“Owl” is this the latest gadget to beat the Eskom blues? - Leading Construction and Building Group

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By Biznews - May 1, 2015

Load shedding has become part and parcel of life in South Africa. How do you handle it? Are you content to mutter a few complaints here and there when the lights go off and sit in darkness with some candles and play around on your phone (if it still has battery, of course)? Or do you get out the braai and do some outdoor cooking under the stars? Does the load shedding really worry you? And if it does, what measures are you taking to save energy, help out Eskom (and the environment) and get off the grid? The article below by Adam Oxford* talks about the latest gadget, called The Owl, which monitors your electricity consumption at home and sends you this data to an app on your smartphone. There are so many ways to reduce our energy consumption and electricity costs – but as Oxford highlights, choice is incredibly overwhelming and may lead us to do nothing. I know for a fact that when the power goes off, I am content to read a book by candlelight. But some day, I hope to have the finances to go green – not only for the environment’s sake, but also for South Africa’s sake. Eskom is in a crisis and change is desperately needed. – Tracey Ruff

By Adam Oxford

When it comes to reducing your energy use and electricity costs at home, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by what’s on offer.

For example, the first thing any decent consultant will tell you about reducing your reliance on the national grid, is to look at your hot water system. Chances are high that your geyser consumes more electricity than anything else in your house: probably in the region of 20% of your bill.

But as soon as you look at reducing the cost of a hot shower, the array of options becomes bewildering. Should you fit a timer? Go solar? Look at heatpumps? Insulate your current boiler? Replace it? Boil a kettle instead?

Too many choices might mean you end up not doing anything at all.

The problem with trying to be more energy efficient at home or at work, is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

As the old engineering adage says, “that which is not measured cannot be improved”. Given that this column is about saving money by being more energy efficient, it might seem like madness to encourage you to spend just under R800 on an energy usage monitor like The Owl, but I’d definitely recommend it.

The Owl plugs into a wall socket and relays your current and historical household consumption to a smartphone app. Despite the upfront cost, you can make serious savings quickly. It cut my electricity bill by around R200 a month, so it paid for itself in four months.

How does it help you reduce your bills and use less energy? Simply by letting you see, in real-time, how much energy you’re using, in kilowatt hours and in Rand value. We all know that old TVs consume almost as much power on standby as they do when they’re being watched, and that phone chargers guzzle electricity if they’re left plugged in without the phone attached.

We know leaving lights on is a bad thing. But by drawing attention to those facts, and warning you when energy use looks higher than it should be, The Owl can encourage you do something about it.

What does this have to do with water heating? One of the hottest debates online is whether you should put your geyser on a timer or leave it on all day. Eskom ran a campaign claiming that if geysers were turned off during peak hours, we’d save enough energy to power most of our major cities outside Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Sceptics argue that it takes more energy to raise the temperature of water by a degree than it does to maintain it at a set number of degrees, so you save more energy by leaving your geyser on 24 hours a day.

There’s truth to both sides, but every home heating system is subtly different in terms of the type of boiler and its age, and how well insulated it is. Monitors like The Owl give you the chance to work out whether your geyser is better left on, or periodically powered down. Once you know that, you can change your habits, or work out the most cost effective and energy saving upgrade.

An engineer friend discovered that putting his geyser on a timer was costing him more than leaving it on. Your experience may differ. A timer works best for me.

Make yourself aware of your energy using habits. If you’re thinking of installing solar panels on your roof, staggering the use of household appliances means you’ll never use more energy than you’re producing.

Even if you aren’t planning on becoming your own electricity supplier, it’s vital to get on top of your energy usage. Eskom and the City of Johannesburg are keen to introduce variable tariffs, which will see electricity costs go up during peak hours, and down when demand is less.

Understanding what you can afford to run at night, when prices are lower, could  save you a fortune. So measure, understand, and change.

Need advice on how to save power at home or save power at work?

* This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock.


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