Category Archives: Energy Smart

Smartening up

We will shortly have been in this house for six years. During that time I have created three smart control systems that improve my energy costs or efficiency:

  1. heating controls to minimise gas purchase
  2. self-consumption controls of the electricity generated by my solar panels to maximise value of self-consumption
  3. smart tariff controls to buy grid electricity at the lowest price

Heating Controls

Most homes have a single heating zone with one timer and potentially one thermostat controlling the whole house with perhaps some thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) capping the temperature in specific rooms.

By contrast we have seven heating zones created by electronic temperature control valves (eTRVs). Each zone has its own timer. There is no central timer or thermostat. Each eTRV can summon the boiler on when cold rather than simply cap the maximum temperature like a TRV.

Some rooms also have links to other smart devices such as disabling room heating when the window is open or turning off heating early when there’s no movement in the room.

The intent is to save energy by only heating rooms that are in use.

Self-consumption Controls

These controls manage the diversion of any excess output from my solar panels rather than give that energy to the grid. The loads are prioritised as follows:

  1. Powervault storage battery (fully proportional)
  2. Car charger (stepped proportional driven by ImmerSUN relay output)
  3. Hot water (driven by ImmerSUN fully proportional output)

Last year these controls helped me to use over 90% of the output of my solar panels avoiding buying £100s of electricity and gas. The priorities are set to maximise value – #1 avoid daytime electricity use at 16 p/kWh, #2 avoid car charging at 5-16 p/kWh, and #3 avoid gas consumption at 2.96 p/kWh.

Smart Tariff Controls

These controls manage my electric devices for lowest grid energy cost. The controlled devices are:

  • Battery storage (Powervault)
  • Dishwasher
  • Electric car charger
  • Hot water heating (ImmerSUN)
  • Washing machine

The hardware that has this control is known as a Home Energy Management System (HEMS). My HEMS is based on a simple computer known as a Raspberry Pi. The HEMS uses foreknowledge of the electricity price and predicted solar panel output to determine when best to run the above devices. It was designed around a tariff called Octopus Agile which has 48 half-hourly prices that change daily, but is currently working with a simpler two-rate smart tariff.

deviceCentral Heatingself-consumptionsmart tariff
Battery Storage#1X
Central Heating BoilerX
DishwasherX
Electric car charger #2X
Hot water heating#3X
Washing machineX
Devices controlled by smart systems

Most of these solutions are made up of commercially-available items that I have perhaps combined in a way not anticipated by their manufacturers. In particular:

  • I created a relay module to enable the gas boiler to be turned on remotely and programmed a series of logical rules for the Apple TV’s that act as the controllers.
  • I identified a way to prioritise different self-consumption devices by configuring their current clamps.
  • I built my smart car charger integrating various items of hardware and writing the ladder logic program that runs it.
  • I built the HEMS from commercially-available parts and wrote the software that runs on it to control my devices.

Payback time

It been over a year now since I last reviewed what return I was getting on my investment in energy smart technology – solar panels, battery storage etc – so I think an update is due. This time I’m going to take the input data from my immersun system – one year of data from start of June 2020 to end of May 2021.

Diverted – this is where the immersun sends any surplus solar electricity to my immersion heater to make hot water. In 2020/1 we diverted 1056.6 kWh to hot water saving gas at 2.82 p/kWh. However the gas boiler isn’t 100% efficient losing heat both via the flue to the outside world and also via the hot water pipes to the home rather than hot water. If we assume 80% efficiency at the tank then 2.82 p/kWh as gas at the boiler is 4 p/kWh as heat in the tank. 1056.6 kWh at 4 p/kWh saved £37.25.

Exported – this is where I’m unable to use the solar power that we generate and it overflows into the grid. I’m not paid for Export so this is worth nothing to me.

Generation – this is the energy that we generate in the solar panels. I’m on the UK’s legacy Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme which pays me to generate electricity. In 2020/1 I was paid 14.65 explicitly for every kWh that I generated. I also received deemed (rather than metered) Export which paid 5.5 p/kWh on 50% of the kWh that I generated (which is where the ‘deemed’ part comes from). 5.5 p/kWh on 50% is equivalent to 2.75 p/kWh on 100% of the Generation making my revenue 17.4 p/kWh per kWh generated or £693.51 on the 3985.7 kWh that I actually generated.

