Category Archives: Smart meter and tariffs

Inducted into the hall of fame

One of the features of our home is the all-electric kitchen. We do have gas for space heating and as a back-up on the hot water for days that are both dull and have relatively high cost electricity, but the kitchen is all-electric. I have to say that this was not our choice, rather the kitchen came that way when we bought the house five years ago. We have replaced the oven in the meantime, but until today the hob was that bought with the house.

Unfortunately the hob suffered a failure of the two of the rings and today we’ve replaced it like-for-like with a new inductive unit. Inductive is attractive as it’s relatively efficient, but I was struck by the fact that the one hob required a 32 Amp supply, but the new one manages with a 13 Amp plug.

Bosch PUE611BF1B inductive hob.

So, by what magic does the new hob use less than half the power of its predecessor?

itemold hobNew hob
Smallest ring1,200 Watts1,400 Watts
Second smallest 1,400 Watts1,800 Watts
Second largest1,800 Watts1,800 Watts
Largest ring2,200 Watts2,200 Watts
Total *6,600 Watts3,000 Watts
Tabulated of maximum non-Boost power per ring with manufacturer’s total

The first thing to observe is that the sum of the ring powers does not equal the manufacturer’s total for the new hob, although it does for the old hob. The second would be that the sum of the new ring powers at 7,200 Watts is more than the sum of the old ring powers even though the required total is less!

The answer is that the new hob features power management capability. In any hob the rings will spend much of their time cycling on and off to maintain the required heat. In the old hob all the rings might on at one time drawing maximum power, but a few moments later they might all be off. However the power management in the new hob the total power would be levelled out so that the average over time might be the same, but the peaks smaller and the troughs shallower.

For most people this levelling out of the power demand would pass unnoticed, but for us it could be quite useful.

We do most of our cooking in the evenings for which, particularly in winter, power is taken from our Powervault storage battery with any excess from the grid as illustrated by the series of evening spikes in the image to the right. The Powervault has a relatively limited maximum power (hence the spikes) but as the new hob has power management then any spiking beyond battery maximum power capability should be reduced thus avoiding what, for us, could be peak rate electricity at 35 p/kWh on our dynamic smart tariff which is a direct cost save.

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.

Monitoring the HEMS

For some time now I’ve been thinking about creating a real time display which pulls together data from a variety of sources around the home to provide an overview of what’s going on without the need to visit multiple web pages or apps. Until the last 10 days or so that involved little more than thoughts of how I might evolve the existing immersun web page with more content (I don’t have the skills to write my own app), but then about 10 days ago I saw an online gauge that someone else had created to show energy price and inspiration struck. Ten days later I have my monitor working, albeit not complete:

HEMS monitor

The monitor pulls together information from:

  • My electricity tariff for p/kWh
  • My immersun for power data (to/from: grid, solar, water, house)
  • My storage battery for power in/out and state of charge
  • My HEMS for electricity cost thresholds between different battery modes.

The gauge consists of two parts: (i) an upper electricity cost part and (ii) a lower power part.

The upper electricity cost part is effectively a big price gauge from 0 p/kWh to 25 p/kWh with a needle that moves each half hour as the price changes. It has various features:

  • The outer semi-circular ring (blue here) shows today’s relationship between battery mode and electricity price. Today is very sunny, so no electricity was bought from the grid to charge the battery, and this part is all blue for normal battery operation. If the days was duller and electricity was to be bought to charge the battery, then two further sectors would appear:
    1. a dark green sector from zero upwards showing the grid prices at which the battery would be force charged from the grid, and
    2. a light green sector showing when the battery is not permitted to discharge but may continue to charge from solar.
  • In inner semi-circular ring (green / yellow / red here) currently just colour-codes increasing electricity price, but will be used to show today’s prices at which car charging and water heating are triggered from the grid.
  • The current price per kWh is taken from Octopus’s price API, while the current cost per hour is derived both from this and the grid power from the immersun.
  • The needle grows from a simple dot indicating the price per kWh only when no power is drawn from the grid to a full needle when the electricity cost is 10 pence per hour or more.

