Archive for September, 2009

Reducing emissions by 10% in 2010? 10:10

Here’s a campaign that should be of interest to all friends of HomeCamp – it’s a site and movement devoted to encouraging us as individuals (as well as organisations, educational institutions, and businesses) to cut emissions by 10% during 2010. It’s called, fittingly, 10:10. It’s an organisation concentrating on change in the UK, but they have information for those outside the UK who are interested in following the same idea. Still not sure what this is all about? from the website:

What is 10:10?
10:10 is an ambitious project to unite every sector of British society behind one simple idea: that by working together we can achieve a 10% cut in the UK’s carbon emissions in 2010.

The sign-up process is simple, there’s a nice checklist of things you can do to reduce your footprint/emissions (including, of course, the energy-saving projects we at HomeCamp have been talking about for some time), and it’s easy to encourage your local MP to take part too.


September 23, 2009 at 10:50 am 15 comments

Energy Camp 3 UK: The Autumn Edition

Me and Chris are getting the homecamp pitch. We have some evil plans afoot. How about October 24th?

September 18, 2009 at 1:33 pm 6 comments

The Patron Saint of Energy Geeks: A Guest Post

We all love IBM’s Andy Stanford Clark, the seed around which the HomeCamp community initially crystallised, so we’re very happy to have him posting here.

I gave a talk at HomeCamp’08, telling everyone about my home automation system, energy monitoring, and of course my electronic mousetraps. I thought it was time for an update. More recently I’ve linked my automated home up to Twitter, so I get an ambient, background, sense of what’s happening at home, and home much power we’re using.
Like for example, every five pounds worth of electricity each month I get a twitter message. When the phone rings, I get a direct message from twitter to my phone as an SMS, telling me who called, so I can decided whether to call them back.

This recently picked up quite a lot of media attention, and my house appeared on the BBC News – here’s Rory Cellan-Jones’ blog about it –  Things That Tweet and here’s the news piece that went out on BBC and a few other places round the world.

Richard MacManus recently wrote in ReadWriteWeb about the “Internet of Things“, the House that Twitters, and the IBM vision of a Smarter Planet, that is Instrumented, Interconnected and Intelligent. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s why HomeCamp, and the great community around it, are so important.

And of course, as we move outwards from the home, into the Smart energy grid, we have to work out how to integrate micro-generation capabilities – wind and solar at people’s houses, and manage the recharging of hybrid and electric vehicles. Having everything fitted with sensors, talking to the internet, and applying significant compute power to make sense of that sea of data, becomes increasingly essential to running the system efficiently. This is described in an article in the Guardian recently.

photo credit Benjamin Ellis.

September 18, 2009 at 1:32 pm 6 comments

Useful links and news stories

The HomeCamp community is continuing to keep up with the most recent developments of interest in sustainability and home hacking.

One good place to start is the “Links of Interest” page on the Google Group. Another good way of keeping up-to-date with what others are spotting is the #homecamp hashtag on Twitter (personally I keep a search column open in TweetDeck to keep an eye on this, too).

Here’s a selection of things I’ve spotted in the past couple of months:

If you have something to share, get in touch with us via Twitter or our Google Group.

September 18, 2009 at 12:50 pm 1 comment

Adventures in Home Energy Monitoring or “How I Became the Energy Enforcer”

a guest post by homecamper and Quest Software guy Joe Baguley.

It all started one drunken night a few years ago with my neighbours in the garden (as do most life-changing events I’m assured). It appeared that they were all paying an awful lot less for their electricity than me which I found confusing as we lived in similar houses.


After some investigation I discovered the Electrisave (since rebranded as the OWL). £45 later and I had fitted the clamp ammeter to my main feed into the house and was going round the house switching things on and off to see how much they cost. Hours of endless fun, no seriously!

I quickly worked out that my house idled at about 3.4p/hr unless the fridge/freezer was cycling when it hit 5.5p/hr. This small nugget alone dramatically changed household behaviour. Everyone was trained that as we went to sleep, or before we left the house, to check the meter. If it was more than 5.5p/hr then something was on that shouldn’t be and was switched on. Already my bills started to drop by about £10-£15/month.

