, and that is recycling. We are mostly willing to sift our rubbish into categories, with no direct reward. We just know it’s the right thing to do. It helps. Isn’t it time to do the right thing with electricity as well? If enough people did, there would be an indirect payoff, both financial and environmental: fewer new power stations, no matter what fuel they burn.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

If Hinkley C costs £16 billion, how much is it worth to get rid of the 7GW peak?

At £16 billion, Hinkley C is costing a staggering £5 billion per GW.
If we carry on like this, our electricty capacity will cost us about £5,000 each!
That's each person, so nearer £15,000 per household.
Are we willing to do anything about it?
I hope so.
Eliminating the 7GW peak would save us £35 billion for a start.
It would be worth the Government giving away smart appliances that delay switching on to after peak times.
Think about it.
A new dishwasher  would save £500 in generating capacity cost even on the conservative assumption that shifting its use out of the peak period only saves 100W.
Please Mr Davey, can I have a new washing machine? I promise not to use it between 3 and 8pm in winter....
Thoughts on a postcard to Ed Davey at DECC - or tweet me @tomgld1

Monday, 15 September 2014

The advice I am giving on my site

I am aiming to reach 1% of UK households with this series of simple messages on my site.

Can you help me do it?

How do I save money here? 
By switching off appliances when I do not need them I reduce my consumption and my bills. You can do this with automatic time switches or manually. On this site you will find out how to do this easily and cheaply, with no loss of convenience. I have time switches on my immersion heater, freezer, laptop, and a time delay on my dishwasher set to go at around 1am. I use my washing machine between 10am and 3pm, usually when the sun is shining.

 If enough of us switch appliances off between about 330 and 8pm, particularly around 530pm in midwinter, we can start closing power stations without replacing them. Then we'll all save a lot more money both in bills and taxes. We'll also substantially reduce CO2 emissions and other pollution. People often ask me "Yes, but what action can I take right now?" .

  •  If you have got an immersion heater,  wire in a time switch to it. If in doubt get an electrician to do it.

  • Use water heating appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines, or tumble dryers as little as possible  from 3:30pm to 8:00pm, particularly 4:30 to 6:30pm

  • If you can, hang washing up -outside or inside- rather than using a tumble dryer ; I was amazed how quickly clothes dry on an old fashioned ceiling mounted Victorian clothes dryer!

  • If you are buying a new dishwasher, washing machine or tumble dryer, get one with a delay timer.

  • If you have got a freezer, fit a plug-in time switch to it . A modern chest freezer can be left off for many hours without thawing the contents

  • Fit time switches to devices with their own internal battery, such as laptop computers. They can be run for several hours without mains power. 

What is an intelligent plug?

An intelligent plug switches any appliance on or off when it receives a signal to do so. They can also be programmed to switch on and off at preset times. They can be controlled from anywhere, for example using a smartphone, through a wireless broadband connection. I can switch my lights in Devon on and off from my iPhone whether I am in England or in New Zealand – anywhere that has a broadband connection. It would be easy to delegate switching to a supplier or service company such as Kiwi Power to take advantage of lower prices at different times of day.
Intelligent plugs are already available, for example the  Belkin Wemo switch. But you probably don't need one yet, normal time switches are easier and cheaper.

Why else should we be switching appliances off at particular times?

As well as direct and immediate savings, there is an urgent need in UK and elsewhere to reduce the peak demand for electricity – every 50 watts (about one old fashioned light bulb) average reduction per household at peak times will save £1 billion in new generation capacity- more if that capacity is nuclear.
There is also a need to move demand to times of low consumption to enable better use of renewable electricity whether from wind or from solar PV.  Thus the carbon dioxide emissions of the system can be progressively reduced, ultimately to zero. 
Both of these needs can be met using existing technology with no disruption or inconvenience.

Who will benefit?

We all will, through lower electricity costs, lower costs to the taxpayer (because the government is now underwriting new generation capacity) and lower carbon emissions resulting from more renewable electricity generation.

How can an intelligent plug policy be implemented?

There are already pilot projects underway,  but we do not need to wait for the results of these to start taking action. The more we reduce our peak time demand for electricity now, the lower all our bills will be in future. 
From a climate change perspective, we do not have time to wait for a sequential rollout of technologies - there are already opportunities for direct and immediate action by us as individuals.

Don’t smart meters do this?

No. Smart meters as currently planned will let both consumers and utilities know how much each household is using and when. They will make it easier to have variable time of use tariffs, which will reward us for switching; but they will not in themselves control how or when appliances are switched on or off. In any case they will not be rolled out fully until 2020 which is too long to wait before starting.

Don't low energy light bulbs solve the problem?