The lower power part is effectively a power meter ranging from 5,000 Watts of export to the left to 5,000 Watts of import to the right. It updates every few seconds. It has various features:

  • The outer semi-circular ring (orange /maroon / green here) shows how power is being consumed:
    • orange – shows consumption by the house less specified loads
    • maroon – shows battery charging
    • blue (not shown) – shows water heating
    • green – shows export to the grid
  • The inner semi-circular ring (yellow here) shows the source of power. The sum of the sources should equal the sum of the consumers. The sources are:
    • maroon (not shown) – shows battery discharge
    • yellow – shows solar power
    • red (not shown) – shows grid power
  • The power value shows the net import or export from / to the grid, while SoC refers to the state of charge of the battery (0-100%). The combination of import power and electricity price gives the cost per hour in the top gauge.
  • The needle position shows net import (to the right) or next export (to the left). The needle should thus be to the left of the green sector, or to the right of the (unseen) red sector. Needle length show the full power being handled and is thus proportionate to the angle of the sector including all the colours in the lower gauge and extends from 0 to 5 kW.
Monitor installed on an old phone in the kitchen.

The gauge scales to fill the smallest of screen height or width and translates to be centrally positioned regardless of screen size. My intention is to display it on an old mobile phone as an energy monitor, but I can also access it on any web browser on any device within the home.

Smart Export Guarantee – FiT for purpose?

Solar PV installations like mine that are a few years old generally qualify for the UK’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT) which pays both for generation and notionally for export, while newer installations are covered by the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). The older FiT scheme was universal in the sense that all larger electricity companies had to participate and they all paid the same rates, while with the newer scheme there’s still an obligation for larger companies to participate but the rates are all different. Older installations like mine can optionally swap the export component of the FiT for the SEG, but is that an attractive option?

SEG Payments by provider

SEG payments differ widely between providers so it’s worth shopping around.

My FiT export payment is currently 5.38 p/kWh on a deemed export basis, which means that, rather than measure actual export, it is assumed that half of my generation is exported. My electricity supplier Octopus offerers one of the best SEG rates at 5.5 p/kWh but that’s on the actual export, not the deemed export.

Monitoring data March 2019 – February 2020
AlternativeDescriptionEnergy exportedRate paidTotalComment
Baseline FiT2,098 kWh (50% of 4,196.1 kWh) 5.38 p/kWh£112.87
Scenario #1 Switch to SEG without other changes 647.1 kWh5.50 p/kWh£35.5968% reduction
Scenario #2Add disable water heating from solar to above.1,722.4 kWh (1,075.3 + 647.1 kWh)5.50 p/kWh£94.75
Provide equivalent water heating from gas1,075.3 kWh 3.2 p/kWh / 90% (£38.23)
Total£56.5250% reduction

Octopus Energy does also offer the alternative of a variable export rate based on wholesale prices, akin to their Octopus Agile import tariff, but for export. However it’s my belief that I would need a much larger battery than I have now (4 kWh) in order to benefit from this as it will always be generally better value to use that stored energy to avoid the early evening peak price period (up to 35 p/kWh) than to sell it back to the grid at a lower price and then need to buy more energy myself. If I had a bigger battery (both in terms of energy and power) then I could both meet my own needs and sell back to the grid.

Overall however I think that it’s clear that, with my current relatively small battery and deemed export tariff, I’m better off on the older FiT scheme than the newer SEG scheme even with one of the better-paying SEG providers.

Saving on electricity

I’ve been seeing a few online advertisements recently touting 70% savings on electricity through a combination of solar panels and battery storage. I’ve also been looking for a way to express my savings through my smart tariff so this seemed like a opportunity to try that.

My start point is a years data from my monitoring system..