Imported and House – these are respectively the electricity that I buy from the grid and that which I used within the home including appliances and car charging, some of which will comes from my own solar panels. The difference between House and Imported is the electricity that I used from my solar panels which would otherwise have been bought from the grid. If I assume that each kWh that I use from my solar panels avoids buying a kWh of electricity from the grid at 16.36 p/kWh (current Energy Saving Trust value for the average UK electricity price) then I avoided buying £423.81 of electricity by using the output of my solar panels.

Diverted1056.5 kWh*£0.04=£37.25
Exported338.6 kWh*£0.00=£0.00
Generated3985.6 kWh*£0.17=£693.51
Imported4748.9 kWh*-£0.16=-£776.92
House7339.4 kWh*£0.16=£1,200.73
Total£1,154.56
Return on smart energy investment @ 16.36 p/kWh grid price

With an investment of £8,670, £1,154 represents 7.5 years to pay back the capital invested.

I’m actually on a smart tariff so my electricity cost in this period at 8.05 p/kWh was significantly less than the UK’s average 16.36 p/kWh. This lower price will arguably reduce the value of the energy generated by the solar panels for self-consumption, but equally the ability to maximize the value of a smart tariff is itself a saving.

Diverted1056.5 kWh*£0.04=£37.25
Exported338.6 kWh*£0.00=£0.00
Generated3985.6 kWh*£0.17=£693.51
Imported4748.9 kWh*-£0.08=-£382.29
House7339.4 kWh*£0.08=£590.82
Total£939.29
Return on smart energy investment @ 8.05 p/kWh grid price (excluding the tariff benefit itself)

Using my actual average energy price rather than the higher UK average grid price pushes down the return by over £200 (£929.29 versus £1,154.56). However the costs of buying the imported 4,748.9 kWh falls by £394.63 through the tariff benefit, increasing the annual return to £1,333.93, and reducing the payback period from 7.5 to 6.5 years.

Thus, had I invested in this technology at one time back five and a half years ago and shortly after we moved to this house, then we’d have been in sight of payback with 1 or 2 years left. In practice of course I’ve made the investments at different times (solar first five and half years ago, battery around a year later, smart tariff later still), so my payback will be achieved a little later.

A snapshot of the ImmerSUN diverting to hot water

Some other statistics:

  • Of solar panel output:
    • 91.5% replaced bought energy (self-consumption)
    • 65.0% replaced bought electricity
    • 26.5% replaced bought gas for water heating
    • 8.5% was exported to the grid
  • Of incoming electricity:
    • 54.4% was from the grid
    • 45.6% was from the solar panels (“green contribution” in ImmerSUN’s terminology)

No fuss fuse

As we look to install a second electric vehicle charger that becomes a challenge for the electrical supply to our home which is limited to 60 Amps. I recently saw a page online by which our DNO (District Network Operator) – UKPN – could be requested to install an uprated fuse.

(Some readers may be curious regarding the irregular size of the hole around the cutout and meter. When we looked around the house I recall reflecting upon the fact that I didn’t know where the meters and consumer unit were. The mystery was explained when we moved in and these items were found to be behind a false wall in what is now my study having previously been concealed by pictures. We continued the practice by buying pictures to conceal three holes in the wall (now four) covering: electricity meter, gas meter and consumer unit (adding generation meter and isolator for solar panels).)

I’m delighted to report how smoothly the change went. I was advised that it might be the case that the work could not proceed on a first visit, and that it might be necessary for my electricity supplier to update meter and/or cables from meter to consumer unit; but the installation proceeded on the first visit with not only the cutout changed from 60 to 100 Amps but also the cables between the cutout and the meter renewed. All of this at a price of precisely nothing.