Low energy light bulbs have done a fantastic job in reducing demand for electricity and will continue to do so. We will nevertheless need to build new power stations to replace ageing and polluting coal and nuclear stations. The more we can do to reduce consumption at peak times, the fewer new ones will we need.

What sort of appliances could be controlled?

Freezers, fridges, water immersion heaters, dishwashers, washing machines and some other forms of heating can be controlled with no loss of convenience. Kettles, microwaves, computers (unless they have inbuilt batteries) etc. are not suitable for controlled switching for reasons of convenience in use. 

Will we be able to override the controls?

Yes.  For example, if you want to put a lot of unfrozen food into your freezer to freeze it, you can put it on fast freeze, and override the time control.

When can we start?

We can individually switch appliances off at peak times right now, manually or using an old fashioned time switch.

Monday, 8 September 2014

An energy event in Newton St Cyres

In Co-operation with the South West Energy Centre , I am hosting an Energy Roadshow event at Quickes Farm Kitchen, Newton St  Cyres, Exeter EX5 5AY at 6.30 pm on Tuesday23rd September.

Everyone wants to save energy, and working together as a community can be a great way to reduce fuel bils and energy use, but it's not always easy to know how best to go about it. Although there are plenty of options - solar power, wind generation, insulation, energy saving devices and the like- we're going to be available to help you piece together the opportunities for your home.

Come along for

  • Free unbiased advice
  • Updates on the latest technology relevant to homes
  • Ways to reduce your electricity use
  • Community Partnerships

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Engerati mentions Netherlands project that casts doubt on efficacy of smart meters

Engerati, the "smart energy nework", has many interesting articles and blogs on the subject, including a recent excellent piece on what is happening in UK - have you seen the plans for animations featuring Gaz and Leccy?

 It also draws on experience in the Netherlands which appears to show very limited -for electricity statistically insignificant- reductions in energy use following a smart meter trial there.

The message I draw from this is the overwhelming need for behavioural engagement as espoused by such enlightened companies as Opower

Why should the UK energy consumer be forced to pay for a smart meter that does not deliver savings? If implemented, they must be part of a much wider programme of engagement and energy saving techniques including time-of-use shifting., as explained on my site

Monday, 30 June 2014

Do we need smart meters?

It seems to me that the conventional wisdom on demand response has got stuck with smart meters. It says- in order to shift demand, we need time-of-use tariffs, and in order to have time-of-use tariffs we need smart meters. Smart meters will not be rolled out in UK until 2020 (but now I hear 2021....) so we can't do it until then.

This seems to me to be a policy of despair!

We can all of us, right now, shift our demand, easily, automatically and cheaply.

We just need to fit a time switch to anything that heats water, and use it!

I have done it, thousands of others have done it.

If you want to be clever, you could get app controlled devices such as the Belkin Wemo switch and ask someone else to switch it on and off for you. But why bother? Keep it simple.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Excellent Session on Smart Grids at Exeter University's Centre for Business and Climate Solutions today

Whether by luck or design, we had an excellent session today led by Tamar Bourne of Regen SW on Smart grids.

Participants included Andrew Shadrake of Climate Positive, a community energy adviser, Steve Eastland, a Cullompton based architect with direct experience of energy outcomes in buildings, Nick Thorne of Lumicity, a large scale PV developer,. Also present was an inventor of smart energy switching and metering, an anaerobic digester installer, a bitcoin expert, and a PV panel saleslady- and me.

How do we get from where we are to a smart grid where renewables are matched by responsive demand? Can we wait for smart meters or should we act now? How can we resolve transmission capacity issues for PV today? What role does community energy and demand have in this?

We discussed all of these at some length and went away with our heads buzzing and the promise of conversations and projects to come.

The best day out for months, thanks to the organiser Lucy Hawkins and the presenter Tamar Bourne.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency says it all

As a member of the British Institute for Energy Economics (BIEE), I went last week to hear Dr Fatih Birol , Chief Economist of the IEA, @IEA present their 2014 World Energy Investment Outlook.
This was truly big picture stuff - the world needs to spend around $40 Trillion over the next twenty years renewing its energy infrastructure. Most of this will be spent by governments not companies - and if we follow his advice much of it will be on energy efficiency - including my pet subject, demand response , or time shifting. I asked Fatih how he thought we would square the circle of renewables rendering balancing supply from gas turbines uneconomic, and he confirmed my view that demand response was vital.

So, whatever direction you see electricity generation going, lop the peaks and fill the troughs!

If you haven't already done it- fit a time switch!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Sustainability vs reliability - does our electricity system work?

The short answer is yes - thanks to National Grid and the DNO's we have one of the most reliable electricity systems in the world.
How reliable would it be if we relied on wind and solar energy, with a bit of very expensive storage for times when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine? Not very.

This is the argument used by anti renewable campaigners - and if we do nothing about managing our demand, they are right.