Monitoring data for March 2019 to February 2020

I also went through a year of electricity bills (with slightly different start and end dates) concluding that my average purchased electricity cost was 7.08 p/kWh. Thus my average electricity costs (including solar) are on the right of the table below:

sourcequantityest unit priceEst totalmy uniT pricemY totalmy saving v. Est
Bought4,309 kWh15.75 p/kWh£678.677.08 p/kWh£305.08£373.59
Generated2,473 kWh15.75 pkWh£389.500.00 p/kWh£0.00£389.50
Total / Average6,783 kWh15.75 p/kWh£1,068.324.5 p/kWh£305.23£763.09
Comparison between my electricity cost and the UK average

If I look at the Energy Saving Trust’s assumptions as a baseline, they have the average UK cost of electricity as 15.75 p/kWh. If I’m paying an average 4.5 p/kWh for each kWh used with my combination of solar PV, storage battery and smart tariff then I’m paying 28.6% of the cost of someone who used the same amount of electricity bought at the average UK rate or saving 71.4% of electricity cost. To put it another way, I’m paying £305.23 for electricity that would have cost the average UK consumer £1,068.32 (on the left of the table above) – a saving of £763.09.

(The baseline assumption that someone would have used the same amount of electricity as me without my level of technology is a slight over-estimate as I flex water heating between gas and electricity since my bought electricity price is sometimes lower than my bought gas price causing me to substitute electricity for gas. Someone on a conventional electricity tariff and gas would never make that substitution as their gas would always be cheaper than their electricity, hence my electricity consumption is a little higher than someone who would be on a conventional electricity tariff.)

I’m also generating feed-in tariff due to the age of my system (approximately 4.5 years old) which would be £714.59 per annum at current rates, and making 1,075 kWh of hot water from surplus solar electricity which saves £38.22 in gas (the diverted / hot water saving in the screenshot above is based on a notional electricity price, not a gas price). Unless I’ve missed something that’s an annual return of £1,515.90 (£763.09 + £714.59 + £38.22).

In my previous post I estimated my investment at £8,670 so with an combined annual savings and revenue of £1,515.90 that’s a 17.5% return or a payback of 5.7 years. Previously I’d estimated 9 years including the battery, but this was without the benefit of the smart tariff. As we’ve now had the solar PV for 4.5 years that’s very promising, although as my return seems to be accelerating it will take more than 4.5 past years + 1.2 future years (total 5.7 years) to achieve payback.

The current 5.7 years to payback would have achieved payback in spring 2021 as the near bookend, while the prior 9 years would have been autumn 2024 as the far bookend. In practice I could not have achieved the lower bookend of 5.7 years, even had I invested in all the supporting technologies simultaneously, because I’m combining the legacy Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme for my solar PV with the Octopus Agile dynamic smart electricity tariff which started in February 2018,

The cost of smart

Discussion elsewhere prompted me to look into what I spent on what you might term my energy smart systems relating to electricity consumption, so I thought I’d document it here.

ItemDescription CostComment
1Solar photovoltaic system (4kW)£5,500Bundled with ImmerSUN.
2Powervault battery storage (4kWh)£2,000Free installation as part of UKPN trial.
3ImmerSUN management system with monitoring.£600Estimate based on today’s pricing.
4Remote-controlled car charger.£300Modified used charger from eBay. My own software.
5Raspberry Pi items to make HEMS£200My own software.
6Wet goods automation (WIFIPLUG x 2)£70
TOTAL£8,670

Prior analysis of items #1-#4 in pre-Agile days has suggested a total of 9 years to achieve payback on this investment through use of around 85% of the generated energy. Solar panels are potentially good for over 20 years operation, although I doubt the lead-acid batteries will still be operating for anything like that long.

The combination of item #5 with my Octopus Agile dynamic smart electricity tariff has resulted in my average bought electricity price being 7.75 p/kWh in 2019, about half the UK average. I suppose that I could make the same judgements and program items manually each day, but the HEMS significantly reduces my time commitment to achieve that.

Item #6 is my most recent addition. The sophistication of the algorithm combining the Agile tariff with a simple model of the cycle of each device is such that I would never achieve such a high quality result manually. However the saving is perhaps only a three pence each day so maybe £10 per year on my Agile tariff and thus 7 years to pay for the two smart plugs.