I had been reasonably confident in the meter as that had been renewed almost exactly two years ago when we moved from Economy 7 to a smart tariff, but I was less clear about the cables between the meter and the consumer unit. In the event all was fine.

The extra 40 Amps should now mean that I have no issues adding a 7.4 kW car charger which draws 32 Amps. I have previously posted about the new car charger. My task of writing the software for it is now considerably simplified as I shouldn’t need to worry about managing the after diversity maximum demand of the house to not exceed 60 Amps, and can concentrate on the other smart controls – tracking my solar surplus and responding to the smart tariff.

Leading the charge

Regular readers will know that my Energy Smart home includes a storage battery. That battery is either charged from my solar panels (effectively free electricity), or low cost electricity bought from the grid, or some combination of the two depending on the solar forecast for the day ahead.

The logic of how much battery charging is required has until now been driven by a set value for the number of charging hours required. The number of hours of solar charging predicted is deducted from the the number of charging hours required to calculate the number of bought charging hours required outside the solar production window.

Bought charging hours required :=

Total hours required – Solar hours predicted

However with experience this appears to be a sub-optimal arrangement. At one extreme on a very sunny day the battery will fully charge and then be allowed to discharge continuously through all other hours, there is no middle ground in which the battery is not permitted to discharge through the night. However at the other extreme if the battery is replenished entirely from the grid then there will be hours when discharge is not permitted since, after accounting for cycle efficiency, the value of the electricity in the battery is higher than the cost of that from the grid and thus it’s better value to use grid electricity than stored electricity. As there are fewer discharging hours then fewer hours of charging will be required to refill. Thus the depth of discharge is greater when charged from solar than from the grid requiring more charging hours to refill. Leaving the longer charge time for a full charge in use then creates a risk of charging the battery when the grid price is higher than necessary leaving the battery possibly full by the time the lowest cost grid energy is available. Having a more accurate target for the charge time would enable the lowest cost charging periods to be selected more precisely.

Schedule with some solar

The new refinement is to automatically adjust the bought charging hours between two existing user-defined values: the existing target hours and the maximum charging hours currently used just to cap charging hours during plunge pricing events (i.e those with negative cost events). The new algorithm can adjust to any value between the two limits in half hour intervals. As currently configured that’s anything between five and seven hours. The new algorithm is:

Total hours required := minimum (Maximum hours from plunge,
maximum (Target hours, Solar hours predicted + 1))

max hours (A)Target hours (B)Solar hours (C)C + 1Max (B, c+1)Min (A, Max(B, C+1))
7.05.0>= 6.5>= 7.5>= 7.57.0
7.05.06.07.07.07.0
7.05.05.56.56.56.5
7.05.05.06.06.06.0
7.05.04.55.55.55.5
7.05.04.05.05.05.0
7.05.0<= 3.5<= 4.55.05.0
Output of new algorithm,

Too smart by half

One of the challenges in the smart home world is to distinguish between a group of functions associated with remote control of devices in the home for aesthetic or convenience reasons versus automation associated with the management of electricity costs, carbon management, or smart grid integration. I thus choose to differentiate using the terms Smart Home and Energy Smart.

Smart Home and Energy Smart

Smart Home

Functions within my Smart Home space include:

Space heating. In many homes space heating is controlled by a central thermostat and timer, possibly in combination with Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs). In my home thermostats and timers are commonly pushed down to room level with individual rooms set points and schedules. General advice to reduce heating costs is to reduce heat loss through insulation and lower temperature set points, which I have but also add only heating rooms in which heat is required.

Window management. On occasions household members were known to go out leaving windows open. We now monitor the most commonly left open windows (plus the garage door) and use their status to illuminate and colour a smart bulb in the hall near the burglar alarm panel. The same window sensors can also be used to disable heating in rooms while the window is open.

Lighting control. We automate dusk-to-dawn external and internal lighting by the front door and in the downstairs hall. There’s overlap in bulbs between Window Management and Lighting Control.

Watchdog. To improve the robustness of all the rules operating the above functions, I have a smart plug that cycles on and off automatically at regular intervals and is used to trigger re-evaluation of the rules.

