The Telegraph's confusing laundry
- 14 Feb 2013, 15:30
- Mat Hope
Consumers could save money on their electricity bills
by putting "a wash on when it's windy", according to a story on the
front page of today's Telegraph. In a new trial, 1000 households
will get alerts through text messages or their smart meters 24
hours in advance to let them know when electricity will be
cheapest. But the results from the trial won't be available until
next year so until then it can only be guessed how much money
customers could save.
Presumably in an attempt to give
readers some idea, the Telegraph quotes the Energy Savings Trust
estimating "that customers can save £250 on their energy
bill by using appliances differently". But this use of the figure
is confusing in two ways - it has little to do with the trial the
headline talks about, and the EST figure actually refers to savings
from making home improvements, and not using appliances
Telegraph begins by outlining a trial
programme run by EDF, UK Power Networks and Imperial College
London, testing a new way for customers to make the most of the
UK's renewable electricity. Customers will be told when electricity
will be cheapest, and can choose to use their electrical appliances
at that time, in theory saving money.
Electricity is cheapest when demand is low and
renewable sources - such as wind - are providing a large amount of
power to the grid.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change's latest
figures show that just under 10 per
cent of the UK's electricity came from renewable sources in 2011,
and about 45 per cent of this was from wind. These figures are
expected to increase as
more wind turbines get built this
But the wind doesn't blow all the time. The trial is
to test whether people are willing to do electricity intensive
activities like washing and baking when the wind is blowing, saving
money and making it easier to match electricity demand to
So what are the Telegraph talking about when it says
customers could save £250 on their bills?
The Telegraph tells us it got the figure from
Which?'s website, which says:
"The Energy Saving Trust has a free home energy check that will help you
find out where to make energy-efficiency improvements and how much
you might save. It estimates some households could save £250 by
following its personalised advice."
Carbon Brief took the test, and found out we could
save a fortune - if we spent some money upgrading our house:
Source: Energy Saving Trust Home
As you can see, the EST checker covers home
improvements and other energy efficiency measures - like double
glazing, the type of boiler that a house has, and whether or not
there is insulation fitted. It doesn't cover how people use their
So while the Telegraph is right that households can
save money through energy efficiency, it is a bit confusing to use
figures for home improvements in an article which is mainly about
using washing machines at different times.
Using appliances differently
So how much could be saved by using appliances
The Energy Saving Trust sent us its latest factsheet
on appliance use. Based on their figures, we calculate that an
average customer could save about £139 a year on their energy bill
by using appliances differently. The table below gives a an idea of
some things that can be done to save money:
Source: Table created by Carbon Brief, from
Energy Saving Trust Media Factsheet 2012-2013
All of these things can be done no matter what time
of day it is.
When the results come in...
The point of the new trial is to see whether sending
people advanced warning of electricity prices could help customers
save money. But until the results from the trial come out, we don't
really know how much could be saved.
As the Energy Saving Trust tells Carbon
"Unfortunately we don't have saving
figures for using electricity at different times of the day and
when there's a greater amount of electricity available. Until smart
meters are introduced nationwide there won't be tariffs for using
electricity at different times of the day, so this means at the
moment we can't say if it makes any difference what time of day you
Until then, cutting standby mode at home seems to be
top of the list for making savings.
UPDATE: savings estimate
UK Power Networks has just got back to us with an
estimate of how much it thinks people could save. It says:
"Based on typical consumption, for
every 2kWh of high period usage that customers shift to low period,
they could save about £1. The more customers move from high period
to low period, the more they could reduce their bills."
This means that customers could save about 50p for
every kilowatt hour of electricity they use during cheap periods,
instead of when electricity is expensive.
The Association of Manufacturers of Domestic
Appliances says that the average new washing machine uses about 203 kilowatt hours of electricity per
year. So if the washing was put on exclusively at times when
electricity was cheapest, we (very roughly) calculate the consumer
might save about £101 per year.
Not bad for doing the washing when it's windy.