Home improvement

Next time you feel like weeping when you open the gas or electricity bill, it will be little consolation to know that your financial pain is a small sub-plot to one of the great dramas of our age.

How we should produce energy, and how much of it we can or should consume, must rank as two of the crucial questions facing our society.

Indeed, if you accept that the production and consumption of energy is directly linked to the fate of the planet because of climate change, it is possible to argue that there is no bigger issue facing us.

At the BA Festival of Science last week, a panel of experts from industry and academia debated the various options available to the UK and the rest of the world.

On the production side, the usual dilemmas were there. Nuclear or not? More renewable sources, and if so which ones? Is tidal generation an option?

All vital questions of course, but some of the most interesting comments concerned the demand side of the equation – how energy is consumed.

Several of the panel made the point that a massive portion of the energy we consume is used to heat buildings, our homes and places of work, and the water we use in them.

And these buildings are, on the whole, woefully energy inefficient. The UK apparently has some of the worst housing stock in the world in this respect.

This is bad news for the environment and bad news for all our pockets, as those rocketing utility bills confirm.

The Festival of Science panel pointed out that some basic home improvements, hardly high-tech stuff, could make a big difference.

But one piece of technology in particular stood out, namely ‘smart metering’. The way we pay for our electricity and gas in the form of quarterly, often estimated bills, distances them from the reality of day-to-day life.

Smart meters, linked to the outside world by short-range wireless connections, could show us exactly how much energy we are using and how much it is costing us. Utility firms could provide more regular, accurate bills. Most importantly, we could all see that when we take steps to improve our energy efficiency, it is saving us money.

Smart metering will not, by itself, solve our energy problems. But by linking consumption directly and understandably with cost, it could help us to help ourselves, and save us a few quid into the bargain.

Andrew Lee


The Engineer & The Engineer Online