Energy Smart

Energy Smart functions include:

Battery Storage. Storing surplus output from my solar panels for later use, or buying energy from the grid when the price is low to avoid buying later when the price is higher.

Car charging. Managing my car charger to absorb surplus solar energy or buy energy from the grid when most cost-effective.

Water heating. Managing my immersion heater similarly. My immersun manages self-consumption of the surplus from my solar panels by diverting a proportional amount of power to the immersion heater, while the HEMS can boost the immersun at full power when the bought electricity price is suitably low.

Both Smart Home and Energy Smart

Wet goods. Controlling dishwasher and washing machine for lowest energy cost at the boundary of Smart Home and Energy Smart in both the Apple HomeKit ecosystem and with API integration for HEMS.

The Smart Home group of devices is managed via various user-friendly interfaces within apps like Apple’s Home or the Eve app where rules can be created of the form if {any trigger(s)} and {all conditions} then set {scene(s)}. These are processed by a hub which in my case is an Apple TV (or two).

On the other hand the Energy Smart devices are managed via the HEMS and are controlled by more fundamental programs (strictly in my case scripts) which are executed on my HEMS (which is based on a Raspberry Pi with HEMS-specific programming of my own creation.

In summary then, the Apple HomeKit ecosystem provides a smart home environment with a comparatively wide variety of supported devices managed from Apple’s own Home app or companion apps from the device manufacturers; while the Energy Smart side is in its relative infancy and (at least as far as my integration goes) quite a lot of bespoke software.

For me the need for much bespoke software is because I had the majority of the devices first with no thought when acquired of doing a HEMS-like project. They were originally bought or developed to maximise self-consumption of the output of my solar panels, so I had to develop the software to interface to what equipment I had. However for the Apple HomeKit, having settled on Apple HomeKit largely because we were iPad users, it becomes relatively easy to add additional devices that are sold as compatible with the HomeKit ecosystem.

Works with Apple HomeKit

Getting heated

Regular readers may recall that our hot water can be generated in 3 different ways: (i) conventional gas boiler, (ii) from grid electricity and (iii) from the surplus on my own solar panels. Attractions of these options are that gas is always available and stable in price, but my grid electricity is lower carbon and may at times be cheaper than gas, and my solar electricity is lowest in both carbon and cost but is subject to significant daily and seasonal variation.

The logic to sort out which source to use is managed by my HEMS. Gas is the baseline and the gas boiler is set to heat water for an hour a day in the early evening to ensure that baths etc are possible. The heating is thermostatically controlled so it doesn’t heat if the water is already hot, and that thermostat is set slightly lower than the immersion thermostat too.

The ImmerSUN normally operates automatically to divert surplus solar electricity proportionately to the immersion heater after the needs of general house load, battery charging and car charging have been taken. However if the electricity price is negative (yes, really) then the HEMS may override the ImmerSUN so that water heating is not done by free solar but instead may be delayed to allow use of paid-to-use electricity.

The final part of this triumvirate is buying electricity from the grid to heat water. Here the price of bought electricity is compared either to the price of gas and a decision made to use electricity when it is cheaper (it’s always lower CO2), or compared to the price of surplus solar (effectively zero) to buy from the grid. Both of these are obviously comparisons with a price threshold but until now the choice of threshold has been made manually – typically against gas in winter when solar output is limited and against solar in summer when more readily available. However the reality of UK weather is that this is a compromise as it may be very sunny one day but very dull the next.

Solar forecasting

The new refinement therefore is to use the existing solar forecasting integration. Solar forecasting already informs HEMS decisions about when to charge the storage battery from the grid and when to operate the wet goods (dishwasher and washing machine). The latest change is that the solar forecasting is now also use to choose whether to base a decision to buy electricity for water heating against a threshold related to the gas price or against the price of surplus solar PV.

HEMS schedule for July 4th.

The above schedule shows that, as a result of no significant solar production anticipated on the 4th, the HEMS has compared electricity price to gas price and thus elected to buy electricity from the grid to make hot water overnight since at 1.7640 to 2.4675 p/kWh electricity is cheaper than gas.

