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You should install smart meters even if they're dumb, says flack

Anonymous Coward

Re: The benefit:

I'm with you apart from wind farms killing a lot of people (relative to fossil fuels?). What have I missed?

Thanks in advance.

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Re: Some important fire safety advice

We are on economy 7 too, and do run the washing machine overnight. Quite agree with you about tumbledriers though; a 3 kilowatt heater full of lint is basically a time-fuse...

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Re: Downvoted pv panels

>Its only southern UK south facing unshaded locations have any likelihood of generating a fair return now.

Possibly not even that. I understand that in Queensland, Oz, where solar seems makes sense, the power companies put up prices to compensate for the loss of revenue to solar.

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Re: The benefit:

I'm with you apart from wind farms killing a lot of people (relative to fossil fuels?). What have I missed?

Let me explain what you've missed: The costs of our "save the planet" energy policies have thus far added something of the order of £150bn to consumer energy bills, (with at least another £50bn in the pipeline, even before policy costs rise further to achieve the 5th Carbon Budget recently rubber stamped by this government).

We then see the same politicians who approved these policies wringing their hands about high energy costs, fuel poverty, and excess winter deaths and then blaming the suppliers for this. These suppliers are required by the terms of their licences and by the market structures invented by government and regulator to recover all the policy costs. And we expect to see retail energy costs to continue to rise over the next few years (and possibly through until the mid 2030s), reflecting nothing more than the policy costs imposed by government.

Unless you dispute the official line on climate change, fuel poverty and excess winter deaths, then it is a simple matter of fact that all the eco-bling of wind turbines and PV saves polar bears, but kills pensioners.

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The ONLY people who will benefit from these meters in the long run, are the power companies. Time based pricing organized to cost the most when you use the most, no need for meter readers, etc.

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Re: Downvoted pv panels

Perhaps it's because I don't live in Australia that I never have to clean my solar panels, Pompous Git. Find it hard to believe by all means, but confirmation bias is a powerful thing, and judging by the unnecessary advice about working on roofs, it's not hard to guess your opinion on solar PV.

A replacement panel will have its own micro-inverter. They are a better than stringing panels in series because partial shading has a lesser effect, but 5 years ago they were not economical. The faulty panel can just be taken out of the string and and the existing inverter will work just fine with the remaining ones.

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Re: Downvoted

Solar power UK style COULD be effective, PROVIDED you do NOT have a smart meter (they have a different feed in tariff that favours the energy company). A standard twisty wheel with pointers meter will run backward during feed-in. The digital readout electromech. meters won't, sadly.

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Remote power cut off would be regarded by myself as a fault, and I'd simply bypass the meter till they came to fix it :)

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Re: early death of LED/CFLs

The lifespan of these devices DOES seem to vary randomly. I have a couple of 3w LED GU10 lamps from poundland (I bought them because for that price, why not) that have been running about a year, with no issues. But I have seen expensive name brand ones drop dead after a few months... The quality DOES seem to be improving. If you're ever doing a new set of lights, I'd recommend daxlite... as they have a 5 yr warranty :)

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WTF?

... as normally it's the 3KW immersion heater...

WTF? You claim to actually give a rat's arse about your consumption, yet you actually use an immersion heater??

<Head explodes>

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Re: Downvoted pv panels

Find it hard to believe by all means, but confirmation bias is a powerful thing, and judging by the unnecessary advice about working on roofs, it's not hard to guess your opinion on solar PV.

Call it confirmation bias if you wish, but when the Gillard government was in power, there was a very high subsidy for installing solar PV so I had a quote prepared by one of the top three suppliers. In order to achieve the cost savings they claimed, the panels would need to have generated 140% of their rated output at our location. When I queried this with the supplier the silence was deafening, though they continued to send me their sales lit.

I did my own sums based on easily obtained information on the interwebs and came up with a time to payback of ~18 years. Choice's figure was ~16 years, but that was for Australia as a whole, not specifically southern Tasmania. Since then, the subsidy has shrunk and FITs have fallen so making them more costly to purchase and less economical to run. IOW time to break even is even closer to the anticipated 25 years of useful life.