Every march begins with a single step.

Install a time switch on your immersion heater and freezer, and use your dishwasher and washing machine after 8pm at night or when the sun is shining!

Don't wait for smart meters - it'll take too long!
Act now!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Excellent grid issue community energy session with Regen SW in Cornwall

In the South West of England, Western Power Distribution are now engaging in a positive way with community groups, to address the capacity issues in constrained areas, where the amount of PV is already so high that the cost of reinforcement for new installations can be prohibitive.
Nigel Turvey of WPD gave an excellent presentation in St Austell yesterday. There is now more PV in the pipeline for installation than the system can cope with. Much of this is speculative commercial project planning that may never go ahead, so there is some hope, if communities co-operate and work with WPD to get the best solutions.
Merlin Hyman of  Regen SW has now set up a community membership category, specifically to address this issue.
The problems arise when local generation and consumption are grossly out of line - so the longer term solution is partly time-of-use shifting, as I have long advocated. If we all do our bit, preferably without waiting to be financially rewarded, then the situation will be substantially eased.

Monday, 2 June 2014

How communities will shape the demand for electricity as well as the supply

The new UK Community Energy Scheme will encourage communities to generate their own electricity - and feed it into the Grid- if the local distribution companies, (the DNO's as they are known)  allow them to.

Currently, both the National Grid and DNO's such as Western Power Distribution are warning us that the capacity of the system to take any more power from renewable sources is less than that already thought to be in the pipeline.

So unless the big commercial operators are severely curtailed, some local communities will be told that there is no more room on the grid for their sub 5MW schemes.

What might their reaction be?

Initially, probably anger at being led up the garden path once again. But it may then occur to some of them that a solution lies in their own hands - managing domestic demand to meet the supply from renewables, or at least to lop peaks and fill troughs in demand, which are the bugbears of the Grid and transmission companies.

It will start to be in the economic interests of communities and their members, i.e. all of us, to manage our demand rationally in line with available supply.

We may find that we are unwilling to wait until 2020 for the rollout of smart meters before doing so.

We may even be able to enlist the support of the system operators as allies rather than as perceived adversaries.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Floods, Mountains and Inspiration - a journey...

Why we have to shift  time-of-use habits in our electricity consumption.

1.       The Flood.

I arrived in Denver Colorado on 12th September 2013, with the intention of driving over the Rockies to Aspen, where I would meet  Amory Lovins and others associated with the Rocky Mountain Institute, RMI.
Amory has espoused a low or zero carbon energy economy for over thirty years.
But I arrived in the middle of the worst rainfall and flooding in Colorado since the arrival of European settlers – probably the worst for over 500 years.
To compound this, I drove north towards Boulder, near  where the flooding was at its worst.
I tried to enter Boulder by five different routes, all of which were initially closed to traffic by flood water.
I even drove to the North of Boulder to Longmont, the town worst hit by the flooding. I saw a full scale river in flood pouring over a big highway – something I can only describe as a biblical experience.
Eventually I managed to get to my hotel on the outskirts of Boulder. As I arrived, the flood waters were rising, and I had to wade through three foot deep water to get into the hotel, whose reception area was beginning to flood.
Getting out of Boulder the following morning was no easier. The roads to the West, where I wanted to go, were either flooded or subject to rock falls. On one road, an entire section had been washed away.
By the afternoon, the main highway west had reopened, and together with a large number of other cars, I headed out into bright sunshine, and an exhilarating drive over Independence Pass to Aspen.
What did the flood mean to me? I could have seen it as some kind of divine message, or as evidence for climate change.
I chose to interpret it as an exciting prelude to a significant journey.
2.       Rocky Mountain Institute

My hosts in Aspen, Todd and Wendy Mitchell, were exceptionally kind and helpful. Wendy had stayed with us in Devon to learn cheesemaking from my wife Mary Quicke, and now has her own dairy at Avalanche Cheese . Todd was an expert in renewable energy and was a serious investor in new technology through Two Seven Ventures. He knew many of the key people at RMI and in the low carbon businesses of Aspen.

Todd introduced me to Amory and to many of his associates, including Nathan Glasgow , a director of Sun Edison, a major PV company.

I had left England with a theory that we could quite quickly expect to see PV and electric vehicles integrated harmoniously into the UK grid, with the storage capacity of the cars’ batteries providing a daily flattening of the demand curve, which is very peaky, and expensively met by having large amounts of fast reacting combined cycle gas turbine stations perpetually on standby.

Nathan disabused me of the idea that this would happen anytime soon. Using electric vehicle batteries as described would void their warranties and thus render the process too costly, even with the feed in tariff and the subsidy on the vehicles.

Alex Hill of Amatis Controls introduced me to the work he is doing on the Internet of Things- using the internet to control  devices including electrical appliances – clearly of relevance to managing energy demand.

