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Last Updated: Monday, 16 April 2007, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Homes to get free energy monitors
By Mark Kinver
Science and nature reporter, BBC News

Real-time monitors: How they display a home's electricity use

Every household in the UK will be able to request a free device that shows how much electricity is being used in the home at any one particular moment.

Ministers are set to announce the plan in the forthcoming Energy White Paper.

They hope "real-time monitors" will help cut greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of energy wasted by appliances being left on standby.

The government recently committed itself to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Households in the UK are responsible for about one third of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, and have been the focus of a number of recent ministerial initiatives to reduce energy consumption.

Seeing the savings

Luke Nicholson, creative director of More Associates, which specialises in sustainable design, welcomed the scheme's expected inclusion in the white paper.

Consumers tell us they are desperate to bring down bills so I hope the industry is ready to meet consumer demand for these devices
Energywatch spokeswoman

He added that the devices were simple to install and were an effective way to give people more information about their energy consumption.

"You have a little sensor in your meter cupboard that measures how much energy you are using, and you have a small display that you can carry around the house."

"When you turn things on and off you can see the difference in how much energy you are using."

A Labour Party spokesman said that the monitors were not the latest generation of meters, known as "smart meters".

Smart meters also give consumers real-time information of how much electricity is being consumed, but have the ability to be read remotely by energy suppliers.

They are more accurate than real-time monitors because they have to be calibrated to a standard necessary to record information needed for billing customers.

But Mr Nicholson said the real-time monitors would meet the needs of most energy conscious consumers.

Smart meter (Image: More Associates)

"In terms of energy reduction, there is very little more you can do with smart meters that you cannot achieve with what is proposed here," he explained.

"People can see immediately what impact their behaviour has, not just in terms of money but in terms of carbon as well."

A spokeswoman for the electricity and gas consumer council, otherwise known as Energywatch, said it supported any plan that would give customers access to free monitors.

"While consumers wait the arrival of proper smart meters these devices are a welcome interim measure that allow us all to manage our consumption, reduce our bills and cut our carbon output," she told BBC News.

"Consumers tell us they are desperate to bring down bills so I hope the industry is ready to meet consumer demand for these devices."

Meaningful information

Although the people who request a monitor will receive it free of charge, Mr Nicholson said consumers would ultimately foot the bill because the cost of the scheme would either be recouped through taxes or their energy bills.

"However, these things are not terribly expensive to make and even with the devices that are available now, research shows that you can save about 7% on your annual energy bill," he added.

But he warned the devices would only be used by households if they displayed meaningful information, such as cost of energy and carbon emissions.

"The biggest risk is that after the government announces this, they might specify this too weakly to make it useful.

"We might end up making 22m pieces of plastic that end up in people's drawers because they aren't any good."

Under EU legislation, member states have to take steps to provide customers with real-time information about their energy consumption.

A Labour Party spokesman told BBC News that the scheme was likely to be up and running in 2008.

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