It’s official – I’m a smart home / energy pioneer :-)

It can’t be very often that an energy company blogs about its customers’ achievements. Last week it happened. Octopus Energy wrote a blog entitled “How to hack your home for cheaper, greener, energy with our open API” which featured the achievements of its customers, and Greening Me got two honourable mentions.

For those not familiar with geek-speak, API is Application Programming Interface which is a mechanism by which an app, webpage or computer program may give commands to, or receive data from, another program – often a web server. Such APIs are often closed (that is that they are only available for use by the creator’s own app or webpage etc), but in this case the Octopus APIs are open so that they can be used by others (including me) to create our own apps, webpages, or other integrations to get data from Octopus. That data may be future price information for a UK electricity region or the actual consumption from a specified electricity meter for example. Octopus document their APIs and encourage others to find innovative uses for them.

Other APIs that I use were either documented privately by the manufacturers of the equipment concerned, although the manufacturer has not put the API in the public domain, or were reverse-engineered by myself or others by looking at how the manufacturer used it or at the internet traffic that it generated and working out how we could use it ourselves for a slightly different purpose. Such purposes would include controlling equipment other than by the manufacturer’s own app, or collecting data into some non-supported form.

Diversity in third party solutions using the Octopus API.

Greening Me’s first mention in the blog came under the Smart Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging section where Octopus wrote..

One of our own smart energy pioneers, Greening Me, has used a Raspberry Pi and an add-on circuit board with our API to switch his electric car charger on/off and set the best time for his hot water immersion heater to run. He also has solar generation and so he can direct his solar power to either his smart car charger or hot water.

The first reference

Later in the “I’ll do it myself (tech level 🌶🌶🌶)” section after describing a group of “smart home pioneers” Octopus wrote..

In the home-brew category, users like GreeningMe have created their own Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS), using the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi to manage a large part of their energy consumption.

Together with Western Power Distribution, Passiv Systems have also created something similar to Greening Me’s HEMS, which is currently being trialled and evaluated as another BEIS funded research project called MADE.

The second reference

So it’s official – I’m a “smart energy pioneer” and a “smart home pioneer”. I also quite like the idea of being a “home hacker” in the positive sense of someone who makes their own home conform to their wishes. If you’d like to read the full blog post from Octopus Energy then you can do so here https://octopus.energy/blog/agile-smart-home-diy/.

Overall I’m proper chuffed.

Opportunities in the import / export business

Most of us are used to a simple world of electricity where we pay for what we consume. For most folks like myself based in the UK that’s typically a fixed price per kWh/unit consumed regardless of time of day, even through dual-rate tariffs have been around for decades – the best known being “Economy 7” tariffs. However as the grid gets smarter then there are increasing opportunities to save on, or make money from, electricity.

Electricity opportunities for import / export and positive /negative cost.

Conventional – pay for power.

This is the area with which most of us are most familiar. We all get the idea of paying for the power we consume. Most UK households pay a fixed price per kWh/unit regardless of the time of day. We have a competitive electricity market, so there are the choice of 70 to 80 different providers who will make different offers regarding standing charge (sometimes marketed as a subscription) and unit cost.

There’s also the opportunity to choose between a flat rate tariff or Economy 7 even on conventional meters that provide a discounted night rate for 7 hours.. These typically provide a discounted night rate, but may charge a little more during the day. They used to advertise these as ‘less than half-price electricity’ but that’s often not the case now.

Stepping up in complexity (and opportunity) smart meters provide the opportunity for a more diverse range of tariffs including different cheap night time periods, more than two rates at different times of day (in extreme 48 half-hourly rates), and a free day at the weekend (i.e. a zero rate of a weekend day) etc.

Beyond that my own tariff (Octopus Agile) not only has up to 48 different half-hourly prices/day that change daily based on that day’s market prices. That might sounds a bit scary but it can yield very cheap electricity prices – 4.48 p/kWh for me in April/May 2020 (for example) which is a third of what most people pay.