Amory Lovins is inspirational – there are myriad opportunities to promote the low carbon economy he said, and wrote a message to that effect in my copy of his book, Reinventing Fire.

3.       My return to England
So I returned to England excited but with no clear answers or direction. How could I contribute to the process of the decarbonisation of our electricity system? We had already installed over 150 kW of PV at Occombe Farm in Torbay, at Quickes Farm, and at our home.
I discovered that in Canada and some parts of the US, a company called Sequentric, led by Daniel Flohr, had  begun to install large domestic hot water tanks with three immersion heaters in them, and that the electricity supply companies could switch them on and off without leaving the customers short of hot water. This enabled them to cut the peaks and fill the troughs in demand at relatively low cost.  Bizarrely, from an English point of view, many Canadians rent their hot water tanks from the electricity companies. This made it easy to gradually roll out the new tanks and get the load management they were after.
The stock answer I got in UK to this sort of system was that we would have to wait until the rollout of smart meters for it to be possible – and that would not happen until 2020!
4.       Time of Use Shifting
I realised that what it came down to was not so much how much electricity we all used, but when we used it. Our entire wasteful and carbon guzzling electricity system was set up to give people as much electricity as they wanted, at  the time they wanted it, and at no variation in price except in the middle of the night if they opted for the economy 7 tariff.  So no-one had any reason to even think about when they used electricity during the day.
Except of course for people who had fitted PV systems- they very quickly realised that electricity was “free” to them whenever the sun shined – and they were busy shifting their time of use accordingly!
I know because I am one of them- I use my washing machine when the sun shines, and will often  adjust the time when I switch on my immersion heater –and even when I cook – to make use of the electricity I am generating myself.
I realised that much of the time shifting was easy, convenient, and even automatic, when I began to fit time switches to appliances – or use the time delay facility on my dishwasher.
I also realised that if enough of us did it, we could start to close down fossil power stations, and use more renewable electricity.
I’m doing it; can I help you to do it?
See my site to find out how you can.

And as a final thought, here's Amory Lovins (what a wonderful name) at his TED talk best .....


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Or to put it another way....

I have been working on a simple idea to reduce the number of power stations we need, and also to increase the amount of renewable electricity that the electricity grid can accept.
We have two acute problems facing the electricity industry:
  •       The cost of new power stations and hence of electricity
  •       The ability of the grid to accept higher levels of renewable electricity
The number of power stations we need is determined by the peak electricity demand, which occurs in the late afternoon and early evening (3-8pm)from November to March. The demand peaks at around 5:30pm at 7 Gigawatts above that during other times.
If this peak can be eliminated, we could avoid the need to build 7 large fossil or nuclear power stations.
People say it is a big if. But is it?
To achieve it, on average each household or small business would have to reduce their consumption by 350 watts for part of this time, or 1kWh (unit) of electricity over the peak period.  That’s one dishwasher or washing machine load. Or a fifth of a bath!
The point is not to reduce consumption, although that is of course also a good thing, but to shift the time of consumption away from the peak.
This can easily be done using time switches or delayed on switches as are increasingly fitted to dishwashers.
The cost to the individual is about £5 for a plug in time switch, or £26 for an immersion heater wired in time switch. The incidental energy saving from using them could pay for them in under a year. The benefit in reduced capital cost of generating capacity is a factor of ten greater than these costs.
My aim is to get as many people as possible doing this and talking about it with others.
Eventually there will be a direct financial motivation to do it through time of use tariffs, but this could take a decade, given the lengthy timetable for the rollout of smart meters.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Peak demand in UK and what we can do about it

Every day between November and February, at around 530pm our electricity demand in UK peaks by 7GW (7million one bar fires' worth) above the daytime plateau. The rise usually begins at around 330pm, and drops back down again by 8pm.
This peak, an average of about 300W per household, requires 7 large power stations to supply.

To meet it creates 8000 tonnes of C02 emissions, but that's not what I'm primarily concerned about.

The problem I'm concerned about is the fossil fuel power stations that will have to be built to replace those that are closed, whether gas or coal.

If that demand could be shifted to the early morning, or to mid morning if the sun is shining, then we can have a higher percentage of PV in our energy mix, and fewer fossil fuelled power stations.

The good news is that we can. We can do it now, and we can do it cheaply. 

So what's the catch? 

We all, or most of us, have to do something about it in our own homes. 

We don't have to use less electricity, although that would also be a good thing.

We just have to shift the times at which we use one or two appliances.

What we have to do is fit a time switch to our immersion heater. If we all did just that, it would largely solve the problem. For good measure we could also delay the use of our dishwasher or washing machine - many appliances are already equipped to do so easily. 

To learn more visit 

Let me know how you get on!