I know what you are thinking, ‘what’s the point’, but calculating your baseload is the first step to monitoring our energy use. It can also expose inaccuracies or inconsistencies in your use. For example, it isn’t unheard of for people to find that they are paying for some of their neighbour’s electricity supply as well as their own!
So, what do you need to do?
- Get an electricity monitor
Firstly you need some kind of electricity monitoring device. It could be an Owl or a Wattson or an Energenie, but it just needs to be able to show you how much electricity you are using.They are now on loan from Lymington Library.
- Turn everything off
Then you need to turn everything off. Start with sockets, so that means TV, computer, phone chargers, printer, fans, lamps etc. You really have to be thorough here. Do you have a clock radio? Is there a clock on your microwave or oven? Literally every socket in the house has to go off. Things that are often missed are immersion heaters (put on for hot water when the heating isn’t on and then forgotten) or satellite television receivers. If you have already turned off the fridge and freezer then you need to work quickly – otherwise leave these until the very last. Then go around the house and check that all the lights are off. This includes any outside lights that you might have.
- Make sure the meter reads zero
Now check your meter. Are you still using electricity? If you aren’t then that’s great; yay, you got to zero. If you are still using something then you need to do another check. Do you have anything drawing electricity in the garage? Another thing often forgotten is the burglar or fire alarm. These are usually mains linked so you can’t turn them off and your gas boiler may have mains linked controls. If your monitor is still showing large use then you may have a problem. Did I mention your PV system? Many monitors can’t differentiate between energy use and energy generation and therefore if you are doing this in the middle of the day then your monitor may be showing your PV generation rather than usage. It’s really best to do this late at night and in the winter.
- Start switching appliances back on
Once you have managed to stop your monitor from registering anything you can begin to plug back in. Start with things which need to be left on such as the fridge and freezer. Clearly this is electrical use that you can’t do without (though once you see how much they use you may want to think about getting more energy efficient models). Then think about your alarm clock (though you could have a good old-fashioned wind-up one which wouldn’t use any electricity). Is there anything else that you really need to leave on? You may have a wi-fi router, but couldn’t you switch this off when not in use?
- Decide what you’re going to always leave switched on
You need to make some pragmatic decisions here. Do you really need to have these things switched on and using energy (although very little) all the time, or could you just turn them on when needed? Most microwaves still work when the clock isn’t working. Most ovens also work, though you sometimes have to set the clock (could be to 00:00) when they don’t tell the right time. If your kitchen is full of gadgets which all have little clocks on them then, surely, you really don’t need them all on at the same time (they probably don’t say the same time anyway). My advice is to switch off at the socket when not in use. It actually makes you realise how little you use some of these gadgets.
- Discover your electricity baseload
When you recheck your monitor you will see what your baseload is. You may want to check your actual meter and then recheck exactly one hour later. This baseload is electricity that you will always use, no matter what you do. Everything else is variable and can be changed by you.
Now when you look at your monitor in the future you will know that a small percentage of what you are seeing is the baseload. Trying to get back to this figure or a reasonably regular basis is a good idea too. It helps you to see when things have been left on unnecessarily (phone chargers and computer games consoles on standby).
Why not compare your baseload with your friends and neighbours – you may generate some baseload envy!
Photo: Wattson energy monitor by Cole Henley