10. 04. 2008

Real Time Displays

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I sometimes wonder if BERR is a Department with a death wish – the death in question being its reputation when it comes to addressing climate change, fuel poverty, energy efficiency and other key sustainability issues. There’s some kind of fundamental perversity in the way it sets about dealing with these issues that it is almost impossible to account for. Even in the small things – like smart meters and real time displays (RTDs).

In both Energy White Paper and in its Climate Change Programme Report to Parliament, the Government unambiguously pledged that it would mandate all energy supply companies to provide RTDs for electricity to any customer who asked for one. The policy was expected to result in around 2.5 million customers asking for an RTD, at a cost of around £37 million. Available evidence suggests that energy savings of between 5% to 15% could be achieved by customers who acquire an RTD, especially as these are likely to be the most energy-conscious consumers.

Indeed, the Climate Change Programme confidently identified savings of 0.2 MtC to come from “improved billing and metering by 2010”. But there’s no other policy in place to achieve this apart from the “free RTD on request” policy.

All clear so far. But this is where it starts to go wrong. BERR is now seeking to weaken the RTD commitment to one where supply companies would not be required to send consumers an RTD on request. BERR now favours a roll-out of what are known as ‘smart meters’.

Smart meters do a lot more than RTDs. They could, potentially, give suppliers or consumers a greater choice of tariffs, accurate monthly bills, and much more useful real time information for gas as well as electricity. So the Sustainable Development Commission fully supports the Government’s desire to get smart meters into all households, as a necessary step to the development of a number of carbon-saving measures.

However, there will inevitably be serious delays in putting that policy into practice (a roll-out could take up to 10 years before the majority of households received a smart meter, at a cost of several billion pounds), delays which will undermine enthusiastic customers from better understanding their energy demand.

BERR at its worst all over again. A typical lack of consistency, clarity and real leadership. So our message to BERR is a simple one: this is not an either or situation. We need RTDs now, and smart meters over the next few years. Stop taking orders from the energy supply companies by going back on your commitment to compel them to provide RTDs. Stick to your guns. Get it right – for once.

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11. 04. 2008
Phil Burrows

I agree with your stance on this not being an 'either/or' situation, and would like to see BERR if it does go ahead with a policy of smart meters instead of RTDs then it should make sure that the data collected is available to the customer.
TheCarbonAccount.com is an example of how this data could be used, giving customers almost real time data (RTD), but more importantly allowing them to share and compare with friends.
The shopping list then goes like this;

1) Real Time (clip on) Displays
2) Smart Meters
3) A system (theCarbonAccount.com) that will allow the bill payer to compare their CO2 emmissions/energy spend with friends/neighbours/relatives.

It is easy to see why BERR has skewed these priorities. It isn't because it has a death wish, but because it is being lobbied by an energy industry that wants to streamline its billing procedure above wanting to cut CO2 emmissions or selling less electricity.

If smart meters are installed they will no longer have to pay OnStream (the monopoly that carries out the vast amount of meter readings). However it involves a high start up cost of about £150 per meter. If a customer signs up to energy company X, who then pays for a smart meter, and the customer subsequently switches to energy company Y, then energy company X is out of pocket.

The unsustainable solution that energy companies are asking for is contracts that lock customers in for 3 years (the payback time for the £150 smart meter).

This is where government should step in, and set up a system where by customers can still swap tarrifs, and the cost of smart meters can be passed on to the next energy company. Or if it was really radical, it could just tax the energy companies, and carry out the project itself.

How would you solve it Jonathon?

12. 04. 2008
Dave Simon

Peak Oil & Climate Change have become SEPs.
(An SEP is Someone Else’s Problem - see Douglas Adams and the ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ series). (more at "Peak Civilisation" http://transitioniow.org/wp/2008/03/19/peak-civilisation/)

When people can see how CO2, fuels, energy, water and other key factors personally affect them, behaviours will change.

Real Time Displays are the way forward. If we do not have this inforamation, we will be told by the media in over-dramatising ways that most people complain about for a day or two and then ignore. So it becomes an SEP.

Peak Oil and Climate Change have been identified for several decades now. The problem facing ALL Governments is how to grasp the nettle and co-ordinate unpopular behaviour change. Research shows that most people prefer to know the bad news up front, and then prepare to cope. Panic and conflict only ensue in the absence of information, plans and controlled response.

Providing good information is a priority: this is a relevant strategy and implementation is urgent.

26. 04. 2008
Mike Perkins

How about this for a wacky idea. (I grew up during the war and experienced rationing). One way of improving energy usage efficiency would be to give each household an "energy ration."

Establish an "energy bank" Households that economised would be able to trade in their unused balance (say every three months) for cash. Households that needed more would "buy" from the "bank" Each year the "supply" would be reduced based on fossil fuel consumption (encouraging the conversion to alternative energy).

Those who have a sincere desire to economise already know how to without the aid of RTD's or Smart Meters and many already do but with no financial encouragement apart from a slight reduction in energy costs which are quickly offset by price increases. Any household that wants to install alternative systems (Solar panels for power or water heating) will never recover the initial capital costs and so there is little motivation to do so other than altruistic reasons.

I might even suggest a similar scheme for petrol!
Already I can hear the squeals. I wonder what names I will be called.

30. 04. 2008
Karen Poole

Thank you Jonathon for supporting RTDs. As a British company which manufactures a popular RTD, we are extremely disappointed, although not entirely surprised, by the fact that the government has bowed to the pressure of the energy companies!

From our experience, it is quite clear that an ever increasing percentage of the population are taking climate change very seriously and really do want to do something constructive now by using RTDs, rather than wait for smart metering! How long will this take? Fifteen years? Just think of how much CO2 will be emitted into the atmosphere in that time...

26. 05. 2008
Mark Boulton

Yet another "U" turn by UK-Gov? We don't have the luxury of ten years to wait for the rather mythical smart meter.

Bethesda Methodist Church - an award winning Eco-Congregation has decided to promote the use of "Owl" RTDs and in just a fortnight has sold more than 20 of these little energy monitors at £30.

This will enable us to do some real time monitoring to determine (and reduce) electricity use in the home and the church.

Contact us if you want more information . . .

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