Much of this content is thus around 7 years to payback. The HEMS is potentially much quicker, but relies on having smart systems to control such as battery storage and car charger.

The ‘Appiest Days of My Life

One of the consequences of integrating a smart home is the large number of different apps, web portals and potentially sources of APIs involved. The ones I use include:

TitleAppPortalAPIPurposeComment
BrightYNYReads and stores consumption from smart meter.No price data for my tariff due to smart meter limitations.
EveY /3NNEve’s alternative to Home for all HomeKit accessories with additional functionality for Eve’s own devices.I prefer this to Home for editing rules.
I use Eve products mostly for central heating control.
HomeY /3NNApple’s own app for the HomeKit smart home ecosystem.Need to refer to device manufacturers own apps (such as Eve or WIFIPLUG) for some configuration and data.
HEMSNYN My own web portal to view HEMS schedule and status via Apache web-server on Raspberry Pi.
MyImmersunYYY /1Control of ImmerSUN power diverter.Available API provides some measurement and status data as per main screen of the app.
PowervaultNYY /2Control of Powervault storage system.Available APIs provide some user scheduling and status capability.
OctoWatchdogY /3YYFuture cost, and historic costs and consumption (30 prior days) from Octopus (electricity supplier).APIs provided by Octopus.
App developed by an enthusiast using Octopus APIs.
Octopus’s own web portal provides historic consumption but does not pair this with cost. Monthly statements show graph of consumption and cost for each day.
WIFIPLUGYNYControl and measurements from own brand smart plugs.Plugs also appear in Home and Eve apps.
I use for dishwasher and washing machine.

Notes to table:

  1. APIs not officially released. Reverse-engineered by an enthusiast and available on line.
  2. APIs not officially released. Used as part of a sponsored trial when I first got the battery and re-used by myself with some manufacturer support.
  3. iOS only. Not available for Android.

Some of these apps have similarities:

  • Both Bright and OctoWatchdog show whole of house energy consumption (and potentially cost) derived from the smart meter. However they have differences too. A smart meter sits on two networks: (i) the Wide Area Network (WAN) via which the meter communicates with the energy supplier and (ii) the Home Area Network (HAN) which links the devices in the home (electricity meter, gas meter, CADs/IHD and gateway). Bright connects to the HAN via small piece of hardware called a Glow Stick Wi-Fi CAD and collects its own data in real time and stores its own records of energy consumption in the cloud; while OctoWatchdog involves no extra in-home hardware, and takes data a day in arrears from Octopus not storing anything in the cloud itself. Bright’s USP is the real time consumption and current day’s data (neither of which OctoWatchdog supports), while OctoWatchdog’s USP is the availability of electricity price which isn’t available from the meter.
  • Both Eve and Home interact with all devices in the whole HomeKit ecosystem. Eve is best for creating rules and has more ability to configure Eve’s own devices, while Home is best for sharing access with family members. WIFIPLUG’s app is more limited only interacting with their own devices, and thus cannot see Eve or other HomeKit devices.
  • Both MyImmersun and WIFIPLUG apps, and the Powervault portal, allow configuration of their own manufacturer devices. They all have, for example, timer capability and data logging. MyImmersun is better for giving a whole-of-home view showing solar panel output and net input to house (so provides a more comprehensive energy monitor), Powervault shows no solar panel output but does give a view of whole-of-home, while WIFIPLUG provides only a view of the energy consumption of devices plugged in to the WIFIPLUGs.

Better than free electricity

A couple of times last week our dynamic electricity price excelled itself by going negative so we were actually being paid to use electricity. This situation typically arises when the weather is unusually windy causing a surplus of renewable power. Then, rather than the wind turbines being turned off to eliminate excess generation, the market price drops to encourage more consumption. Such additional consumption at the cheapest times will be a combination of genuinely increased consumption (such as my own shift from gas water heating to electric) and shifting electricity consumption from more expensive times to cheaper times (such as my own electric car charging and static battery charging).

