Will you Get Fat and Poorer with New Electricity Time-of-use Rates?

I recently received the news that my electricity provider will be imposing time-of-use rates on my areas in 4 months.

This first came up 3 years ago and I blogged about it asking Will That New Electricity Meter Make you Poor and Fat?  It’s going to effect more and more people over time.  Let’s explore if I and perhaps you too, will end up paying more, or doing things to avoid paying more (like eating later at time) or working at home in more humid conditions during the summer…

That electricity meter was installed, has been feeding data to the electricity company – more on that in a moment – and they are ready to start complicating my bill.

Below is a chart showing the current rates (same all-day all-year, increasing after a level of consumption) vs. the new rates (changing over the day and the year).  It also shows how the rates and time-slicing has changed from the original proposals in 2008 to the rate that will go into effect in 2011.

  2008   2011  
Rate Type Rate (cents) per kWh When applies Rate (cents) per kWh When applies
Current 5 First 2000kWh 6.8 First 600kWh
Current 5.9 After 2000kWh 7.9 After 600kWh
Off-Peak 3 Mon-Fri 22:00 to 07:00 all-year
All weekends/holidays
5.9 Mon-Fri 19:00 to 07:00 summer/winter
All Weekends/Holidays
Mid-Peak 7 Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 22:00 in the summer
Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 and 20:00 to 22:00 in the winter
8.9 Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 19:00 in the summer
Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 in the winter
On-Peak 8.7 Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 in the summer
Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 22:00 in the winter
10.7 Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 in the summer
Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 19:00 in the winter

For the visually inclined – here’s how the new 2011 rates work in a pie-chart as published by the electricity company.

image

I few things to note:

  • Rates have obviously gone up a bit in 3 years – 36% on regular rates – as horrible as that is, let’s ignore that.
  • The break point for higher rates has come down from 2000kWh to 600kWh – so paying the higher rate more quickly – let’s ignore that too.
  • The average rate for a summer day on the new rates is 7.85c/kWh assuming constant rate of usage through the day.  This is higher than the current starting 6.8 rate and as high as the 7.9c/kWh rate.  Whether the real average rate is higher or lower for you, really depends therefore on your weekday daily-usage patterns.

The flyer includes the annoying statement: "In a 168-hour week, only 30 hours are at on-peak times.  There are three-times as many hours at off-peak periods."  This is annoying because, it’s of now benefit unless one can pick when the on-peak times are – the rates are most expensive at in-opportune moments for many – and it doesn’t mention that for 50% of week days (or 36% of the whole week), rates are now higher.

Let’s dig in to see what the consequences may be:

Some possible bill differences moving to the new rates for various power usage:

  • To cook dinner, now costs more during weekdays: 8.9c/kWh compared to 6.8c/kWh (if you haven’t used up the 600kWh), that is unless, you are prepared to cook after 7pm and eat even later (and potentially get fatter) or pre-cook much of your food during off-peak. However, realistically across the week and year that’s (say 2kW for 0.5 hour in an oven = 1kWh) 2.1c per day more x 125 days (summer) + 3.9c per day more x 125 days (winter) – 0.9c per day less x 100 days = $6.60 per annum more. That’s not so bad, but what else do I have running that will now cost more…
  • At one extreme – to operate air-conditioning at home (if you are at home during the day) now costs considerably more: 10.7c/kWh compared to 6.8c/kWh.  If the A/C is on 50% of the time (wild guess) from 7am to 7pm for 2 months at 3kW, that’s 3kWh hours at 2.1c more + 3kWh at 3.9c more x 5 days x 8 weeks = $7.20 more for the summer.  This doesn’t include the fan motor.
  • In middle may be things like using the dryer which could be more or less going forward depending on your schedule.
  • Anything that is a constant all-day, e.g. stuff-plugged in on standby, or the fridge, etc. is going to cost you more on average.  I use between 35kWh (winter) and 66kWh (summer) per day.

Real data check:

The new networked meter has been collecting data for a while and as a customer, I can go to the company’s website and check out my actual house usage.  So, we can actually see where the majority of my usage is, and therefore if my bill will be going up as a result of these new time-of-use rate on my existing household pattern…

They provide pie charts and bar graphs with numbers, but also exports to PDF & Excel. 

So for July so far, my average is: 7.4c/kWh which is higher than the current 6.8 (and a bit lower than the 7.9 for over 400kWh).

Off-Peak – 63%; Mid-Peak – 16%; On-Peak 21%

Extrapolating my online consumption of kWh the 21 days of July to 31 days and comparing the cost using my real average 7.4c rate to the cost with the current 6.8c (and 7.9c over 600kWh), I’d be paying $5 more in July under the new scheme.  My estimate of $7.20 more for 2 summer months of A/C didn’t look too shabby.. 

