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An interview with Donna Watts, about the Energy Local project in Bethesda
Donna Watts was born and raised in Bethesda. Now, she lives there with her husband and two daughters, aged 10 and 12. They’re a working family, and like many families in Bethesda, extra money at the end of the month can make a real difference. So far, Donna says that being part of the Energy Local project has saved them about £30 a month on their energy bills. She’s thrilled that their efforts are paying off!
Hi Donna! What made you join the Energy Local trial?
I heard that Energy Local were recruiting 100 households, and I was quite interested in the idea of getting my energy supplied locally from a local hydro, using clean energy.
How easy have you found it to get into the scheme?
“At the start it was a struggle… for example; it was a habit of putting the dishwasher on straight after finishing tea. But, now I’m getting into a routine. My husband’s been warned – don’t turn it on until after 8pm! Now he’ll look at the time before turning it on and say “Donna can I turn the dishwasher on yet?”, and I’ll say “no wait another 15 minutes!””
How do you feel it’s impacted the community so far?
“I think it’s got a lot of different people together, I’ve got to meet a lot of people I didn’t know in the village. There’s a wide range of ages, and with the energy club it’s been nice getting together and discussing ideas for saving energy”
As someone who grew up in the area, how do you think projects like this can help improve people’s lives in Bethesda?
It’s great that projects like this can put little Bethesda on the map and help regenerate places like the high street. We were on X-Ray (Welsh television programme) last week – I’ve been stopped loads “oh, you were on the tv!” – people are excited! Being involved in a pilot that’s the first of its kind in Wales, it’s amazing.”
What will you be spending the money you’ve saved on?
“It’s nice to treat the kids and have family days out, as we don’t have so many of them. We had one on mother’s day for the first time in ages – we went to Plas Newydd, the National Trust place. We took a picnic. The difference in the girls – just from spending time together away from the tv and their phones – was lovely. With the money we’re saving, we’re hoping we can have more days together like that.”
Cyd Ynni = Energy Together
The English translation of the phrase ‘Cyd Ynni’ is Energy Together. This is quite apt considering what our Energy Local trial in Bethesda is all about. Over the past year, we have recruited over a 100 local households to take part in this exciting, challenging and trailblazing pilot in the valley of Dyffryn Ogwen. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the location, Dyffryn Ogwen is a cluster of communities in a post-industrial, rural area just outside Bangor, North Wales. This is not an affluent area and being part of a project which will enable households to reduce their electricity bills really appealed on a personal level and to my organisation. I work for Partneriaeth Ogwen, a community regeneration company funded by 3 community councils. We do all the clerking for the 3 local Community Councils and also develop community projects in the area. Our recent successes include developing the Ogwen Hub for local Services on Bethesda High Street, opening a community craft shop and developing a community hydro scheme (Ynni Ogwen Cyf is due to be generating electricity by May this year!) As an organisation delivering innovative project s, we jumped at the opportunity to take part in this Energy Local trial and even though it’s been a bumpy ride in terms of pulling everything together, I’m glad to say that we are now seeing people reap the benefits of being part of this project.
One thing I would say is, it’s definitely not about the money. When recruiting, we found that the main incentive for local people to be part of this project was to use locally generated clean electricity. The potential saving for customers was obviously an added bonus, but most people were attracted to the idea of keeping a proportion of their electricity bill within the local community. They saw it as a way of supporting their local hydro generator and as a means of supporting green energy. Beyond the recruitment period, what we’ve been seeing since establishing the Cyd Ynni Bethesda Club is an increasing collective awareness of sustainability and energy saving issues. As well as corresponding with Club members on boring stuff like meter installations and data consents, we have also been organising a number of Club events such as a tour of our local community hydro site, a social Christmas Event and an Energy Efficiency Fair. These events have attracted a number of the Club members and have given us an opportunity to discuss progress with the pilot, but more importantly, it’s given us an opportunity to raise awareness of demand shifting, energy efficiency and making the most of the Energy Dashboard and Energy Reports – the tools to maximise benefit, knowledge and understanding of what Cyd Ynni – Ynni Lleol is all about.
The wonderful thing about being part of this trial is seeing the gradual shift in people’s perception of the trial. It is not just an energy supplier ‘switching’ exercise and what we’ve found is that participants are increasingly being motivated to change their behaviour to maximise the personal and environmental benefit from the scheme. Those who now have access to the dashboard and energy reports are changing electricity use habits and are getting more competitive! They want to improve their individual and community score and they want to understand how to make more savings. They also enjoy the concept of being part of a club which is collectively making a difference locally. Despite a number of teething problems with the scheme, I’m still getting positive feedback. “Carry on! You’re doing a great thing. We realise it’s challenging but we want to be part of this.” We have a positive relationship with our Club members and that sense of collective ownership and kinship is increasing. In one sense we do need to distance ourselves from the energy supplier billing queries, but on the other hand, the fact that we are here on the High Street, answering concerns or queries is another added bonus for our Club members. They want to feel closer and take more ownership over their electricity use in every sense. I can imagine that most people wouldn’t be signing off queries on electricity suppliers with smiley emojis if they weren’t happy to be part of this project!
