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Energy monitors

Find out everything you need to know about energy monitors, and how to use them to save money on your electricity bills.

Key points

  • An energy monitor won't in itself cut energy bills, but it should help you see where you can make savings and eliminate waste
  • Some energy companies offer free energy monitors to their customers
  • If and when you get a smart meter installed, you may also get a device that will perform many of the same functions as an energy monitor

What are energy monitors?

An energy monitor is a small, digital device that connects remotely to your home's electricity meter and gives an estimate of the amount of electricity you're using in real time.

Most will allow you to see how much electricity you're using at any point during the day in units of energy used (kWh), cost per kWh or in equivalent carbon emissions.

Some also include features that let you set daily electricity targets or alarms for when a set amount has been used.

Are they the same as smart meters?

Not quite, although the two terms are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably.

Smart meters are designed to replace your existing gas and electricity meters and then send your usage directly to your supplier, meaning no more estimates or having to read the meters yourself.

A smart meter doesn't directly provide you with any information about your energy usage as an energy monitor does, but if you upgrade to a smart meter you'll also receive a handheld display unit that will provide that information, as well as the cost of the energy used.

How can I get hold of an energy monitor?

Energy monitors are available to buy from many high street and online retailers, and should cost in the region of £20 to £100.

It's also possible to get one for free from some energy suppliers or even from your local council if it's taking part in an energy-awareness drive. Call your supplier or council to find out what they can offer.

How should energy monitors be used, and how do they save money?

The purpose of energy monitors is to make householders more aware of the way they use electricity, so they can subsequently use this knowledge to manage their energy use, for both the sake of the environment and their wallet.

Once your monitor is set up, you'll be able to see straight away how lights and appliances around your house affect your electricity consumption. People are often very surprised to see the numbers immediately shoot up when they put the kettle on, for example!

But simply having an energy monitor won't result in any savings on your electricity bill. Instead, it highlights areas where you can save money and indicates the instant effects of your energy-saving actions. In short, it helps you do the work.

Getting the most from your energy monitor

You might think twice about tumble drying a single shirt once you see how much energy it uses

Choose the right one

There are a variety of monitors on the market, but to get the most from them you should choose one that best fits your requirements.

It's important you understand the features of your monitor and how it works - if a model boasts a vast array of functions you may find it too complicated and therefore not bother with it at all, which defeats the point of having one in the first place.

Equally, if you're keen to achieve targets and aggressively bring your energy use down, an entry-level model may prove too basic for you and you may lose interest in your endeavour.

Thinking realistically about how you'll use your monitor and choosing one that matches your requirements means there's more chance of you using it long-term, thus making more savings.

Be an energy detective

Once your monitor is set up you'll get feedback on your energy usage straight away. Take the time to play with your device and learn how lights and appliances in your home affect its reading.

It's a good idea to turn everything off to get the reading as low as possible, then turn on individual appliances and lights to see which are the most energy-hungry.

You might think twice about tumble drying a single shirt once you see how much energy it uses!

Once you've identified the biggest energy guzzlers you'll be able to determine areas where you can save. This doesn't mean going without, but instead being aware of energy that's being wasted. For example: Small energy suppliers

  • Things being left on unnecessarily
  • Appliances left on standby
  • How efficiently items such as washing machines and fridges are operating

You might want to consider replacing older appliances for more energy-efficient models, which could save you more money in the long run.

Monitor over time

Energy monitors are frequently treated as novelty items that get forgotten about after appliances and lights have been flicked on and off and the changes on screen cooed over, but used long-term they have the potential to offer even better money-saving feedback.

You can use the information to identify inconsistencies between days, weeks or even months. While it's normal to use more electricity in the winter, other anomalies such as increased usage on certain days could be worth checking out.

By understanding our energy consumption and taking steps to reduce it, we're easing the impact our energy habits have on the planet

For example, maybe one of your child's friends visits on the weekend and unknowingly leaves the games console on, or your partner is taking extra long hot showers on a Sunday night.

Get everyone involved

Saving energy is easier if everyone in your home is on board, so take the time to show your housemates or family (kids too) how the energy monitor works, and to explain the importance of keeping the display reading low.

How are energy monitors helping the environment?

Using energy creates a demand for natural resources such as oil and gas, which are rapidly depleting, and every time we use energy we contribute to the carbon emissions and pollution in the Earth's atmosphere.

By understanding our energy consumption and taking steps to reduce it, we're easing the impact our energy habits have on the planet.

This can play a significant role in helping the UK hit its various environmental targets, which is one reason why the government wants to roll out smart meters and corresponding monitoring equipment to all homes across the country by 2020.

By Rachel England