Time for a selection of Christmas Gifts for our ON-Grid friends and family. Here’s how to help others save money on energy bills during these cold, dark winter days as bills are going up.
Though price rises are as inevitable as winter, they are a reminder on why its sensible to be off the grid, and also a reason for your less fortunate cousins to check their energy use.
To help them shave large chunks off their energy bills, we’ve put together a guide to this year’s best energy-saving gadgets.
Low-energy LED lightbulbs are more economical than even the compact fluorescent lights (CFL) that have largely replaced traditional incandescent bulbs over the past decade.
The Philips Hue range adds a tech element to eco-friendly lighting by building in Wifi connectivity to the bulb. The result: home lighting that can be controlled from a smartphone or tablet, including being able to turn the lights on and off remotely, and a choice from more than 16 million colours for what might be the ultimate mood-lighting kit.
For example – the Hue Wireless Lighting, Starter Pack, “Frustration Free”.
The initial cost is high and Hue bulbs are unlikely to pay for themselves if you’re replacing energy-saving CFLs. But they’ll be cheaper over their lifespan – they last up to 15,000 hours – if replacing incandescent or halogen lights. Price: Around $179 (£179 in the UK) for three bulbs and Wifi-connectivity kit. Extra bulbs, $49 each. Buy it on Amazon. Website: www.meethue.com
Using solar power to run large domestic appliances is still some way off, but for smaller gadgets there are plenty of options that will help cut power consumption.
The Powermonkey Explorer is a clamshell-style device with a pair of solar panels inside and power connectors for a range of handheld devices, including mobile phones, MP3 players and portable games systems. In reality, running your phone to empty and recharging it every day is unlikely to cost more than a few pounds a year, so this isn’t going to save a lot, but the outdoor-minded might find it useful when away from the home. Price: Around $55 (£55 in UK)
If you’re not in the habit of turning off your computer overnight or when you’re away, you’re costing yourself money. A reasonably powerful computer with a decent-size screen costs in the region of £40 per year to run if left on for a few hours a day, but that drops to virtually nothing when it’s in hibernation mode. The Ecobutton is designed to provide a cheap reminder that your PC doesn’t need to run while you make a cup of tea. Install the software and the next time you push the button, the computer will drop into standby mode. Push the Ecobutton again and the computer starts up, this time with a summary screen that spells out exactly how much power you’re saving.
Price: Around $8 (£5 in UK) Website: www.ecobutton.com
So-called ‘vampire’ power, or the power used by appliances in standby mode, doesn’t cost much per device. But measured across an entire house, and the many other devices likely sitting in a similar suspended state, the potential benefit of switching off devices that don’t need to be in standby could be huge – the Energy Saving Trust (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk) estimates the average household spends £35 per year running devices in standby mode. The Bye Bye Standby Powerdown Strip has both PC and peripherals (for example, printers or monitors) sockets. When the device plugged into the PC socket is turned off, those attached to the peripherals sockets will be fully turned off. Price: Around $20 (£16 in UK) Website: powerdownstrip.php
Similar to Bye Bye Standby, Tricklesaver detects the drop in energy consumption when a TV is turned off, and cuts power to an associated device – preventing, for example, a games console from sipping electricity in standby mode. EU regulations mean new devices have to draw less than 0.5W when in standby mode, so you’re not going to see a substantial change in your electricity bill, but the green benefits add up. The only problem? Many digital boxes, such as Sky+ recorders, need to be left on to be useful (unless you’re happy to miss scheduled recordings of Eastenders). Price: Around $10 (£10 in UK)
It’s not unusual for energy-monitoring gadgets to show the real-time power draw of a device and not much else.
The Energenie allows you to set the price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) charged by your electricity provider and calculate how much use is costing you in hard currency. Knowledge is power, and you’ll be able to find out which devices cost the most to run. You’ll also benefit by finding out which appliances cost less than you thought.
UK Price: £15 Website: https://energenie4u.co.uk/index.php/catalogue/product/ENER007
Most homes have several devices – from torches to TV remotes – that take standard AA or AAA batteries. The most economically efficient way to power these gadgets is to replace disposable batteries with a decent set of rechargeable cells. The Logitech MX mouse takes a rechargeable AA battery and has a micro USB port on the front. When the charge indicator blinks red, simply plug the mouse in to recharge it, saving a few mouseless hours while the batteries are recharged elsewhere. Considering the cost, it’s hard to see this as a money-saving switch, but if your mouse needs replacing anyway, it’s worth a look. Price: Around £55 Website: http://www.logitech.com/en-gb/support/performance-mouse-mx?crid=398
Short showers can be a hard habit to make, so Waterpebble breaks you in gently. It sits near the plughole in the shower basin and measures the amount of water passing by. It calibrates itself from its first use, then gradually reduces the amount of time you’re in the shower via a traffic light system. An amber light indicates you’re halfway through, and red means you’ve gone over. Showers use around nine litres of water per minute, so a saving of two minutes per person across a household of four could save over 500 litres per week, which is great for households on water meters, but it’s also half a tonne of water each week that doesn’t need heating.
The U Vue Black Single Socket Electric Money Monitor in the USA works in a similar way to the Wattson UK smart meter (below)
You attach a monitor to any household’s power plug and the unit shows how much power is being used.
The Wattson works in a similar way to the British Gas Energysmart meter (below) – attach a monitor to the household’s incoming power line and the wireless base unit shows how much power is being used. The design is neat and tidy, with a soft colour underglow, while the surface provides an at-a-glance look at energy consumption. For those who have taken the leap and installed solar panels to turn sunlight into electricity, the Solar Plus version performs the neat trick of glowing green when the panels are generating more electricity than the household is using, giving you the satisfaction of knowing that your household is being powered free. Price: Around £135 Website: http://www.diykyoto.com/uk/aboutus/wattson-solar-plus
The hot-water heating radiator is nearly 160 years old, and its design hasn’t changed much over the years. The Radiator Booster MK3 seeks to bring it up to date, using a small fan to circulate hot air around the room. According to the manufacturer, the Radiator Booster warms rooms faster, which should mean lower energy use, but be aware that this will come at the expense of noise – the Radiator Booster’s small fan will need to turn whenever you switch on the radiator. Price: Around £25 Website: www.radiatorbooster.net
British Gas Energysmart
Staying on top of domestic electricity use is simple if you pay attention to your bills, but they can be hard to decipher. However, monitor power consumption in real time and you’ll soon notice the inefficiencies. Energysmart is a gadget that’s free for British Gas customers and comes in two parts. One clips to a cable alongside your electricity meter, and the second is a wireless monitor with a colour display that shows power consumption as it happens.
The claimed annual saving of £195 depends on switching energy tariffs, but British Gas estimates that customers could reduce their power consumption by around 12 per cent. Price: Free to British Gas customers Website: http://www.britishgas.co.uk/products-and-services/gas-and-electricity/energysmart.html
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