I’ll close with a few photos of the Club events we’ve been holding. They’ve been a source of info on the
scheme but also a source of inspiration and sharing information on a community level. Our aim now is to get our Club members enthused to arrange events for themselves. A number of Energy Champions have been identified and we’re hoping to work with one of them on an ‘Energy Open House’ visit to his home in the Spring.
The future of this pilot in Bethesda is to work closer together, not just as stakeholders and partners who helped set up the project, but working together as a Club. This is the power of community energy and enthusiasm working together for social and environmental benefit.
CYD YNNI – ENERGY TOGETHER!
Mel, Partneriaeth Ogwen
Jess’s energy saving and shifting tips even with a little monkey in tow…
Energy saving with a baby in tow is not the easiest thing (life is demanding enough without adding in extra challenges!!) and it’s also not something that gets talked about much so when Mary suggested this as a blog topic, I thought it a good idea!
In my London flat I’ve done quite a bit over the years, like replacing all the light bulbs with LEDs, insulation around the doors and windows, turning things off from standby, making sure the fridge is full with ice blocks. We used an Owl energy monitor for a while which was helpful to get us used to knowing which things in the house were the energy guzzlers and weirdly its quite exciting and shocking when you see the energy consumption shoot upwards when you turn on a high energy user like the kettle! Since then I’ve always tended to just boil a big load of water and use warm water for tea refills because I do drink quite a lot of tea! Insulated kettles can keep the water hot for up to 4 hours afterwards. If I’m nearby I stop the kettle before it reaches boiling because those last few seconds of boiling use so much energy.
What has happened since baby Matilda’s arrival…
Overall my energy consumption has gone up since having a baby around mostly because I’m at home more, however, there are ways that I’ve minimised the increase. Spending more time at home, I can make a batch of something for my lunch and hers and make double quantity to re-heat the next day or have for supper. I’ve been quite surprised at what she’ll eat e.g. lentil dhal, Moroccan chick pea stew, it needn’t be bland mush! When she was younger I used a blender which uses a lot of energy, however, now she’s getting a few teeth the hand masher will do.
Last autumn I invested in a slow cooker which uses less energy than cooking on gas hobs and means you can make dinner during a quiet point in the day and then leave it on the “keep warm” function if needed. There are some nice looking recipes here. Investing in some good overall style long sleeve bibs to avoid constant changes in clothes every time she had something to eat was also a good way to save on lots of washing!
Babies are quite heat sensitive and having the right temperature in her bedroom can mean an extra few hours’ sleep at night for us parents so sadly we bought an additional standalone room heater that has an inbuilt temperature control. We chose an oil filled radiator which uses less energy than most other types of room heater (e.g. fan, convector, radiant bar).
Even in the winter I try to get out and about to play groups, cafes or other people’s houses as much as possible to avoid the “cabin fever” one can feel as a stay at home mum and also save on energy and heating at home.
Being at home more means it’s easier to do things in a planned way, so much easier to turn things such as the washing machine and dishwasher on during off-peak times. My dishwasher has a delay function so I tend to put it on at night time. At the moment I’m on a standard tariff with Good Energy so I don’t actually benefit financially, still it’s nice to know I’m doing my bit to even out the peaks in energy demand.
Jess Sherlock, London resident, and friend of Energy Local
We have a new energy monitor which is more sensitive than our old one, which broke. The readings have prompted us to take further action about our base load. There are a number of things which we cannot fully turn off or unplug, so we looked at the remaining items. It turns out that this lot was consuming 25 watts, even with all of the attached electronic equipment completely switched off! I connected all of it to the mains with a switched plug like this and leave it turned off.
Having lost these 20 watts, we are now down to 45 watts base load which is not too bad for our size of house. Meanwhile, our old fridge-freezer had malfunctioned. It had been running about 18 hours a day, even on cool days, so we were thinking of changing it. It was setting its own temperature and changing it on a whim, so everything was often too cold. Finding a very energy efficient refrigerator which met our other requirements was tricky: we wanted to move to a 50/50 split with a larger freezer to freeze more of our allotment berries and soft fruit, but we didn’t want to have a smaller fridge section.
So, our new Miele fridge arrived earlier this month and is a A** rating, which should save us a lot of money, not to mention our lowered carbon footprint. I have used an energy monitor to compare power use between the two fridge-freezers. The Miele’s consumption varies depending on how much cooling it needs to do. The motor runs more often that we were expecting, but the electricity consumption is only 40% to 60% of the old fridge. So, even if it runs the same amount of time or a bit longer, it is still very energy efficient. Here are the statistics.
- Old Samsung – 135 watts when motor running
- New Miele – between 55 and 75 watts when motor running
We hope that with these changes we can get our annual electricity bill down to about £300 for a 4-bedroomed semi built in 1939 with a subsequently converted loft.
Craig, Chester resident, and friend of Energy Local
Cupcake or welsh cake?
Finally, I am enjoying my new kitchen. My new efficient cooker is great, although I have yet to get used to the fact is heats up quickly and conducts the heat rather better than my old one. I am burning quite a few pans at the moment!
I read an interesting calculation that showed that making welsh cakes was more energy efficient than cupcakes or scones because they are cooked on the hob, not in the oven. This tip rather appealed to me but may be that is because I rather like welsh cakes. I assume one could say the same of drop scones or waffles?
I have been enjoying the warm weather and long daylight hours. When I was really organised (a rarity) with the long sunny days I could get two lots of washing done on ‘solar power’ (I managed 3 lots once washing my curtains!). On these sunny days, the clothes dry on the line by the time the next load was finished. As the nights start to draw in this won’t be so easy. Lucky Bethesda triallists – matching energy use to hydro will be easier and there is likely to be more power available in winter. Maybe next month I will try matching to hydro for a change.
Taking a look at power being used as you sleep!
Even if you are not actively using any electrical equipment in your house, power is still being used by the fridge, the clock on the cooker or a set-top box left on standby. These use power pretty much all the time and add up to form the ‘baseload’ for your house. The electricity supplied for each watt of this baseload use costs roughly £1 over a year.
One way to see your baseload power is to look at times the power use plot over a month and examine the days while you are away.
In the example plot, the power use every day is relatively low and quite constant for several days in a row, from 18-26 July. On average, this participant’s home is using a little less than 4kWh on each of these days. This ‘baseload’ level is indicated with a dashed purple line. This baseload of just under 4kWh per day means that roughly 150 watts are being used constantly – even when the house is unoccupied. Although 150W is pretty low, it all adds up during the year and will account for around £150 of the annual electricity bill.
What can I do to reduce my baseload power consumption?
It is important to keep certain equipment connected to mains power at all times. Modern electronics should meet more stringent requirements to minimise the amount of power that is used when left on ‘standby’. However, the clock on the microwave oven might require several watts to keep running. If you don’t refer to the clock and are willing to switch the microwave off at the mains until you use it, this will reduce your baseload. Similarly, if you can easily get to the washing machine or dishwasher switches, it is worth turning these off at the mains when they are not in use. That might save you a further 10 watts – or £10 a year.
Aargh – choosing an oven!
I think the end of my domestic upheavals is in sight, and I hope soon to have a kitchen again. Ironically, this will probably mean I use more power than ‘camping’ upstairs, but there are limits to my energy saving creditials. I have now bought my new cooker! I tried to find the most efficient, but also something that suited my needs. There were a few models that, for the litres of oven-space they heated, were good on energy efficiency, but bigger than I really needed. If I’d chosen the most efficient, I would be heating more space than I needed and, therefore, would be using more power. In the end, I opted for most energy efficient ‘petite’ model: perfect for one person, and over a year I’ll use less power than if I’d gone for a larger one.
Even if it is summer and I won’t use them much for the next few months, I also plan to fit more LED lights. I need a fairly stark white light for cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, with a wide beam. Likewise for the lounge I want a beam that will spread over the whole room, but here I’ll look for a warmer glow to the light.
Following the sun
Summer is finally here (really we have had some sun) and the days are longer. I am finding that demand shifting to match the sunshine is much easier. There are more hours when the sun may shine so even if I get distracted, I still have a chance to get the washing on. It’s also a good incentive for me to get the hoovering done on a Saturday lunchtime rather than procrastinating! As I have solar thermal, I have plenty of piping hot water to get the cleaning done – so no excuses for me.
At the moment I have the builders in and I am without a kitchen, so the slow cooker has been pressed into service. I have baked in it and then cooked another dish, which saved more energy as it didn’t have to heat up again. I like to grow my own food and my salad plants are beginning to come up: I think home-grown salad must be the most efficient dish from an energy point of view!
Crunching the SWELL numbers
March is when we started to really see some solar power generation in the SWELL project, with some clearer skies and longer days. With more daylight and (hopefully) more sunshine to come, the March data can start to hint at what we might expect in the coming months.
