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Making energy visible

A new VCOSS report, Making energy visible, explains how in-home display units can help people lower their energy costs, and assesses four models available in Victoria.

In-home displays are digital devices people can install in their homes to provide them with information about their energy use and costs. An in-home display unit gathers information from a household’s smart meter and displays it, in real time, in the home. This can help people understand their electricity usage patterns and costs, and help them to use energy more effectively and lower their costs.

The ability of smart meters to provide people with information about their energy usage that would help them to lower their consumption and costs was one of the reasons given for making smart meters mandatory in Victoria in 2006. Having an in-home display installed to ‘complete the loop’ by making energy usage visible to households in real time, is a simple and straightforward way to achieve this objective, and give some value back to Victorian households who have paid to have smart meters installed in their homes. The lack of such a direct benefit to households was one of the key findings of the Auditor-General’s 2015 report, Realising the benefits of smart meters.

VCOSS advocates that facilitating the installation of in-home displays across Victoria for those who want them is vital if people are to realise the intended benefits of smart meters and recoup the unavoidable costs of meter replacement. This is particularly important for people facing disadvantage, who often face higher than average energy costs, and face greater difficulty paying for their energy usage; which can lead to them facing energy hardship.

Reasons for high energy use among people facing disadvantage

Many VCOSS member organisations report that households facing disadvantage often have high energy bills for two reasons: poor quality housing and appliances, and lack of knowledge about how to use appliances most effectively. In-home displays can’t help with the first reason, but they can help with the second.

VCOSS has assessed four different in-home displays available in Victoria in terms of their varying features and suitability for different types of households. Our full assessments are contained in the Making energy visible report.

This blog highlights key points from that report, which may be useful to organisations working with people facing energy hardship. It summarises how to choose the type of in-home display that best meets a household’s situation. It is also important to note that people will benefit most from in-home displays, if they also receive energy literacy training.

Choosing an in-home display

While the in-home display devices assessed for this report work in different ways and present different types of information, the basic working principles of each are the same. Each has its own strengths and unique features, but they all have the same core functions, being able to display:

  • Real-time electricity use
  • Total use for the current day
  • Historical use for the previous day, week, month, or years.

In all cases, the household’s electricity use can be displayed in terms of the quantity or cost. However, cost can only be shown if tariff information has been entered into the device, either during set-up, or with default tariffs that can be changed by the user.

In its Making energy visible report, VCOSS assesses the Pipit 500 to be the best all-round device. However different households may have different goals in installing an in-home display and VCOSS has also attempted to assess devices against potential differing goals, as well as some potential constraints households may face.

Goal: Reducing energy use to lower bills and stick to a budget

Key feature to look for: clear real-time feedback

VCOSS’ assessment ranking

  1. eKo
  2. Pipit 500
  3. Watts Clever
  4. Ingeni

Households wanting to control their energy use in order to lower their bills and stick to a budget are best served by a device with strong real-time feedback. The eKo and Pipit 500 are assessed to best suit this purpose, with ‘traffic light’ indicators complementing the prominent display of real-time and cumulative daily use. The eKo’s brightly-coloured daily use gauge gives it the edge over the Pipit 500, while the Watts Clever’s lack of ‘traffic light’ indicators makes it less useful. The Ingeni has poor real-time feedback.

The eKo is also the only device with a specific bill prediction feature; and the only one to include the fixed daily charge in calculating the cost of electricity use.

Goal: Understand usage patterns over time or compare different electricity plans

Key features to look for: rich historical use data and ability to apply different tariffs

VCOSS’ assessment ranking

  1. Ingeni
  2. Pipit 500
  3. Watts Clever
  4. eKo

Households wanting to understand their energy use patterns and see the effect of behaviour change over time need rich historical data that is easy to see and compare. Households looking for a better energy offer need to undertake a complex calculation involving multipart tariffs and personal energy use data. The Ingeni is the clear leader here, with comprehensive historical data features and a dedicated energy offer comparison function. Its ability to show historical use by season is of great value for users wanting to understand why their bills vary.

The Pipit 500 is assessed as the next best option, with clear historical data display and a useful period comparison feature; followed by the Watts Clever, which displays less historical use data than the others, with a less intuitive interface. The eKo’s historical data display is less clear.

Constraints on choice for some households

Some households cannot use some available devices, due to specific circumstances. Some of these depend on which electricity network they live in. You can find the relevant network for any Victorian address at bit.ly/vic-networks. In most cases, these households will be able to use the Watts Clever in-home display. The Watts Clever is not assessed as a leader in any category but is a good all-round performer.

No internet connection

The Ingeni requires an internet connection for set-up and to run its energy offer comparison feature. If a household has no internet connection, the Ingeni can still be set up if a temporary internet connection (e.g. via a mobile device) can be arranged; but the energy offer comparison feature cannot be used.

Households in the Jemena or United Energy networks (parts of western, northern, and eastern Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula) need an internet connection to set up the eKo or Pipit 500 devices. If these households are not connected to the internet, an in-home display can still be set up if a temporary internet connection (e.g. via a mobile device) can be arranged.

Ausnet Services network

Meters in the Ausnet Services network (eastern Victoria) cannot communicate with wireless in-home displays. This means these households cannot use the Ingeni, eKo, or Pipit 500 until this problem is fixed. They can however use the Watts Clever. It is unclear when this problem will be fixed.

No smart meter

Some households refused to have a smart meter installed. This means they can’t use the Ingeni, eKo, or Pipit 500 (which require a smart meter with wireless communication). If they have an analogue meter (a non-digital electricity meter with a visible spinning disk) they also can’t use the Watts Clever (which requires a digital meter with a flashing light).

Purchasing an in-home display

To purchase an in-home display, contact a reseller. A list of resellers is available at bit.ly/ihd-list. They are also available from the Alternative Technology Association’s online store (shop.ata.org.au/) and Going Solar’s (stores.ebay.com.au/goingsolar1978). The Ingeni may not be available from these resellers but can be purchased directly at myingeni.com.au