You might consider the advice regarding safety on the roof "unnecessary", but your missus might disagree if you fail to take precautions and invalidate your insurance.

The panels with a built-in inverter were eyewateringly expensive when I did my sums and had a time to payback exceeding their anticipated lifespan. Nice to know the price has dropped.

Solar PV has a place, but not in an ordinary suburban setting.* I have a friend in rural New South Wales who was quoted ~AU40,000 to be connected to the grid. He installed solar PV and I think that was an entirely rational economic decision. Purchasing solar PV for The House of Steel was not economically rational.

I note that our electricity consumption is about 50% of what the supplier tells us is average for a household of our size. It's extremely well insulated and we use firewood for cooking, hot water and space heating. We consume about 9kg of LPG for cookery during hot weather.

* Voltage control of local supply of all electricity consumers is distorted by solar PV; the control systems are the other side of the local transformers. The issue has been discussed in publications aimed at electricians and electrical engineers who warned the government before the heavy subsidies distorted the market. This has led to the early demise of any number of electrical appliance: refrigerators, freezers, TV sets etc. The cost of replacing these is for some odd reason never factored in. Frankly, I'd be pretty pissed off if I had to replace my appliances far more frequently than necessary because my neighbour was stupid enough to believe the bullshit.

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the reality of decent LEDs is that they are still relatively expensive, but can be far brighter than the "equivalent" incandescent (mainly halogen these days) or CFL units. The halogens tend to blow within a short period of time

Not according to my supplier, a specialist supplier of (quality) light fittings and globes. The LEDs I purchased from him were the largest and brightest drop-in replacements for my 35W 630 lumens halogen downlights. The 6 W LEDs are rated for 370 lumens, but I believe that falls to 260 lumens over time. Not really enough light when it's illuminating a workspace where very sharp knives are used.

I agree that halogens have a lamentably short life (~1,000 hrs), but then when I purchased the lighting system for the home I completed 13 years ago, incandescents were on the hit list by the government. I priced the cost of LEDs, but $AU60,000 seemed a little bit OTT.

Both sealed halogens and LEDs rely on 12 volt transformers. I have recently replaced most of them for the third time at a cost so far of more than $AU300. Mind you, the last lot cost very little since I purchased cheap as chips trannies from China just to see how they compared to the ones that were costing me $AU15 each.

I identified the main problem here several years ago when I borrowed an APC UPS that allowed me to monitor the electricity supply. While the nominal voltage is 240, it spikes at 260 V and there are many long periods of over and undervoltage. The supplier only guarantees an average of 240 V over a 24 hour period.

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Re: Downvoted pv panels

@Mr Git. The two main power suppliers in Spain have had successive governments in their pockets for decades, as soon as any alternative power generation that wasn't theirs became a reality, they want it taxed or banned.

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Re: Downvoted pv panels

The two main power suppliers in Spain have had successive governments in their pockets for decades

And as I pointed out, Barack Obama finds this admirable. I don't.

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@Nick Ryan

I have found that the best source of LED lighting is aliexpress. I've got my whole house lit with a bunch of next-gen LED bulbs from there. They're a fraction of the cost of buying the poorly made, overly expensive and annoyingly dim crap available here, and they don't appear to suffer much in the way of heating issues.

One downside though: they're universally Edison screw, so you will have to stock up on suitable fixtures or get adapters.

These videos by Big Clive convinced me to go for it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfJKq-igxJI https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nme8T2yLhL0 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gcYAFPxeug

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Hmmmm, had a quote for £3k for a new combi boiler and associated work.

Running costs for the old gravity fed heating system have been £120 on a new fan over the past five years. Immersion has cost nothing to maintain.

Not going to go into the maths of it, but I'd be very surprised if I'd recoup that £3k in reduced energy costs in my lifespan, let alone the 5 years or so I expect to be in this house.

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Strangely, all the info I've had is that the immersion is cheaper - if it's used to heat the water to the same temperature.