My electricity costs April/May 2020

(The original version of this post wrongly had the table from my gas bill above and mistakenly claimed that I had paid “a quarter of what most people pay” rather than a third. Total consumption is untypically low at the present time due to limited miles driven.)

Agile – paid to consume

Top left on my initial diagram is Agile – paid to consume.

One of the features of the wholesale electricity market is that at times the market price for electricity goes negative. At such times the a significant excess of supply (typically because of high output from wind turbines) over demand (often but not always at night) yields a negative price so electricity companies looking to buy electricity are being paid to take it. Most electricity companies will continue to charge their customers the standard price in these circumstances but, with the octopus Agile tariff, the negative pricing is passed to the consumer so that you are paid to consume electricity. This is one of the reasons that my electricity costs are so low.

My electricity costs – Saturday 23rd May 2020

The above chart shows my electricity costs for Saturday 23rd May 2020. The blue line shows the half-hourly electricity price varying between minus 10 p/kWh and plus 15 p/kWh. The red bars show my electricity consumption in each half hour. You can see how consumption tends to be highest when the price is lowest leading to an average price paid of minus 6.22 p.kWh (i.e. they paid me to use electricity) – indeed they paid me 82.4 p to buy electricity that day.

Conventional export – paid to export

The next opportunity to make money from electricity is to sell it to the grid. Obviously that depends on having a source for the electricity typically a generating asset like solar panels or a wind turbine, possibly coupled with a storage device like a battery. It’s also possible with a battery alone, but I know no-one who does that as the economics are more challenging.

The UK currently has a scheme called Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) where you can sell your export to an electricity company. Prices vary enormously so it’s worth shopping around and not just assuming that your electricity company will give you a good offer.

SEG rates from the Solar Trade Association

There is also a smarter SEG option where Octopus offer a dynamic SEG based on market rates (Octopus Agile Export) which may at times offer a high rate, but also offers a lower rate at times, and is thus perhaps better suited to those with storage.

I myself am NOT on such a tariff as I’m on an older legacy Feed-in Tariff (FiT). Despite its name FiT is a generation incentive, not an export incentive. As a generation incentive FiT encourages self-consumption since each kWh that I consume myself does not reduce my income, whereas on SEG each kWh that I use myself (such as making hot water) would reduce export income. So, for example, if I use a kWh of electricity to make hot water that’s saved a kWh (or thereabouts) of gas at around 3 p/kWh, but if I was on SEG then I might have lost 5.5 p/kWh of export revenue to save 3 p/kWh on gas which is clearly an on-cost not a saving. There are other benefits of course because I’ve reduced my carbon footprint by using my own low CO2 electricity to replace a fossil fuel, but it’s not (in this case) improving my financial position.

A further area of research by others is V2X (V2H and V2G) – taking electricity stored in an electric vehicle and using that within the home (V2H) or exporting it to the grid (V2G).

Export penalty – penalised for export

A logical consequence of this smart grid that I’ve outlined is being penalised for export. If there are times when the market price for electricity is negative then if I were part of that market then I might expect to be penalised for export. This doesn’t actually exist in the UK, as the only model that links SEG payments to the market price, Octopus Agile Export, protects its customers from negative pricing.

Should consumers be exposed to this risk then a logical behaviours would be:

  1. To manage self-consumption into the negative export periods, and potentially thus increase export in the positive export periods. For example disable diversion to an immersion heater or car when export price is positive, and then maximise self-consumption when the export price (and presumably the import price also) is negative.
  2. To disable the generating asset to avoid the export penalty.

Conclusions

Some people like myself will find developments in the smart energy sector a fascinating and engaging topic with opportunities both the save money and engage in creating a cleaner and greener electricity system.

However given that many choose not to even participate in the competitive market for electricity supply created when the regional electricity companies were privatised in late 1990 (i.e. 30 years ago) then there will be a significant number who are not so motivated.

This then creates opportunity for a wider variety of smart offers. Some products, at the Agile Octopus end of the spectrum, giving the consumer the opportunity to benefit from their own decision making, while others look more like a traditional dumb tariff with a very simple price structure but potentially making the energy company a more active manager of the home appliances so that the consumer hopefully plays a lower unit rate while the energy company takes responsibility for managing the assets within the home.

