Managing your electricity use

Submitted by: Margaret McKenzie, Thursday, July 7, 2011

With the increase in electricity prices in South Africa, many businesses and home owners are starting to talk about ways of reducing their electricity consumption.   The big problem is that most people stop at talk.   One of the main reasons for this is confusion about what is the best way for people to reduce their own electricity use. 

So what is the best place to start if you want to act on reducing your electricity use?  Well the most important thing is to start understanding better how you use electricity. 

Firstly, do you actually know how much electricity you use every month?  It seems like a silly question, but most people don’t know the answer.    Tracking your monthly use is very helpful as you then know how much you are using and if any energy efficiency measures lead to reductions in your monthly use.  Even better, is tracking your daily use, as you can get a much better sense of the impact of change and also start to understand what consumes the most energy in your home or business.   You can track your use by taking an electricity metre reading at the same time every day or on the last day of the month. 

However the best way to simplify things for your self is to install an electricity monitor.  Electricity monitors range in price from around R700 to R1000.  They generally come with a wireless device that clips onto your main electricity cable.  This then takes readings of current use and transmits to a monitor where you can see how much electricity you are using at any one time.   The monitor also accumulates this information and if the system you have bought allows it you can download the information and see your hourly, daily and weekly use of electricity.     

The manufactures of these monitors claim that they pay for themselves in a few months with the savings you make by just being more aware of your actual use.  While this not be the case for every user, if you have never measured your electricity before you will be surprised at what you learn and how it changes your behaviour. 

Some of the main reasons to install a monitor are:

1. Seeing how much electricity you use at any one moment unlocks the competitive drive in you to reduce you use.   Since I installed my monitor I constantly go around turning off unnecessary things as I can now see if I am using more electricity than expected.

2. You will learn how much electricity you use when you aren’t actually doing anything (eg how much you use when you leave the house, or your turn off the lights in your office at the end of the day).  Many people find out that they are actually using a lot when nothing is happening in their business or home.   High usage can indicate things like faults in your electricity wiring, the presence of vampire equipment that use energy even when they have been switched and equipment that has been left on unnecessarily.

3. You will start to understand your patterns of energy use.  For instance my home monitor shows that my electricity usage spikes dramatically in the morning after everyone has showered.  This reflects the geyser starting to heat up a new batch of cold water.   It also shows a number of energy spikes in the night when the geyser starts to heat up again after the water falls below the set temperature.    Based on this information I can see that my geyser is my biggest energy user, so it is the most effective item to tackle first. 

4. You can track if any changes you make, make a difference:  For instance if you start to switch off your geyser for parts of the day, you will be able to see if you then use less energy, or if the savings are lost as the geyser has to work harder when it is switched on again.   

Margaret McKenzie