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Thursday, 27 January 2011

Together in Electric Dreams



We've come a long way, electrically speaking. The first domestic lighting appeared in the States in the 1880's and by the roaring Twenties many homes were wired up.Vacuum cleaners, irons, fridges and electric cookers were to be found in more and more homes.

Now we're so wired up and dependent on this force of nature that even a minor outage can cause major headaches. Material's lost as the computer crashes, boiler fails because it's electronically regulated and the supper's ruined 'cause the micro wave shuts down. Besides the thankfully rare cuts in electricity supply we are now in thrall to the less rare increases in energy prices.

Both gas and electricity prices have risen again recently: we're told because of the increase in the cost of gas, oil and coal on the world markets.

So for about the fifth time in 14 years we've changed supplier. This time from Scottish Power to E.on.  I did a price comparison search and it looked as if we were paying over the odds. E. on at the time came out tops so I went to their website and put in our yearly energy consumption. As a result E.on came in £20 a month less.

Our account is on line, which is cheaper for them and for us, but it does mean you're flooded with e-mails, one of which apologised for the delay in sending us our "Energy Fit" pack. What's that? a quick dash to the web and E.on's site explained all. They were providing us with an electricity consumption monitor so we'll know what energy we've used and when.

This week our "Energy Fit" pack arrived. It's quite a sizeable piece of kit. There's a cable and hook which clamps around electricity cable bringing the power into the house. This is attached to a transmitter which feeds data to a monitor which is as ugly as Alan Sugar's benighted e-mailers.

When you switch on or off  an appliance (dishwasher, iron etc.) the monitor registers the change and new consumption. You input your tariff and the clever software shows just how much power you're using breaking it down into daily, weekly and monthly cost. E.on also supply a piece of software you can load onto your PC which allows you to analysis your consumption in more detail. 

So on Tuesday we were plugged in. With just the side lights on we appeared to be consuming more than the equivalent of our new monthly bill. I switched on the tumble dryer: the monthly bill rocketed to £399, dropped back to £110 but then instantaneously jumped to £500 a month. I tore round the house turning everything off.

The mobile phone charger was ripped from its socket as was the rechargeable battery whatsit. All lights except one 40 watt bulb were switched off, the dishwasher's rinse  was callously cut off in mid stream and I instigated a 100% blackout of all garden and veranda lighting - that pissed off Sylvester. The cake mix deflated spectacularly as I choked off its life support.

Having plunged the house into near darkness I re-read the monitor. We were still consuming gobfulls of electrons - £120 a months worth! I immediately suspected a Trojan horse in our midst. The monitoring device itself - except switching it off would mean no reading.

I was in a state of total panic. At this rate we'd be on the streets in no time. I told myself to get a grip, boil the kettle for a nice cuppa....ah not such a good idea...pour myself a glass of wine and reason this out.

There had to be  a straightforward explanation. I'd put in far too high a unit charge, I'd misread the tariff; but no, I hadn't made a mistake.

Someone was syphoning off our power!!! - stupid idea.

And then it struck me. The monitor itself was the problem.

When I switch on the tumble drier it does use a huge amount of current for the hour or so it's on: except the monitor thinks that level of consumption lasts for a whole month. D'oh! Sure enough the next day the monitor showed the actual consumption for that day and it was reasonable. Phew.

I now have hours of innocent fun planned for the months ahead loading the data onto the PC and analysing the material. And driving the missus to distraction!

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