March saw just over 2 megawatt hours (2MWh/2,153kWh) of solar power available for SWELL’s non-generating participants to use. The non-generating participants don’t have solar panels of their own, but are able to benefit from electricity generated by the panels on their neighbours’ homes, when there is ‘spare’ energy. Of this 2MWh, most of it – 1.8MWh (1,792kWh) – was used by participants, leaving less than 0.4MWh (368kWh) to be exported to the national grid from the SWELL project.
The value to the solar generators of this shared power was £116, and the energy-using participants saved just over £80 by drawing on their neighbours’ solar panels, making a total community benefit of nearly £200 during the month.
It’s good to see that shared solar generation provided 15% of the total electricity used by the non-generating participants. Not bad for March in England!
Unpicking the data still further, there were 13 days when at least one fifth (20%) of the power needs of the non-generating participants were met by local solar generation, and on six of those days solar power provided over a quarter (25%) of their electricity requirements. Before we get too excited though, for almost two weeks there was very little solar power to share, meeting less than one tenth (10%) of demand.
Looking at the half-hourly data, we find that there were 642 half-hour periods during the month when shared solar met at least half (50%) of import needs. Of these, there were just over 150 half-hour periods (just under a quarter of the time) when there was more solar power being generated than the project could use, resulting in some of this electricity being exported to the grid.
All washed up…
I have been investigating the cost of washing. I have a very efficient washing machine but I was amazed by the difference depending on the programme. It has a 20-degree ‘eco’ wash that takes 2 hours and forces air through the clothes to get rid of the dirt. It then has a standard 40-degree wash that takes 2 hours and a ‘quick’ 40-degree wash. Armed with a plug-in energy monitor I measured the energy consumption for each one.
- The ‘eco’ wash only takes about a third of the energy of the ‘quick’ 40-degree wash, and it gets the clothes clean!
- The difference between the two 40-degree cycles was only about 0.15kWh. So most of the energy needed is for heating water.
The times I find it difficult to use the cheapest power for washing, as this tends to be when I would like to have it drying overnight. I try to start the washing machine at 9pm so that I at least avoid the peak times.
I was interested in looking at my energy use over the day so I took the chance to monitor it every 5 minutes over a day. I don’t have much of a routine so each day is different. I took a day when I was pretty sure I could identify different loads as it would be just me in the house. The graph below shows my usage. It was a sunny day so I ran the washing machine in the middle of the day. The monitor may not have been very accurate at low measurements but I was pleased to get my base load down to about 17 watts – that’s the fridge (without the compressor working) and my bedside clock.
Further confessions of a deviant demand-shifter
Mary Gillie has continued trying out demand-shifting herself….
“Okay, I am human, and when events conspired to require hot water for a bath one evening, the immersion heater went on at 7pm! I’ve also had the washing machine pressed into service during the evening peak as well. Such moments make you grateful for the fact we do have a reliable, continous power supply.
The slow cooker is great! However, first time round I put far to much water in to start off with so it took ages to heat up! I have also tried baking in it: that works well – better than heating up the whole oven. I read up on it here. More generally, I have found I can prepare food in advance (in the middle of a sunny day for example) to minimise the cooking time during the tea-time peak. I have also noticed on my electric hobs that when simmering or steaming, I can switch the heat off and get another 10 minutes of cooking for free.
I find it hard to avoid the ‘medium price’ time from 9 to 11 pm. I can procrastinate enough to avoid doing the ironing and hoovering during the evening peak, but find this time of day quite useful for doing these chores: at least I am not paying the most expensive prices.”
Mary’s demand-moving drama
Energy Local’s very own Mary Gillie has written a blog to share her own experience to shift her own domestic electricity demand.
“I thought it was time that I practised what I preach and see what load I can shift in my house. Not being a ‘gadget freak’ there, I don’t have lots of widgets. I have an outdoor covered area for drying clothes, so don’t have tumble dryer and I wash my dishes by hand. However, I cook on electric. My heating is biomass boiler which uses a bit of power and I have solar thermal for water heating.
Like many people with a busy life I rush in and out of the house a lot, so making sure I have enough clean underwear and getting the hoovering done at all can be a challenge as it is!
So what have I managed? I have put the washing on in the middle of a sunny day, or at night. While I have a delay function on the washing machine, I naturally keep late hours so switching the machine on before I go to bed works quite well. My washing machine also has a eco setting (20 degrees), and I plan to look at the difference in energy consumption between different settings – I will report more next month.
I have an allotment that I tend to visit at the weekend. I often do bulk cooking of the produce ready for the week ahead, and I try to do this before the evening peak. I have just bought a slow cooker so that I can leave it to cook over night. Being lazy, I have established that for vegetables I can ‘just put it all in together’ and let it cook! I am considering using a timer to help me schedule this. I have also investigated baking in a slow oven over night, rather than heating the whole of the oven up – something else to report back on next month.”