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Getting smarter with energy consumption

New technologies are giving people greater control over the costs of energy usage

Most of us are blissfully unaware of our energy consumption, until we get the bill that is. The arrival of the first bill after winter usually has the effect of turning us into energy awareness champions, until the pain wears off at least. And then we slip back into our old ways.

The problem is that we really don’t know how much energy we use, when we use it or what we use it on. That’s changing with the advent of the smart meter, which will give consumers all of that information almost in real time.

“The first step for consumers is to understand what’s going on with their energy consumption,” says Pinergy head of marketing David Slattery. “The key to that for us is smart metering technology. It gives you the information on what you’re using even when you’re not there.”

He compares the smart meter to a fitness tracker. “It gives our customers knowledge and insights into their energy usage,” he says. “That helps them understand when and how they are using electricity. It’s like a fitness tracker. If you know your number, you can make changes. If you know the peaks and troughs you know where to improve. The bill is what most of us respond to, but we get that long after. The September bill may cover consumption in June, July and August and that’s too late.”



Crucially, the information is available on a phone app. “People can see a graphic output of their consumption,” says Slattery. “I can see I used €2.18 worth of electricity yesterday. I can also see a lot of detail behind what I used. I wouldn’t have that with a standard bill. It’s all about transparency. If you know what, how and when you are using you can make changes.”

Bord Gáis Energy is also actively helping customers in this space. "As with any business sector, energy market participants need to continually innovate and remain focused on giving customers the best possible outcome," says retail director Colin Bebbington. "In terms of energy use, it is vital that we help consumers – both commercial and residential, move toward creating a lower carbon future while still enabling communities to thrive and develop."

He advises people to increase control of their boiler by using Hive Active Heating. “This a Bord Gáis Energy innovation which allows you to control your thermostat and controls remotely from your mobile, anywhere in the world,” he explains.

"Went out to the shops and no longer need the heating or hot water on? No problem, with the flick of a switch on the app you can turn your boiler off. No more fiddling with complicated heating controls. Also, installing Hive thermostatic radiator valves will help turn off the heating remotely in individual rooms when they are not occupied. It also works with Alexa, Google Home and Hey, Siri."

Smart controls are also available from SSE Airtricity. "Smart appliances are now commonplace in homes across Ireland and each type can play a part in helping consumers save energy and save money," says director of home energy David Manning. "For example, our customers can avail of energy saving products such as Climote Remote heating control which allows users to control their heating from their smart phone, tablet or laptop. The technology also works with home assistants like Amazon's Alexa which can be used to control smart bulbs and plugs – combining these elements with an energy monitor allows customers to have greater control and sight of how much energy they use."

Lighting is also important. “Ensuring you have replaced traditional bulbs with efficient LEDs lights throughout your home could cut light energy consumption by up to 95 per cent,” says Bebbington. “Using our Hive Bulbs or Hive Plugs will allow you to control your lighting from our Hive App to ensure you leave nothing on when you’re away or turn them on for you arriving home.”

Pinergy is combining its smart technology with a level billing offer. “This will allow families to better manage their electricity consumption,” says Slattery. “They make a fixed payment every month and don’t get unexpected bulls. This can have an immediate impact for consumers, and they can see if they are improving over time and can reduce what they are using. A nice feature is that you can compare yourself to people similar to you. You can benchmark and take actions to reduce costs and become more energy efficient.”

Electric vehicles

The company is encouraging adoption of the smart technologies and good energy habits in other ways. “Users get notifications on the app telling them well done on a good week or giving them tips and advice on little wins they can make along the way. It’s all about transparency. Better understanding leads to better decision making.”

Bord Gáis Energy is also active in the electric vehicles (EV) space. "We have established long-term arrangements to encourage the uptake of EVs," says Bebbington. "EVs will play a huge role in Ireland's move to a lower carbon future we are committed to doing its part in helping to make a sustainable transport future a reality. In addition to being preferred EV charger installation partner for Volkswagen, Seat, Škoda, and Ford, we have also developed a strategic partnership with CarCharger.ie. CarCharger.ie is a leading provider of EV charging facilities and is well established across the Irish market, both for installation services and the EasyGo.ie public charging network. The partnership is allowing us offer EV charger installations to its existing customers, and the wider market through our Local Heroes business."

Manning believes Ireland is on the threshold of major change in terms of the adoption of smart energy technologies. “Smart and IOT technology is the future and the sooner we all embrace these new technologies, the sooner we can all embrace the benefits,” he says.

“As more EVs take to our roads they will place huge demands on the grid and energy consumption will need to be reduced in other ways which opens up doors to demand side management where push notifications are sent to customers’ smartphones and they will be incentivised for turning down appliances at peak times or turning on appliances when there is surplus energy being generated on the grid. The options are limitless, but it will require changes from everyone in the energy chain to maximise the potential and the benefits.”

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times