Smart and smarter: how to bring down bills

Despite recent price reductions, we still pay a fortune for our gas and electricity. Chiara Cavaglieri looks at the technological developments that can save us money

Customers are still digging deep into their pockets to pay their gas and electricity bills, despite five of the six biggest energy companies recently announcing price reductions. The painful truth is that the new round of cuts has only scratched the surface. No energy firm has brought bills down by more than 10 per cent, against rises of 40 per cent in the past year. As a result, according to the Government's Energy Saving Trust, the average household spends around £1,300 a year on heating, lights and other appliances.

So it's still crucial for cash-strapped customers to reduce their consumption in order to cut bills. Fitting energy-saving light bulbs, lagging the boiler and insulating walls are all ways of preventing waste, but just as important is simply being aware of how much energy they are using.

This, at least, is the theory behind the smart-metering concept – a wireless transmitter now being sold by several UK energy suppliers that displays readings taken from your meters. "One of the fundamental barriers stopping individuals from saving energy is that they don't understand how use at home relates to their gas and electricity bills," says Philip Sellwood, the chief executive at the Energy Saving Trust. "Smart meters give householders the power to work out exactly how much energy they are using."

AlertMe, a firm specialising in home security, has come up with an even more ingenious way for people to keep on top of energy consumption. Like smart meters, the AlertMe smart-plugs system allows customers to monitor their energy use from a central display, but it displays the readings in pounds and pence rather than kilowatt hours.

Where AlertMe's products differ markedly from smart metering is that they enable customers to switch appliances on and off automatically through a website. They work as part of the online wireless AlertMe system, which uses a hub plugged into a broadband modem. Originally designed for home security, the technology has been adapted to allow consumers to understand and, more importantly, to control their energy consumption.

The hub acts as a gateway between the internet and the devices in the home and can be set up to monitor and react to changes in the house. In the same way that home-security customers can receive a text, phone or email alert warning them that a smoke alarm, say, has gone off, they can also be told if their energy consumption goes below or above a set level. So if a freezer or fridge were to stop working or lose power, the AlertMe system can be set up to send a text to let customers know.

Smart plugs can also be used to avoid costly standby wastage simply by plugging in particular appliances, such as a home-entertainment system, and then turning them all off through a special key fob that sends a message to the hub whenever customers leave or enter the house.

A main benefit of the system is that it allows customers to check the accuracy of meter readings. "The way energy consumption is currently measured is ridiculous, with accurate measurements being taken just once a year on average by the energy firms," says Pilgrim Beart, co-founder of AlertMe. "If you paid for your shopping that way, you would never know how much anything actually costs."

The big question is whether the potential savings with such devices are outweighed by the cost, but AlertMe claims its service pays for itself in less than one year by cutting consumption by 20 per cent. At the moment individual smart plugs cost £25 each, but you'll also need to buy the central hub, which starts at £149.

The company can be contacted at

Big switch: 'I just laughed – the bill was so cheap'

Toby Cruse, 23, an IT manager from Oxted in Surrey, has had the AlertMe system on trial for six months in his new flat. Toby likes the idea that he is saving money and that installation was hassle free. "All the sensors are battery powered and wireless, so there's no need for carpets to be ripped up. It's really easy to set up by yourself and you can customise the system to fit your home."

As Toby has no billing history at his new address, he isn't sure how much he is saving through AlertMe, but he feels it's making a difference: "When my first energy bill came in, I just laughed because it was so cheap. The ways you can learn to save money in your home through a structure like this are endless. If you actually throw figures at people, they really begin to understand how much energy they're using. It's all about connecting power usage to cost, and if you use the smart plugs for all your appliances, you will start to see exactly how much can be saved by switching them off."

This is only the beginning, says Toby: "The end goal in my eyes is complete home automation, so you don't have to think about what you've left on or off, whether it's heating, lighting or security. You could set it up to the exact requirements that you want and your house would be looking after you."

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

    Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

    Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

    Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape