Fight Vampires with OWLs

Got any vampires in your home you want to get rid of this Halloween ?


Lately I’ve been using an OWL to fight vampires in my house, and bit by bit I’m winning.

Still with me ? No ?

The vampires in question are slowly draining electricity around my house, and take the earthly form of TVs on standby, mobile phone and electric toothbrush chargers, wi-fi equipment and computers . . . you get the idea.

The OWL is just a brand name of a home energy monitor – other brands of vampire combating energy monitor are available.

The idea is, of course, that if you can measure something, then you can have a go at managing it, and by making us aware of our electricity consumption in real-time, it makes us much more inclined to take simple steps to reduce it. For me at least this has definitely worked, I’ve become a bit energy obsessed – turning off lights, and removing things from standby at every opportunity.

The problem is that even though all our various appliances are getting more and more efficient, from our AAA rated fridge-freezers and dishwashers, to fan heaters and PCs, we’re also filling our lives with more and more gadgets, many of which we have a tendency to leave charging over night, even though they might only need a couple of hours. To be sure a mobile phone, and electric toothbrush, an ebook reader, a touch screen tablet and an mp3 player don’t use a lot of power individually, but when everyone in the country has or wants one of each, energy planners start to get worried !

In the short term the ‘solution’ is two fold: make gadgets (and their charging systems) as efficient as possible, and also nudge us towards reducing our energy consumption by turning things off as much as possible.

Electricity companies in the UK will shortly be rolling our smart meters similar to my OWL, providing real-time usage data both to the homeowner and the electricity company, so the homeowner can see that they’ve left something on, and get some immediate positive feedback for turning it off, and the electricity company can identify wider trends and patterns in consumption, and manage the grid more efficiently.

Wasting less electricity is great, and obviously saves us money, but in the longer term though, we need to move towards decoupling electricity supply from carbon and fossil fuels. ‘Decarbonising the grid’ is going to take many years to achieve, as we install renewable capacity to replace existing fossil fuel sources.

If you want your energy payments to help support this process, and also want to feel good about significantly reducing your household’s carbon footprint, you could switch your electricity supplier to a green one. We switched to Ecotricity a while ago, and for a while I did consider titling this post ‘Fight Wind Power Vampires with Smart OWLs’ . . . but a little bit too ridiculous don’t you think !

Photo by Martin SoulStealer, via Flickr


  1. Gareth Richards says:

    Give us some numbers Steve, David MacKay claims that mobile phone chargers make up only one quarter of one percent of our electricity usage:

    I’d get far better returns by always remembering to switch my heating and lights off.

    • Gareth – yes I agree with you on this: everything helps, but clearly big things help more – far better to sort your heating out as you suggest.

      It’s not an either-or of course, and it makes sense to do what we can to reduce unnecessary power usage to gadgets – especially as the issue is more a question of habit than anything else, with many people leaving things charging far longer than needed, or items on standby just because they’ve never thought about it.

      The other factor is that total energy used, is the product of load and duration. A kettle uses plenty of power (perhaps 2kW at peak), but is only on for perhaps thirty minutes a day, so using 0.5 – 1kWh per day. By contrast a mobile phone charger uses perhaps 5W while charging (3 hours), and 1W afterwards (if left plugged in) – so leaving a charger plugged in all day (and achieving one charge) uses around .0034kWh per day (if my maths is right) – so clearly not a lot.

      But, a laptop left on charge is a different story – mine’s around 50W. The same as a light bulb or two, and ten times the phone charger ! If I left it on charge all day it would use 1.2kWh.

      In my house we sometimes have two toothbrushes, two mobile phones, two laptops, two mp3 players and two DS handheld games on charge at the same time (if there are enough sockets). Potentially there might also be the TV, a games console, the microwave, the NAS and two CD players all sitting there on standby . . . vampire hunting can be quite time consuming sometimes !

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