Power Watch

power.jpgA recent study has revealed that the use of fuel efficiency gauge, a device which measures the rate at which fuel is consumed in cars, actually reduces the consumption of fuel as it makes the user more cost conscious and aware of his expenditure on the fuel. If a similar device is used for homes, it will also lead to a similar behaviour by households and can lead to a fall in the demand for power by making the consumer conscious of power consumption and hence, its cost. I believe that it is a marvellous idea and can go a long way if applied fruitfully. The electricity meters also show the cost of electricity consumed by households. However, the problem lies in the accessibility, since it is mostly hidden in the cellars or cupboards and is usually difficult to decipher.

Hence, an easily understood read-aloud device akin to a car’s fuel efficiency gauge, could make a big difference. The simplest of these devices can be plugged between an appliance and the socket and can note the power consumed by the appliance. More elaborate and complicated devices exist which can calculate the total power consumption of the household. The Owl is one such device that can measure the total household consumption. The total household consumption can be measured in a number of ways – in kilowatts, cost per hour (if the cost per kilowatt-hour is entered into the device), etc. It will surprise the users of the device when they realise that bringing the power consumption of the house to zero is a tedious job. There will always be the lights left on when no one is in the room, electrical gadgets on ‘standby’ mode, television left flickering on by the kids, etc. A second surprise is met when you see the amount of electricity that the power-hungry devices gobble up – the washing machine, the dishwasher, the electric oven and the air conditioner. The Wattson is a similar device with more features. It can remember four weeks’ worth of data and the consumption pattern can then be scrutinized by transferring the data onto the computer. It turns blue when the consumption is frugal and red when it soars.

Governments can use these display devices as a tool to encourage consumers to save energy. In fact, the British government has considered distributing it to households free of charge. However, there are other problems that have to be taken into account when implementing this idea. EnergyWatch, Britain’s energy watchdog, has voiced concerns, which need to be addressed. These devices cannot replace the compulsory ‘smart’ meters. The smart meters can do a variety of things. They can calculate the accurate bill, taking different tariffs into account. They can be read remotely by using a network connection. They are also capable of noting the excess power sold back to the grid from the solar panels installed in the house, after which, the consumer is credited for it. However, it is not an ideal world; nobody would willingly install a smart meter and not every home can afford to install one. The concept is commendable in operation but the practical constraint of replacing millions of meters currently in use, will take years. Until then, the consumers may enjoy the benefits of simpler devices such as the Owl and the Wattson and keep track of their consumption patterns. It might not help a nation on an aggregate basis, but it will definitely help individuals in cutting costs.

Himadri Agarwal

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