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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 April 2006, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Meter beater
Bright ideas from Magazine readers

There must be a national effort to bring about a "green revolution", the government says. But what simple things can we all do to save the Earth?

Green Light is a series of bright ideas from Magazine readers to help save the world
Everyone could help save the planet by making just a few changes in energy use. So the Magazine is inviting you to tell us ways tol be greener and more energy efficient - and that includes saving water. We'll publish one a day.

Household Energy Manager

The first idea in this series was suggested by Peter Gilliver (fellow readers Henri, Kent, and Ian Fenton, Birmingham, were thinking along the same lines).

Peter wrote:

    My idea is to manage the various energy uses of a house in a similar way to managing the Windows Task Manager that one can find on one's PC.

    In the Household Energy Manager one would be able to see what is using the most electricity and make adjustments accordingly. I think if people could see, in real time, how much energy they are using on a day-to-day basis, they would be more motivated to change their habits.

    Unfortunately I'm not an electrical engineer and I have very little idea of how such a device could be implemented. I imagine the technology exists, however, to digitally measure how much energy is being used over given units of time. It should be fairly straightforward to display this information on a screen. So I don't think the idea requires new technology to be developed. Perhaps in the first instance it could be something as simple as a small screen attached to the electricity meter, or mounted on a kitchen wall, that showed a graph of the household's energy use over a day.

So what's the verdict?

Our friendly expert from the Sustainable Development Commission says it's possible to buy devices which go some way to meeting this concept, but that the more people know about and discuss the idea the better. He added: "The extension of doing this would be for electricity companies to introduce 'smart metering' rather than having standard simplistic versions."

A smart meter could, as in Peter's versions, indicate what power was being used where round the house, or show usage over different periods, eg the past month or half hour. Accurate bills, rather than estimates, could also help to let people know how their consumption compared to that of an average citizen, so people would know how they were doing.

He added that when people are given hard information in real time, it can encourage them to be become much more careful about their energy use.

Send your ideas

So that's one point for Peter. To take part in Green Light, send us your ideas - whether they are technology innovations, new or improved gadgets or simply tips on energy or water-saving behaviour - to the Magazine using the form below.

If possible include drawings explaining how your gadget or idea might work. Send these to, please making sure that the subject line is GREEN LIGHT.

Your comments:

I think monitoring the amount of energy used by households is definately a good idea. A measure which could be put into use would be solar energy. Even though it may not provide enough energy to run electrical appliances all the time. It would certainly reduce the total amount of energy consumed. Solar energy could be made more accessible to the public. This way people may choose to install solar panels on their rooves. Or even an invention like solar window paines could be put into use to generate electricity.
Michael Lemm, London

How about a 3-pin plug adapter with a built-in meter, so that you can see how much each individual appliance is using. Alternatively, such a meter could be built into a four- or six-way adapter.
Alexander Lewis Jones, Nottingham, UK

My girlfriend insists on turning off nearly every plug in the flat before bed. I have always said there is no need until after one quarter our over-night reading came to 75p which would have been the fridge. Adapters left on still use energy
frank , hove

Smart Room Thermostats. Control centrally from the PC. Would also allow remotes access from Internet. Each room temperature cold be set depending on when its used, eg bathroom morning and evening, lounge evening only, bedrooms, morning and warm up at bedtime. Rest of the time the rooms are much cooler. Also the ability to easily program different patterns, eg I'm off out for the evening so set all rooms to low. Or I'm staying away overnight, so keep set heating to low, but I still want it warm when I get home at 8pm the next day
Stephen Ashby, Reading

Someone should design a switchplate , something along the line of a surge protector , that homeowners could use to safely switch back & forth from solar , gas &/or wind generators on their property to the regular power grid ! That way people could safely use home generated power when available & switch back to the regular power grid when needed !
Pat Carson, Buffalo,NY,USA

I really like this idea but think that it could be taken a step further. The device could be set to monitor the cumulative amount of power used and, if it exceeds a preset amount, could send an alert via e-mail, message on the TV or text message. That way you could easily be alerted to a unused light or device left on.
Andrew Rodgers, London, UK

We should be aiming one 'green' campaign directly at seniors. My husband (80) and I (67) sold our car and deliberately moved into an energy-efficient apartment very close to a shopping mall in a city with excellent public transit. Seniors have the time to plan bus routes to their necessary destinations and should be encouraged to get out of their cars and onto public transport. This would have two benefits - fewer cars on the road thereby decreasing vehicular pollution and fewer cars being driven by people with slower reaction times.
Margaret Gagie, London, Canada

A rudimentary version of the 'smart meter' could be constructed by attaching it to the separate 'trip switches' within the fuse box. You may not get a readout for each individual appliance, but you could narrow it down to which circuits had the highest usage. Knowledge of the use of each circuit, ie lighting/heating/kitchen etc would enable the householder to narrow down where the energy was being used most.
Julian Hall, Barry, S Wales

Why would a forum for energy saving ideas to save the Earth use as its logo the formerly universal "bright idea" logo of an incandescent lamp? This lamp, which uses more energy for heat than light, belongs in a history of lighting museum exhibit. It does not communicate your intended call for innovative, energy saving ideas; rather it symbolizes the problem, not the solution. Perhaps a compact fluorescent lamp instead that uses up to 75% less energy and lasts 10-13+ times longer? Of course these lamps contain mercury, and are not the perfect environmental solution either, but an excellent step forward (Here in California we are not allowed anymore to throw away any fluorescent lamps, even in small quantities; all must be properly recycled.)
Robert Ofsevit, California

If you submit an entry to us, you retain the copyright in your work (details below, and more information on internet links). Attachments should be no bigger than 10Mb. If you want to post your entry to us, send them to:
The Magazine
BBC News Interactive
Room 7540
Television Centre
W12 7RJ

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