Gas takes much longer, if I have it on for an hour then I can run it directly into the bath and just use that. I can have the immersion on for half that time, and have to add a load of cold to it to bring it down to temperature - hence there's water left for washing up etc.

I don't however know what the cost of the gas is vs the approx 24p of electric used in that half hour.

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Coat

Mobile signal?

Would they EVER be able to get a mobile signal through my nice faraday screened meter cupboard?

Ok, it's not screened at the moment, but that's on the list of must do projects if there's any chance of this daft idea coming anywhere near me!

You can't be too careful.

Can you get a meter sized tinfoil hat on fleabay?

On a more serious note, have the numpties with this bright idea considered the possibilities of selective time based screening / signal blocking to turn variable tariff pricing to crimminal advantage?

... No, m'lud - not guilty. My smart fridge and smart toaster have conspired to 'ack into it via a vunmerebility in me smart tv. Honest gov. ...

Thanks - it's the one the the 5l tin of electro conductive paint in the pocketses.

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Flame

Re: Downvoted pv panels

"the capacitors in the inverter might die eventually"

Ooh, that might be fun!

See icon>>

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FAIL

Re: The benefit:

"When the majority of people have "smart" meters then they can implement this plan"

Yup, that's the REAL reason.

What what nobody "up there" has yet cottoned on to is that if the network can do it anyone can. Especially with the apparent no security as a design IOT mentality that appears to accompany the whole idea.

... So, Eric, this is what I want you to do. At 0800 hours next friday, switch off two thirds of London.

Give it five minutes or so and then switch 'en all back on again. Then do Birmingham. Make it 2 mins this time. ...

Or something. Wickeder minds than mine can refine the idea.

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Re: The benefit: @ cyberd

Q lots and lots of nice smelly, smokey, noisy. gennys in back gardens and on flat balconies.

Sounds so green and safe to me .... Think I'll store my petrol under the stairs ....

Just remember - lots of CO in the bedroom helps you sleep soundly.

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Re: Downvoted

PV arrays should not be installed on new build houses in the UK because they're useless at our latitudes.

It doesn't matter how cheap the panels themselves get, the cost of the inverter gear, the problems of cleanliness and maintenance, and the hopelessly intermittent nature of the output (sunshine at night, anybody? Or any time between November and February?) means they will never be anything except a cost overall - though of course a nice little earner for the rich people in big houses who already installed them before the government woke up and cut the feed-in tarriffs.

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Exploding capacitors

@PNGuinn: Ooh, that might be fun!

Probably not. The inverter is in a steel case with a very chunky aluminium heat sink on the front, so it would require quite a major conflagration for it to get out. And the capacitors are quite likely just to fail to capacitate, rather than go out in a blaze of glory.

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Dying pensioners

@ledswinger: "Unless you dispute the official line on climate change, fuel poverty and excess winter deaths, then it is a simple matter of fact that all the eco-bling of wind turbines and PV saves polar bears, but kills pensioners."

Very smug little argument, but ignores the fact that the brokenness of the energy market means vastly inflated prices unless you religiously change supplier every year, which is just the sort of thing that the poor pensioners you are using as your emotional pawns are not going to do (just as they are not likely to take up green incentives such as insulation grants). Direct your ire at the big six rather than microgeneration, which they hate as it undermines their monopoly.

Still, I'm glad that you think it saves polar bears.

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Backwards-running meters

@Martin-73: "A standard twisty wheel with pointers meter will run backward during feed-in."

A standard twisty wheel with pointers meter which doesn't have a ratchet will run backwards, but as soon as you register your PV installation (which you have to if you want any generation tariff), your electricity company will be very keen to change it for an electronic one.

Incidentally, these dumb meters (or the one I have anyway) indicate on their displays if they have ever experienced reverse energy flow, presumably to detect fraud. The LED that flashes for every fraction of a kWh consumed also comes on steadily during periods of reverse energy flow.

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Re: Downvoted

sunshine at night, anybody?