Electricity price and consumption for Monday 9th December

The electricity price dropped as low as -4.85 p/kWh between 3:30 and 4:00 AM, with an average consumption-weighted unit price of 0.62 p/kWh. The red line shows the electricity price in p/kWh on the left-hand scale, the blue shows the average consumption in this billing month, and the bars show today’s consumption driven by today’s prices. (The right hand cost column is missing the leading ‘-‘ symbol where appropriate.)

The increasing electricity consumption as the price falls is driven by automated control of loads driven by my HEMS. The HEMS controls fixed battery charging (and discharging), electric car charging, and water heating in response to electricity price.

Report on Agile Octopus last weekend from The Guardian.

You can learn more about Octopus Agile here and save yourself an extra £50 if you decide to switch.

HEMS in action

Yesterday provided a good example of my HEMS in action as the electricity price dropped quite low due to stormy weather conditions. Normally at this time of year the HEMS isn’t doing much with the storage battery as daytime solar output is enough to fully charge the battery, but yesterday low pricing was enough to automatically enable both battery charging and water heating overnight. Car charging was due to run anyway driven by the demand for an hour of charging, but battery charging and water heating was triggered by the low price rather than a needed to take power for a pre-defined period of time.

HEMS schedule 9th August

The screenshot above from my phone shows the HEMS’ plan for the the early hours of the 9th. The first price column shows one hour of car charging at the cheapest price. The second column shows half an hour of water heating as the electricity price has fallen below 3.5 p/kWh when it is assumed to be cheaper than gas. The third column shows four hours of battery charging when the electricity price is below 5 p/kWh.

Metered electricity consumption (HAN side) 9th August

The above image from the HAN side of my smart meter shows the energy consumption of the house varying through the night in response to these requests from the HEMS – battery charging at the widest point, car charging above that for an hour, and water heating above that for 30 minutes.

Half-hourly metered consumption (WAN side) and electricity price for 9th August

Finally this image shows the energy consumption versus price data for the same period shows how the action of the HEMS increases electricity demand as the price drops. Indeed on this day there was virtually no consumption at any other time.

For August 9th as a whole I paid 52 pence for 7.547 kWh of electricity. Taking off the 21 pence for the standing charge leaves 31 pence for the electricity kWhs alone, an average of 4.11 p/kWh.

HEMS Wiring Update #2

Today I’ve further refined the wiring of the relays on the HEMS. At the time that I’d originally wired it I didn’t have small enough flex, or indeed multi core, which created an unnecessary number of cables (one per used relay) of over large size (and thus difficult to insert into the terminals). During the week I acquired some smaller gauge multi core allowing me to wire all three relays with a single cable containing one live feed and three switched live returns.

Revised HEMS wiring with multi core to HEMS relay outputs

Of the 5 incoming / outgoing cables at the bottom (left to right):

  1. Incoming mains (live / neutral / earth) from mains plug
  2. Live and switched live to / from ImmerSUN output relay to activate car charger.
  3. Live and switched lives to / from HEMS to activate car charger and water heating.
    • Red – live to contacts
    • Green – switched live for car charger direct – charge in response to price
    • Black – switched live for car charger indirect via ImmerSUN relay output – enable proportional charge in response to surplus PV
    • White – switched live for water heating – heat in response to price
  4. Outgoing mains (switched live / neutral / earth) to RF solutions radio transmitter to activate car charger, and on the second cable clamp..
  5. Outgoing switched live and neutral to ImmerSUN Boost relay input to enable immersion heater.

The revised wiring diagram looks like this..

Revised HEMS wiring #2

All of this still leaves one unused relay on the HEMS (HAT #3) and one unused proportional output on the ImmerSUN (#2; available for future expansion.

Initially even my smallest boot lace ferrules would not fit into the terminals on the HAT. Fortunately, once the ferrules has been crimped around the new cables, and flattened by squeezing in pliers, then the ferrules could be persuaded into the terminals.