New “black box” Energy device

New “black box” device manages household energy usage to reduce cost

A new device has been developed that is said to cut energy bills by a fifth each month.  The new device, dubbed the “black box”, will turn household appliances off and on throughout the day in response to fluctuations in the cost of electricity.

The devices are to be sold to home owners starting next month and are produced by the firm Tempus Energy, which claims that the boxes will help people save 20 percent on their electricity bills using what they call “demand response” technology that manages home appliances remotely.

When installed, the black boxes communicate with “smart” products in the owner’s home, such as dishwashers, fridges and storage heaters. The box receives instructions on when to switch off or turn on the appliances from energy companies, who use complex methods to work out energy cost throughout the day.

For example, at times of peak energy use, the cost of electricity is at its highest. During this time the company sends a message to the box telling it to switch off all smart products for as long as possible to save on energy usage. On the other hand, when energy is at its cheapest, the company computer tells the box to turn on appliances to take advantage of the lower cost.

Tempus Energy claims their technology could save people up to £250 a year on their electricity bill.

“Smart” products are already available for people’s homes. Currently they can be coupled to a smartphone and be remotely turned on and off. The black box works in a similar manner to the smartphone, but takes its cues from energy cost.

All the home owner is required to do in this situation is make sure that the dishwasher or washing machine is full and ready to be switched on before they go to bed.

Tempus Energy has also announced that this technology won’t cause your TV to switch off while you’re watching it though. They call things like TVs, kettles and so on “time sensitive” appliances that cannot be switched off by the black box.

The company plans to begin their product with only heating and water being controlled. Therefore initial customers must have storage heating installed, something used by only 10 percent of the UK population.

Many British electricity companies use peak and off-peak pricing – where the cost of using electricity during the day is high, but during the night is low – and more are planning on moving to this kind of pricing. The founder of Tempus Energy, Sara Bell, says the black box will solve this conundrum for customers.

“It’s about customers managing to get the lowest possible bill,” she said.

She added that the technology would reduce the chances of winter time blackouts because it minimises the peak time energy use of consumers.

Tempus Energy has even gone so far as to claim that this technology will eventually mean people could get paid to use their appliances during hours of energy surplus. This is already the case in some European countries, such as Germany and Denmark, who use a lot of wind power. On a very windy day, the price of energy can actually fall into the negative as more energy is generated than is used.

However, professor of energy policy at Greenwich University, Steve Thomas, said that this is unlikely to be the case with the black box.

“If it passes low prices on to consumers, logically it must pass high prices on as well,” he said. He also added at consumers must still pay the network and retailer’s charges which make up roughly 45 percent of every home owners electricity bill. He went on to say the system would actually be counterproductive in the long run as more people would be turning on their appliances during off-peak times, resulting in a rise in energy costs.

In the end, he stated: “You can’t get up at four in the morning to eat your dinner. For domestic users there will always be a limit to how much of your demand is ‘postponable’.”