Definitely! The Spaniards had a solar power plant generating electrickery 24 hours a day.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo found that between November and January, 4500 megawatt hours (MWh) of solar energy were sold to the electricity grid between midnight and seven in the morning.

It has been suggested that some plants in the regions of Castilla-La-Mancha, Canarias and Andalucía have been using diesel generators connected to their solar panel arrays to illegally benefit from government subsidies.

Spanish nighttime solar energy fraud

Definitely a nice little earner for the rich people...

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Australia vs UK

@Pompous Git: I see that the base interest rate in Australia is currently 1.5%; in the UK it's 0.25%, making PV a correspondingly better investment compared with sticking your savings in a bank. And of course the tariff models are separate. But I didn't get PV just for financial reasons.

You also dis the technology on the grounds that it can raise your neighbours' voltage and blow their appliances. Yes, that might happen if there are two of you on the end of a long piece of damp string, but in my suburban setting it has no noticeable effect at all on the voltage, which I monitor at the most sensitive point - the inverter, as I have a low impedance supply. So you can't generalise, especially considering that the maximum power it has ever generated is about 3.5kW, which is scarcely more than a kettle. Putting on a kettle will reduce the voltage the same amount as full sun (with clouds around it, i.e. momentarily) will increase it. In addition, IIRC the distribution company has the right to refuse permission for you to connect if it thinks there is enough installed capacity in the area to cause an issue, but I would be interested to know how often this has happened, if ever.

You may not be aware that in the EU a simple fudge was made to harmonise the UK/IRL 240V with 220V elsewhere by mandating that all appliances must operate at 230V+6%-10%; this would not have happened if things would be upset too easily.

PS "MIssus"? How presumptuous!

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Re: Australia vs UK

@ handle

Putting money into the bank for a 1.5% return when investing in property returns between 10 and 20% is, to put it mildly, insane. Hint: I may be crazy, but I'm not insane ;-)

It's not so much The Git dissing the technology, but electrical engineers. The Git reads and draws conclusions. As I understand this, the solar PV arrays generate their maximum output when there's sod all consumption and the voltage for everyone in the vicinity rises. Appliances that are connected all the time, such as freezers and refrigerators, suffer a shortened life. Presumably this is the "smarts" part of modern appliances; motors tend to suffer from low rather than high voltage.

There are ever so many places in Australia (according to the journals aimed at engineers) that are no longer granting permits for solar PV for the very reason I cite.

I was not aware of the EU mandate, but would note that "being able to operate" isn't saying very much. There's a question of longevity. The Git was brought up to consider such things. There's a cost to purchase and ever so many people focus on that alone, but the real cost is the annualised cost over the lifetime of the purchase.

Then there's the embodied energy in the system. Solar PV is manufactured, not with renewable energy, but good old fashioned fossil fuels or nuclear. Since the electricity The Git consumes is generated by hydro-electric plant, installing solar PV would have increased his carbon footprint rather than decreasing it. As you say, you shouldn't generalise, but that doesn't stop people doing so. The Gillard government subsidised Tasmanians to increase their carbon footprint as a carbon emissions reduction measure and somehow that's "saving the planet"? Ya gotta laff!

Sorry for the presumption regarding the missus. Most blokes seem to have one though I notice that some of them are male.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mobile signal?

"Would they EVER be able to get a mobile signal through my nice faraday screened meter cupboard?"

If I was designing this system (be grateful I'm not), continued supply of electricity would be dependent on some kind of keepalive signal from HQ to meter. It doesn't have to be obvious/explicit, just something detectable by the remote cutoff gadget, and if not detected, off goes the power.

Now what're you going to do with your Faraday cage :)

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Anonymous Coward

Combi boilers are the spawn of the devil

You can still get the traditional kind of boiler which feeds radiators and a hot water cylinder. For some reason there seems to be a lot of emphasis on supplying you the more expensive product - the modern equivalent of a gas multipoint water heater, aka geyser.

Does anywhere outside the UK also have this obsession with combi boilers?

