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The Telegraph's confusing laundry

  • 14 Feb 2013, 15:30
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Christine

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 differently. 

The trial

The 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 year.

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 supply. 

Saving £250 

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:

EST test

Source: Energy Saving Trust Home Energy Check

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 appliances.

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 differently?

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:

EST appliances

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 Brief: 

"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 use electricity."

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.

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