Bright revisited

Back in late 2018 I purchased a Hildebrand Glow Stick Consumer Access Device (CAD) to monitor my electricity consumption. A CAD is a consumer device that can be paired with domestic smart meters to provide the consumer with a means of reading the meter. All UK smart meters are supplied with a dedicated in-home display (IHD) to display energy consumption, which is also an example of a CAD. The Glow Stick pairs with the meters like the IHD but shares the data to the cloud from where it can be read either via an app (Bright) or another device using APIs.

Glow Stick CAD

Each smart meter effectively has two interfaces – a Wide Area Network (WAN) connection used for metering and billing and a Home Area Network (HAN) used for connection between meters (electric and gas), hub (embedded within the electric meter) and IHD. The HAN is also available for smart home devices.

“Network hub“ including Glow Stick

“Network hub” including (from top to bottom):

  1. Network switch providing additional hardwired connections to the internet, placed behind..
  2. TalkTalk router providing WiFi and 4 hardwired connections to the external internet, placed above..
  3. Network storage, placed above..
  4. Immersun bridge (left) and Glow Stick (right and forwards)

When I initially installed the Glow Stick it provided a very useful tool to see current and historic energy consumption, but the equivalent cost displays were incorrect (at no fault of Hildebrand) because the CAD correctly read the meter costs, but the meter was not sufficiently sophisticated to store the complex Agile tariff (where unit cost changes every 30 minutes).

I recently learned that Hildebrand now had the ability to take the tariff directly from Octopus Energy via API, bypassing the incorrect tariff data in the meter. A quick support email to Hildebrand confirmed that this was not only possible, but also that the cost data would be corrected back to when I bought the Glow Stick back in 2018. A few days later and the conversion was complete.

These two views show today’s part-complete data:

The screenshot on the left shows today’s part-complete energy data. That on the right shows the equivalent cost data. Had the unit rate been constant throughout the day then the two profiles would have been proportional, but instead the screenshots show the magnifying impact of the higher unit rates in the four to seven PM window with equivalent consumption to the late afternoon resulting in rather higher costs.

I should emphasise however that my average unit rate is very low as I usually have much higher consumption in low cost periods than I do in high cost periods.

My electricity bill to May 2020

One of my recent electricity bills had an average of 3.49 p/kWh ex-VAT. Half-hourly rates varied between around minus 10 p/kWh (I.e. I was paid to use electricity) to plus 25 p/kWh. A low average price was achieved by shifting electricity consumption to when the price was lowest.

My next step is likely to be to use the API to get the real time household load for load management as an increasing number of electrical consumers (potentially a second car charger) risks overloading my supply fuse if all loads were on simultaneously.

Taking the plunge

For some time now my Home Energy Management System (HEMS) has been managing many of my domestic electricity consumers including:

  • car charging
  • dishwasher
  • home storage battery
  • washing machine
  • water heating via immersion heater
Domestic solar panels

The overarching strategy has been to:

  • maximise use of my own solar energy (rather than consume from the grid)
  • prioritise consumers for best value within the constraint of available solar generation
  • when power is needed from the grid to optimise the purchase price by shifting consumption to the cheapest periods (my price changes every half an hour)

For some consumers such as car charging and water heating this has resulted in those consumers switching between two modes:

  1. self-consumption when they are enabled to use the ‘free’ electricity from my own solar panels (subject to device prioritisation) with some proportional control
  2. boost when they run at full power drawing some if not all of the required power from the grid at the lowest available price

However the quite exceptional stress being put on the grid in the UK has prompted some expansion of capability. It’s normal once in a while that my electricity prices go negative, commonly caused by the overlap of large amounts of renewable electricity on the grid (e.g. excess solar output on sunny afternoons and/or high windfarm output due to wind conditions) and low demand (summer nights without heating demand, summer afternoons, bank holidays etc) which is exacerbated by the current corona situation. The current corona situation has made this more common and the plunge pricing events more extreme with multiple hours of negative pricing today some of which are into double digits (which I think is unprecedented). For car charging and water heating this has resulted in a new control mode.