Then one night I am sitting by the TV, with the meter in front of me (I became sadly obsessed) when it jumped up by 30p/hr to my amazement, something that I thought only the fridge or kettle could do for me, but neither was on. Some investigative work led me to the immersion heater (no gas water heating) and further playing showed me that the cams were worn on the mechanical timer and the thing was never turning off. One new electronic timer later and my bill dropped by a further £30/month and suddenly I was paying less than my neighbours. They were now borrowing my meter to wonder around their homes discovering savings.

Within less than 2 months the unit paid for itself.


Ever on the lookout for new gadgets I discovered Wattson and purchased one of their first devices. This did much the same as my Electrisave, but this time allowed me to capture and graph the data using their rather cumbersome app. Now I had usage graphs and could track trends, associating activities with expense. Now I was really starting to annoy my family.

I played with that for a long time, now further rewiring both my study and TV ‘complex’ to ensure that I could switch as much off as possible ‘at the wall’ when I could, leaving only ‘essential services’ powered on 24/7 (Sky+, Cable Modem, NAS drive etc.)

The only problem with the Wattson was that though it glowed pretty colours, the display would show you your ‘estimated bill for the year’ based on current usage, so the thing fluctuated from £350-£4000 as stuff went on and off, but was to abstracted from reality to be useful to drive behaviour with the family compared to the cost/hour of the previous solution.

I was however generally happy with the Wattson, but felt that I needed more info…


So, along came an Eco show at the Earl’s Court and the discovery of Green Energy Options and their home monitoring plans. They included not only monitoring to an individual device level, but were also looking at my other big and untrackable expense – gas.

So, I begged to get on their beta trial, even though I was well outside their trial area (East Anglia) and through some stroke of luck I was accepted.

I opted for the top of the line unit, the Trio+ at £250 (discounted for the trial) because that was the one that gave me detailed reporting to a device level and included gas.

So a couple of weeks later 2 chaps showed up in my house, placed clamp ammeters about everywhere possible in my consumer unit (fuse box) and installed individual appliance monitors on everything I thought appropriate in the house (washing machine, tumble dryer, dishwasher, kettle, TV etc.)

The best piece of it all was that the data was all collected onto an EeePC running MySQL, Apache and their own Flash interface which is beautiful and well thought out. More importantly as it is a webserver I can view my house (and turn things on and off) from ‘anywhere’ after opening port 80 on my router and doing the redirect. Here are some sample screenshots:

The number of screens and ways you can view the data are fantastic.

The gas monitoring I am assured will be coming in the next couple of months, but for now the electricity detail is great. The fact it measures cost over time as opposed to one fixed point means you can learn a LOT:

  • I now know my dishwasher costs 16p/cycle, compared to my washing machine at 7p, and that running it on the thermonuclear remove the spot-welded lasagne from the dish mode only takes it to 17p. Best suggestion I have had yet is to get all plastic plates and cutlery and wash them in the washing machine. Instead we don’t put the dishwasher on part-full anymore.
  • My kettle was costing us near on 50p/week, whereas my new ‘on demand’ model costs us about 6p/week
  • The oven is no longer left on for 30-40 mins to ‘warm up’, neither is the kettle left for 20 mins to ‘warm up’. These things get hot very quickly nowadays.
  • Taking into account both the cost of food and energy used in cooking it, the chip shop is wallet friendly in some cases…
  • My ‘little 3kW pool heater’ we use in the summer for our 10’ pool costs about £9/day to run – kids now cope with it a little colder than 33C… 😉
  • My 40” Sony LCD TV costs hardly anything to run (60-70p/week) – fabulous
  • The over 1500W of GU10 spotlights downstairs are killing us, and we are trying to find acceptable either CFL or LED replacements, none found yet but some are on their way to me this week to try.
  • Laptop power supplies left plugged in are a BAD thing.
  • My wife hates it when I am travelling and phone her up to complain about the amount of TV she has been watching instead of doing the housework… 😉
  • My kids know that I can turn their TV off from anywhere in the world…

My next big step? – gas monitoring when they fit it. I will finally be able to answer the question this winter as to whether leaving the heating on all the time on a thermostat or turning it off at night and then reheating the house in the morning is best.

Footnote: What drove me to do all this was not only a fascination with tech, but more importantly a fascination with not wasting money. Not saving the planet – saving cash. In my experience cash beats morality every time… 😉

September 18, 2009 at 12:45 pm 77 comments

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