Conclusions:

  • So, with no change in usage, the new plan does costs me more ($5+ more a month in the summer), but considering that a gas-powered furnace fan doesn’t do much more work in the winter and there’s no A/C requirement, it’s not looking like like it’s going to be a huge amount more for the whole year – perhaps $50 a year more – well see.
  • Have A/C during the day?  You have to pay more to keep it the way you like it or turn down the thermostat to not pay more.
  • Cooking dinner? The cost of doing this before 7pm goes up so you have to eat later (potentially less healthy) or pre-cook cook during off-peak or pay a little more over the year.  
  • You will pay more over the year for all those 24-hours-a-day constant drain things you have plugged in.
  • You could end up going either way for things like using an electric clothes dryer, depending on when you end up doing those things.  If you already do a lot of this over night or on the weekend, and you don’t have A/C (or other major power draws) on much during the day, you may see your bill stay the same or go down.
  • Psychologically, I think some people may temporarily change their habits to avoid larger bills initially, but end up going back to their previous routine and paying a little more.
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Robotic Love

No, not a false sense of devotion towards one’s community leader…

Interesting robotic technology wrapped up in a little bundle.

Of course it’s British :P.

Watch the video and check out the website.

Some love it and some find it creepy.

Check out the the CB2 robot under “The robots” for a similar dichotomy of reactions.

USA Security at Cost of Economy or Pride?

Well, wow… new secure US passports are being made by European contractors using Far East facilities.

You want free market capitalism; you have it.

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2008/03/27/verjee.passport.outsourcing.cnn

There are questions going around about whether this foreign manufacture is a security compromise to the whole US security mission.

The foreign companies manufacturer blank passports and chips (vaguely equivalent to having blank CDs made abroad).  Given suitable PKI this should not represent a security problem.

The real joke is that the apparent reason for this happening is that the US does not have the facilities domestically, to do this production – slight loss of pride.

Well that’s a good thing, because the alternative would be that the US government is chosen to outsource jobs to another country – a loss to the US economy.

Will That New Electricity Meter Make you Poor and Fat?

In some locations electricity meters are being replaced with new models that record and transmit data about how much electricity you use at intervals over the day.

The meters communication use RF in small groups to a lead meter that is connected to a phone line in the lead meter’s residence.  I wonder if that user gets anything for that?

I was given such a meter recently.  The time-of-use (TOU) data should be available to consumers at some point in the future.

Also at some unpublished time in the future, the electricity company will switch to TOU billing like this (note the proposed pricing):

Current price is (5c per kWh up to first 2000kWh, and 5.9c thereafter)

Off-peak (3c per kWh)

  • Mon-Fri 22:00 to 07:00 summer/winter
  • All Weekends/Holidays

Mid-Peak (7c per kWh)

  • Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 22:00 in the summer
  • Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 and 20:00 to 22:00 in the winter

On-Peak (8.7c per kWh)

  • Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 in the summer
  • Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 22:00 in the winter

The accompanying leaflet says I should be “shifting activities that are energy-intensive to the less expensive mid-peak and off-peak hours”.

Given the current rate (5 or 5.9c) the only “less expensive” period will be Off-peak and look when that is!  The “energy-intensive” activities they include are “air conditioning, clothes dryers, clothes washers, electric ovens, electric heating and electric water heaters.”  Only the first 4 apply to me.

So – to summarise so far.  My bill will go up because I cannot effectively use air conditioning after 10pm!!!#$!#$!#$ and I will have to do my laundry after 10pm or on weekends otherwise my bill will go up (and the insurance companies can plan on more claims for flooding as washers overflow while people are sleeping).  It is unlikely that the saving of doing laundry for a couple of hours on the weekend will offset the huge increase of needing air-conditioning during the day (even if it’s set to a higher temperature).  We are about to get ripped off on 3 activities at least and/or be sleep deprived!

So about that electric stove activity (or microwave to some extent).  I will now pay more money to cook lunch and dinner.  In fact I will now have to start cooking dinner after 5pm in the summer or after 10pm in the winter (noting that before 5pm is not feasible for many dual-working-adult families), in order to keep my costs down – or just eat uncooked food.  This leads to 2 realistic choices (excluding extremes like starving during the week):

  • Pay more money.
  • Put on weight due to either buying more take-out (and also spending more money) or cooking/eating later, both because you are trying to save money.

So when the booklet says “What are the best strategies for smart metering?”, that section should be re-titled as “What are the best strategies for choosing how much extra weight you will put on vs. how much your bill will go up”

Solar panels are sounding like such a great investment these days!

UPDATE:

I said most of this to the electricity company and they sent me a link to an official report.  The report was conducted by the energy board and local electricity company.

A sample of 124 people were tested on a TOU plan (of mostly new single-family homes with well educated and above poverty-line income) against 125 control group – that’s a horrible sample demographic and size for an official test!!.  Note that 125 & 124 others tried two other plans that are not in my meter literature.