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Strangely, all the info I've had is that the immersion is cheaper...

Check your bills. Last time I looked (UK), electricity was somewhere between three and four times the price of gas per kWh.

Your boiler can put more energy into the water in the cylinder more quickly than an immersion heater; the latter is usually 3kW while even an old back boiler could potentially output 12 or 15kW. A modern boiler can usually supply more than that, with a typical "system" boiler capable of 25 or 30kW.

Several factors in play here:

  • the boiler coil may not be able to handle all the heat the boiler can supply, though even a standard coil should manage more than 3kW - the normally-quoted "recovery time" (time to re-heat the cylinder from cold) is around 30 mintues. A "fast recovery" coil will handle more, and heat quicker.
  • An immersion heater (as usually installed in an otherwise gas-heated system) heats only the top 1/3rd or so of the cylinder (maybe a half), and the water underneath will remain cold, while the boiler coil is right at the bottom and heats the whole lot. Not sure if this link will work, but here's a picture.
  • Your coil may be furred-up if you have hard water, or haven't maintained proper levels of inhibitor in the boiler water - how well do your radiators work?
  • This is the big one: they are controlled by separate thermostats. The immersion heater has a built-in thermostat that is usually factory-set to 60C, with a safety cutout thermostat set to 80C (I think). If the water heated by the immersion is scaldingly hot it may be that the main thermostat has failed, and you are heating water to 80C on the safety 'stat.
  • The boiler will be controlled (usually) by two thermostats. The first sets the temperature of the water leaving the boiler, and is usually set to around 80C, which is the temperature at which the recovery time (and a radiator's output) is calculated. There is also a thermostat strapped on to the outside of the tank (more modern tanks have these inserted into the tank). This should be set to 60C because that is considered a "safe" temperature to avoid bacterial growth and not too dangerous if you happen to hold your hands under the tap. However, strap-on thermostats are exposed and vulnerable and (depending on design) can be knocked off-temperature quite easily.

So it's possible that the cylinder thermostat controlling the boiler could be set to (say) 50C, against the 60C of the immersion. It's also possible that the flow temperature from the boiler is set low for some reason - this is unlikely, but possible. Obviously, if the boiler is set to (say) 50C, it won't be able to heat the cylinder beyond that, however high the cylinder 'stat is set, and as the cylinder approaches 50C the rate of heat transfer will slow down.

Does this help?

Point 1 - gas is about a quarter the price of electricity per kWh

Point 2 - the boiler is heating the whole cylinder, while the immersion is only heating a third or so

Point 3 - there are at least two separate controlling thermostats, and they may not be set the same

M.

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> nowhere near bright enough

Sucks to be you buying underpowered bulbs.

Moved house last year so all bulbs here are now LED (excepting 1 CFL I had left that I used for one of the lights i put in the loft).

A 6 or 7.5 watt led is much brighter that old bulbs were. And a 4 watt GU10 seems a much better repalcement for all the 50 watt halogen gu10's that came with the multi light fitting i put up and all the halogen gu10's dies within 6 months as usual. The leds are still running and have had no problems.

And FWIW all my LED's are ASDA branded.However I do look to see who made them and only grab if it's a good one/ Maybe some of the cheap ones are not. I guess some people cannot cope with the fact that a led bulb cost more that old bulbs used to and buys low watt or crap.

Not to mention leds come in any colour range you want.

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Facepalm

Re: I want one, but only because our meters are in an awkward spot

You could always cook and eat your Sunday Roast at 3am.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Some important fire safety advice

You're not going to sit and watch a washing machine, just put a smoke alarm above it.

I'm not sure about flooding though, although I haven't had a washing machine flood on me for years.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Some important fire safety advice

Unless you sit and watch the tumble dryer, by the time you smell burning from another room a properly placed smoke alarm would be screeching away anyway.

Generally find the lint from the current clothes being dried is pretty wet when using condensor dryers.

Agree though that to go down the pub whilst the machine is on is probably not the best thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Benefits

> energy consumption savings achieved todate through the smart meter rollout amount to 2%

2% of what though? 2% of household electricity and gas consumption? Across all households, or just for those 3.5m people who had the meters installed?