The new control mode is a disabled status where the the device neither self-consumes nor is forced on. In the short term this increases export to the grid, but the mode is intended to help balance the grid disabling consumption for now to enable more consumption when the grid is under most extreme stress from an excess of generation over demand. Or to think of it another way, it passes up the opportunity to use free electricity now in order to be paid to use electricity later, responding to the price incentive to support balancing the grid.

Thus on a normal day these devices switch half-hourly between self-consumption (free electricity) and Boost (paid for electricity), but on a price plunge day then they switch half hourly between the new disabled state (no electricity, increased export) and the existing Boost (but now paid-to-consume electricity).

The full availability of modes is thus:

mode / otherabbreviationbattery storagecar chargerwater heating
Make and modelPowervault G200N/AImmersun v2
Control meansAPIRelayMixed API and relay
Mode – Boost++Powervault “Force charge”via HEMS relay (Ch 1)Via HEMs relay (Ch 2) to Immersun “External Boost” input.
Mode – Self-consumption only+Priority #1
Powervault “Charge only”
Priority #2
via Immersun relay output (Ch 3)
Priority #3
Immersun default behaviour
Mode -Disabled0N/A – Available in API but not used by HEMS.via HEMS relay (Ch 4)Immersun “Holiday” mode via API
Mode – Both self-consumption and self-discharge available+/-Powervault “Normal” via APIN/A – No reverse flow from car to home available (not V2X capable)N/A
Major device modes available to HEMS

We should thus be better equipped to support the grid in the current circumstances.

Import / Export at the smart meter for Saturday 23rd May

The chart above shows the resulting behaviour. In particular the large negative currents through the morning to early afternoon show that much of the normal self-consumption has been disabled. Then from mid-afternoon the import shows the effect of enabling multiple consumers simultaneously. Here the behaviour of the car charging and water heating was boosted as this point, while the dishwasher’s and washing machine’s existing behaviour added to load.

Not that it has anything to do with the revised controls, but the spikiness of the export during the day shows the highly variable nature of the export through the day being a function of both variable generation through passing clouds and variable consumption with kettle boils and the like. Thus it’s important that consumers for self-consumption have automated closed loop control since manual control of an immersion heater or car charger to achieve high self-consumption with minimal import would have been almost impossible even with a level of human intervention wholly at odds with the scale of savings achieved – small savings hour-by-hour add up over the day, weeks and months but their value is relatively tiny compared to the labour to attempt equivalent control manually.

Here is a similar import-only half-hourly view from the smart meter WAN side:

Half-hourly consumption and cost from smart meter WAN side.

The screenshot above clearly shows those periods of import being targeted at the periods with the most negative prices. Since different consumers need power for different periods of time (for example it takes about 7 hours to charge the battery, but only 2 or 3 for a tank of hot water) then consumption rises as cost falls. My consumption-weighted average cost was -6.22 p/kWh yesterday. However the same price point during the day or night has delivered different consumption from the grid as the output of the solar panels must be consumed before consumption from the grid starts. We are still some way from the point where it becomes economically attractive to disable the solar panels.

Daily electricity cost for 28 days (vertical scale is fractions of a pound)

Finally the above image shows the last 28 days of electricity average cost in p/kWh. Although some other days included some periods of negative pricing, the quite exceptional pricing yesterday is amply illustrated with the combination of extreme prices and the new load management mode delivering revenue (i.e. negative cost) of 82.4 pence through consumption of 13.252 kWh at an average 6.22 p/kWh.

This is something of a zero sum game in terms of consumption as I don’t artificially increase consumption to improve income – such as leaving the oven on with the door open during a summer day – this is all about shifting consumption that would have happened anyway. However we have not only supported the grid when it is most stressed but also reduced our energy costs significantly (to the point of being significantly negative) by moving consumption from being predominately self-consumption (i.e. from our own solar panels) to being predominantly grid consumption.