In the best case under TOU someone saved $9 a month; in the worst someone paid $6 more.  The average was a saving of $0.78 per month (wooo), i.e. over the 124 people trying TOU pricing, there was little change and some people did pay more. 

However, since there was a 6.0% reduction of overall use and people were shifting their use (a figure the report hides as not significant for this price plan), on average I still believe people would be spending more.

Also, the TOU pricing structure was officially designed so that someone on TOU would pay the same if they did nothing.  Remember that these people are trying hard to save money and change their habits.  People are lazy – after a few months (and not getting another $75 for participating in the survey!), most people will tend to revert back to old habits plus >64% can’t recall aspects of the pricing structure, so the average bill would go up! 

I don’t see any old houses, old people, socially/economically-challenged groups or stay-at-home workers in the samples. 

Many people who (worked their butts off and managed to save their $0.78) were expecting large savings, so many of those people will not bother now and just end up paying more.

While conversation efforts are observed with TOU pricing, “a main purpose of time-of-use and critical peak pricing is to reduce peak demand” – nice to know the energy company’s view of energy conservation and everyone’s efforts.  Admittedly, the point is to increase system reliability/availability, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to put this responsibility on the customer who will end up either doing it or paying more (and will that more pay for better service?)

And as for getting fat?

According to surveys with focus groups: “In response to a critical peak notification, customers might reset their thermostats by a few degrees [get hot]… plan on dining out [get fat or pay more money] or cook on an outdoor grill [abandon their electricity supply]…”

I support conservation but as clearly stated, smart meters are not about conservation.  Oh, and someone has to pay for the system…

geek losing 5lbs a week!

Right now:

  • I eat 5 times a day
  • I do no specific exercise
  • I buy regular food
  • I can eat at restaurants or order take-out
  • I’ve lost 5lbs each week in the first two weeks

This is entirely off-regular-topic unless you are amongst an apparently increasing number of western people including sedentary geeks that are overweight.

I have never personally bought anything after watching a TV commercial until I saw the commercial for this health program and I recognised the guy behind it.  That credibility point, the fact that this was a personalised program, the fact that it makes sense (and I’m a very logical person) and it doesn’t require special food – those things did it for me.  I had nothing to lose except pounds.  OK, that was extra corny.

The program does include exercise (walking!) and body shaping (18 minutes twice a week!) but it encourages you to get going first with the right food and then look at those other things later. 

I’ve lost 10lb already just changing my food.

I’m not going to say or acknowledge what the program is yet, because I want to see how well it works and it’s only been two weeks.  There’s a lot of solid rationale behind it.  I’m not going to suggest it to anyone yet until I think it really working for me. 

I’m betting that a significant portion of geeks are fat – let’s not mince words here.  I’m one of them.

I tried something based on the Atkins diet for a while and it did seem to work in conjunction with exercise, but it just didn’t seem right.

I walk around, I have a treadmill, I go snowboarding, biking, etc., but during the average week I’ll spend a significant amount of time sitting in front of a computer.

The one downsides of this program is the need to pre-prepare food or do a lot of cooking.  You also have to be regimented enough to eat every 2 or 3 hours.  If you have a good cook in the house and the right shopping list, you could be on to this with little or no effort on your part.

I’m a bloody picky eater.  I can’t stand fish (except tuna or some battered fish), nuts, grains or sour vegetables.  I thought this was going to be a pain, but now I’m actually used to it.  It does help that I don’t drink alcohol.

I’m about to have lunch consisting of pork, onions, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots – done with a frying pan and a microwave.  I’ll be eating out at a Subway this evening and eating again between the two!

There’s absolutely no incentive of any kind for me to promote this program, so I’m only doing so to the extent that I think it’s worth sharing, and you can probably find it online yourself anyway.  I just thought you may like to know of something that seems to be working for someone in a similar position to you.  I decide to mention it after I saw Robert Scoble’s post asking if Social Media is making us ill where he mentions that he’s going to the gym to get healthy.  This program gives some rationale about why the gym may not be the best idea. 

I wont be posting any before and after pictures :-), etc., just more details and loss statistics if it keeps working.

Engadget /verbose

In a previous post I discussed how Engadget appears to be getting more verbose with its posts, making it slower to skim through, and less effecient for obtaining useful information.

This was an observational hunch, until now…

Today, Yuvi has posted a detailed analysis of Engadget from the beginning of Engadget’s existance, and guess what I found…

That’s growing as well. The average number of words per post is now 160, up from just a 100 in May 2004. More words, more posts, more people, more news.

Could that be 60% more verbosity?  Along with an increase of about 25% in the average number of posts per day, that’s twice as much information to read through from when they started, with 37.5%+ of post content being potentially redundant.

Bullet points!