It annoys me intensely when politicians say (for example) "we are generating 5% of our energy via renewables" when actually they means that we are generating 5% of our *electricity* from renewables. Since electricity only accounts for about 1/6th of the country's total energy usage, the correct figure would be more like 1%.

A 2% usage reduction in total household gas and electricity use, when only 10% of households so far have smart meters, would be quite staggering, and I don't believe it.

A 2% usage reduction in gas and electricity use across only those who have the smart meters would still be moderately significant - although household gas and electricity use is still only a small fraction of total energy use, excluding industry, transport etc. Whether it justifies £17bn is another matter.

Being a cynic, I would expect the gas and electricity companies will just increase their prices for smart meter users by 2% to compensate for any reduced usage. They will achieve this by following the model of mobile phone operators, with massively complex price schemes where you will be encouraged to buy a "bundle" of more than you need, because the out-of-bundle usage will be horrendously expensive.

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> We're on Economy 7 and do use the washing machine overnight so no savings there.

It's worth remembering that a tumble drier will typically use 2 or 3 times the energy to dry the load as the washing machine did to wash it.

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Anonymous Coward

> I don't however know what the cost of the gas is vs the approx 24p of electric used in that half hour.

Check on your gas and electricity bills: gas bills should now give the price per kWh so it's directly comparable. You will find that the price of gas per kWh is about 1/4 or 1/5 of the price of electricity. Even if your boiler is only 80% efficient, heating that cylinder by gas will be a fraction of the cost of heating it by electricity.

However you're right that the gas system will have maintenance costs, particularly the annual boiler service, which needs to be taken into account. However, having a purely electric system is unlikely to be cheaper overall if you have a family (i.e. lots of baths and showers).

It may be workable if you use Economy 7 and can survive on one hot tank of water per day, or perhaps in combination with solar water heating (not solar PV panels!)

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"I could conceivably turn off my wifi at night - but the only way to do that for me means my phones stop working. Arguable whether I need them, I suppose, but I don't think I'd use more than 1-2 kW in the whole night on those appliances."

Sorry, but downvoted for confusing power with energy.

Assuming you actually mean 1-2kWh, (120-240W assuming you have an 8-hour night), are you sure you're not providing wifi for the whole town?

For comparison, the current highest speed Virgin hub requires a 12V 1.5A power supply, so allowing for inefficiencies in the converter, probably about 20-25W at the wall (that's 0.2kWh over night).

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I got a letter saying I needed to arrange for the meter to be fitted as they were required to install them.

I didn't bother responding.

A friend, however, did, and took a day out to await for the meter to be fitted. They never turned up.

So one more reason to refuse: Even if you do want the meter, you may wind up wasting your time waiting for them to turn up.

Strangely, I was asked, not too long ago, if I'd consider swapping to a rival supplier, who informed me they *don't* do smart meters. Which is good to know if my current supplier pushes for me to have one.

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Re: Are your WiFi devices built using old valve tech? (if they are, send he circuit diagram, KTHX!)

"Even if I used 1kWh in the entire night for all that, that's 15p"

Exactly! Most people really can't save much when all the standby devices consume, per night, the equivalent of the price difference of a single litre of fuel bought at a motorway services compared to the local filling station or supermarket.

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"My last ordinary incandescent is now at least 13 years old. It lights up the entry to the house automatically when SWMBO arrives home from work in the winter months."

That's not really surprising for a lightbulb that gets used for maybe 10-15 minutes per day :-)

You're spot on with the CFLs though. Worst idea ever. The early ones took ages to "warm up" to full brightness and even the newer ones seem to have significantly shorter actual lifetimes than predicted. We changed everything to CFL and the running cost might well be cheaper in term of electricity used by the consumer, but the extra production costs and the short lifespans of many of them probably far outweighs the usage savings both for the world as a whole and the end user consumer who has to pay 10 times the cost fopr something that at best last twice as long as incandescent.

We've since gone all LED a few years ago, none have failed so far and have already paid for themselves in terms of both incandescent and CFL

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Re: @Nick Ryan

"One downside though: they're universally Edison screw, so you will have to stock up on suitable fixtures or get adapters."

I went with LEDHut. At the time they were about the only UK supplier with a decent range of UK standard fittings types and included dimmable LED bulbs (so long as you use the correct type of dimmer switch). The only downside is the range of the dimmer is a lot less than I'd like, ie you can only dim down to about half brightness.

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That's not really surprising for a lightbulb that gets used for maybe 10-15 minutes per day :-)

Probably more than that; it's on a motion detector. It's intially on for 15 minutes before turning itself off. Then triggered by wildlife or SWMBO's arrival and if she doesn't turn it off, it keeps being randomly triggered until the following day. This is precisely the condition that kills CFLs.

While you can leave your CFL on constantly to achieve the rated lifespan, the fire service recommend turning them off when leaving a room as they occasionally catch fire.

Yes, I would have gone LED as I said in an earlier post, but $AU60,000 seemed a bit OTT. The double glazed windows only cost $AU30,000!

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Re: Pointless

> Butt [sic] such a scheme [time-related pricing] is never going to save much...

New Zealand calling. I have a dumb meter. My dishwasher does dishes at about 25c/KWh.

My son has a smart meter. He does his dishes at 4c/KWh.

I'd say that's a decent saving, wouldn't you?

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Re: Pointless

New Zealand calling. I have a dumb meter. My dishwasher does dishes at about 25c/KWh.

My son has a smart meter. He does his dishes at 4c/KWh.

I'd say that's a decent saving, wouldn't you?

Yes and no! Whilst your son is saving money (not that I would be grumbling if it were me), there is no change in the amount of energy consumed and thus no substantive change in lifestyle - even though I suspect your son is now running his dishwasher at some odd time of day.

Which given a big factor in all this is climate change and our massive dependency on fossil fuels, has to be concerning...

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Re: Pointless

My son has a smart meter. He does his dishes at 4c/KWh.

I have SWMBO. I have no idea how much she costs per KWhr, but I'd rather have sex with her than an electric dishwasher :-)

NB The Git does most of the cooking, grows the vegetables, provides the firewood for the cookstove/space heater and used to provide the meat as well, but we no longer keep sheep.

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had a quote for £3k for a new combi boiler and associated work

Well there's part of your problem - don't FFS get a combi, except for a few uses they are the spawn of the devil. But installers lurve them because they are easy to install, and builders/developers lurve them because it means they can shave about 1 square yard off the size of a house by doing away with the cylinder and cupboard. But for most users, they are "a poor choice" - especially for a family with a bath !

Gas takes much longer, if I have it on for an hour then ...

Right, so you are using it wrongly.

I don't however know what the cost of the gas is vs the approx 24p of electric used in that half hour.

Almost certainly less than the lecky - unless you are on LPG from a tank in the garden. Mains gas is typically around 1/4 the cost of mains lecky for a unit of heat. Even if your existing boiler is old and inefficient, I bet it's cheaper (by a good margin) to run than the immersion heater.

Suggested steps to take :

1) If there isn't one, get a cylinder stat fitted and wired into the heating system. This will be able to run the boiler when the cylinder needs heat, and turn the boiler off again afterwards (unless the heating is also demanding heat).

2) Set the time controls to allow the boiler to heat the cylinder for a decent amount of time each day. In practical terms, there isn't really a reason not to allow the cylinder to be set for 24 hours - the boiler does not run on the timer, it runs on the cylinder stat and will not run if the cylinder is already hot.

3) Make sure you have a good room stat for the heating and use it. Don't be like SWMBO who treats the room stat as a switch.

4) The boiler controls need to be set such that the boiler does not shut down on it's own stat before the room and cylinder stats are satisfied. Boiler cycling is very common (usually because the clueless plumber set things up wrong) and is very expensive.

5) At some point (consider it when either the existing cylinder and/or boiler are giving problems) consider upgrading to a modern fully pumped system with "fast recovery" high capacity coil and a condensing (but not combi) boiler. You'll get much better cylinder reheat times and it'll be more efficient - IF the system is setup right (most aren't as "plumbers" are often completely clueless).

And for a few more bits. When (not if) people tell you that it's wasteful to store a tank full of hot water, and mutter about standing losses, ignore them as ignorant idiots ! Provided you've taken measures (like the above) to make the controls work for you AND you have it well lagged, then the losses are low. Plus, unless the airing cupboard is outside of the house, then the losses aren't wasted as they'll be contributing to heating the house. I actually did side-by-side comparisons of a thermal store I'd just installed in one property with the combi next door - the combi had higher losses with no demand than the store (about twice in fact). Combi boilers have significant standing losses because they fire up at intervals to keep the heat exchanger hot so as to avoid the "turn on hot tap, wait a minute or two while the boiler obliges with hot water" problem they are so famous for - and this repeated firing is very wasteful. That's one of the "dirty secrets" about combi boilers that their supporters will never mention.

So TL;DR version.

You are being wasteful, almost certainly not using your systems to best advantage, and having a smart meter won't help with that. You can get a much better saving by using what you have correctly, without the "remote turn off" facility and without handing over a lot of detailed information into a massive database where it's almost certainly going to leak.

And the "spot when the lecky use is high because the immersion is on" bit doesn't even need a smart meter - a slip on energy monitor for a fraction of the price* will tell you that.

* Don't believe the outright lies that these meter are "at no extra cost". You might not get a bill itemising it, but you, and I, and everyone else here paying lecky and gas bills, is paying for it - to the tune of (current estimates) 11 BILLION quid on our bills during the next few years. It works out at around £200/meter.

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Hmmmm, had a quote for £3k for a new combi boiler and associated work.

Running costs for the old gravity fed heating system have been £120 on a new fan over the past five years.

Well that's effectively £3k for a complete replacement to your existing system! Unless you need the space being used by the existing boiler and immersion (hot water) tank and can live with running the hot tap for several minutes to get the boiler to run and so produce hot water, I wouldn't bother with a combi. Also for condensing boilers to actually achieve their claimed efficiencies they need to be used in the right way, namely allowed to run hot so that they spend most of their time in condensing mode, combi boilers seem a good idea but because of the way they heat water they actually spend most of their time getting hot!; in this mode are broadly as efficient as a 2000~2005 non-condensing boiler...

Not sure about a gravity fed heating system, but back in the 70's and early 80's many systems had gravity fed hot water systems, using the pump only for the central heating. If your's is one of these then your bills will be significantly higher than necessary.

I would get a local professional in, rather than someone from a major, and get them to fit a regular boiler (direct replacement for your existing boiler) and put both hot water tank and central heating on to a pumped circuit. A pro installer will also install the important but necessary extra's like: hot water tank with 2-inches or more of foam insulation, sludge filters, thermostatic radiator valves, lag the internal hot pipes (heat goes where you want it quicker and doesn't leak out making bedrooms more comfortable in summer) and route the condensation drain pipe so that it doesn't freeze in winter... Additionally, by using a local pro, the quote should still be less than the one you already possess...

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Also for condensing boilers to actually achieve their claimed efficiencies they need to be used in the right way, namely allowed to run hot so that they spend most of their time in condensing mode ...

A correction on that.

Non-condensing boiler have to run hot (return above about 55˚C*) as condensation will kill them quickly.

A condensing boiler works best when the return temperature is below about 55˚C* and they can recover the extra energy from condensing much of the water vapour in the exhaust.

As you say, many condensing boilers are installed and gain nothing over the old reliable one they replaced - simply because the system isn't set up properly to allow them to work. Combi's make this worse due to the need to grossly oversize the boiler (to give something approximating to an adequate hot water supply) relative to the size needed for efficient space heating.

* 55˚C (or thereabouts) is down to the chemistry of the gas burning.

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