Take control of your winter power bills

I am staring out the office window hoping for some inspiration for this blog post and what I am staring at is vertical rain, not teaming down, rather it is drifting. It is decidedly snow-like rain, and it sure feels cold enough to be snow.

Most of you will have noticed your power consumption increasing over the past few weeks as winter has approached. At first it starts increasing gradually as the days get shorter and the lights are on longer, and as you spend more time at home watching TV or on the computer. Then the first cold southerly blast comes through and the heaters get cranked up, and the “leckie blankets” get pulled out from the back of the linen cupboard. You know then that your power (and/or gas) bills are going to really start biting – I spotted this on twitter this morning “so begins the mortgage payment sized powerbills”. You want to keep warm, so to some extent these bills are unavoidable. But with Powershop there are a few things you can do to try and make a difference.

Avoid bill shock
You know you’re going to be using more power, but do you know exactly how much more, or how much this is likely to cost you? Now is the time of year you can really benefit from entering your meter readings once a week to see how your usage is tracking and how much you’re spending.
Also, you may find it valuable or comforting to buy some power in advance so that you know that at least some of your winter power costs have already been covered.

Here’s a few tips:
– Check your meter once a week and enter your reading. Do it when you put out the rubbish.

– Relate your consumption to your power behaviour.  Were you doing more clothes drying or were cold temperatures making the heat pump work overtime?

– Try shutting off some of your power vampires – appliances that sit on standby when they’re not in use.

iPhone App
For those of you with iPhones, entering a meter reading couldn’t be easier. Download either the Powershop demonstration app or the Powerkiwi Flower Power app (details of both of these are available on our iPhone page), link the application to your account and you can check your balance, enter meter readings and top up your account, all from your phone.

We are also aware that there is at least one developer out there using our API to develop an application for Android phones to provide similar functionality.

Monitor your usage
If you are entering your meter readings each week you will quickly see when you start using more power and this may help you identify what is causing the increase and things you might need to change to help reduce your consumption and how much you are spending.

Set a savings target
Whether or not you are a Powershop customer you can set yourself a power savings target and use our Powersaver application to track progress towards this target. Remember, you will use more power at this time of year, so be realistic when you set your target. Try a little bit first and see how you go, then gradually increase your savings target. Why not run a savings competition with a group of friends? Powersaver lets you share your usage with your friends. If you are a Powershop customer you can automatically link your account, if you are not you can enter meter readings straight into PowerSaver.

There are plenty of websites out there with tips on how you can save power (such as Smarter Homes) You can enter your own power saving tips into PowerSaver for others to see too.

Google PowerMeter
Some of you may have heard of Google PowerMeter. This is a project being run by the philanthropic arm of Google. They are working with device manufacturers worldwide to measure appliance and household power consumption, and like our PowerSaver application present this information back to electricity consumers and their friends.

Earlier this year Google made their API (Application Programming Interface) public. This means that anyone can collect electricity consumption information and feed it into Google PowerMeter. It is early days yet, but we have been experimenting with Google PowerMeter to assess the value of linking Powershop accounts into Google PowerMeter. Connecting into PowerMeter now will allow our customers to treat current and future innovations by Google as an extension of their power account.

Anyway folks, rug up, keep warm, keep an eye on your power usage, and watch those pennies.

46 thoughts on “Take control of your winter power bills

  1. Drew Whittle

    I didn’t know you have that saver.powershop.co.nz site. Being a new customer I’m curious if I signup for that site will my power readings etc come across from the main site? (saving me entering it twice)

    Reply
  2. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Drew:

    Yes, go over to PowerSaver and signup. Once you have signed up you can log in and go to the “My Settings” tab and link your new PowerSaver account to your Powershop account (this will transfer all of your Powershop history across). From then your Powershop meter readings will be sent to PowerSaver once a day.

    Reply
  3. Molly

    Ari: nice to see your winter warmer special. Unannounced specials do give me incentive to read the meter more often, and thus check out whether there are new specials – and this gives me excellent monitoring of our power usage.
    I’ve signed up for PowerSaver, but it seems not to be able to access the extensive history of meter readings. Can it be made to?
    I’ve wanted to figure what c/kWh I’ve paid since joining Powershop last November. Ideally I’d like a “reading” for each month. But even for a global reading, I’d have to subtract the pre-paid units. This may be quite a programming job – but it would be a fantastic advertisement for Powershop to say, “since I joined I’ve paid an average of (say 21c/kWh) compared to (29.5c/kWh for 5000 kWh per year), from my previous supplier).
    Are your computer-geeks up to the task?

    Reply
  4. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Molly:

    Hi. I’ll address your questions in turn.

    Yes, it is possible to link your Powershop history to your PowerSaver account. Go to the “My Settings” tab on PowerSaver and there is a box there that allows you to link your Powershop account. When you link it your history should upload immediately, and it will be refreshed daily from then on.

    I think most of the pricing information you are after may already be available. If you go to the “My Account” tab in Powershop you will see a list of reports on the left hand side. The “Average Unit Prices” report gives you a monthly breakdown of your prices based on the products “used” – it also gives you an annual average. Doing the comparison with other retailers is a little more problematic as it requires monitoring of changes to other retailer tariffs (as you know there are a lot of these, particularly if you include multiple areas).

    Reply
  5. Geoff

    I was watching for the gradual increase in my power use in the autumn, but it didn’t happen. Declining consumption by the fridge (separately measured with one of those plug-in meters) apparently offset the steady increase in lighting and other loads. Instead of a gradual climb, it was more of a vertical take-off when the space heating season arrived. It hadn’t ocurred to me before that the fridge would be a seasonal load, but I guess it’s obvious.

    Why mention this? It made me realise that the primary impact of moving electricity retailing online (via smart meters, Google PowerMeter, Powershop, etc.) may be that the industry starts getting a lot more attention from its customers. I never thought to see power being given away free just to drive traffic to a website (the Google model, incarnate!), but apparently it’s thinkable at at least one retailer.

    Reply
  6. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Geoff:

    You’ve got it in a nutshell. That’s exactly what we’re striving to achieve – making engaging with electricity usage and purchase simple enough that is seen as valuable and not a chore. And of course with more engagement in the “product” itself follows more interest/influence on the industry – if nothing else, the internet has definitely shifted the balance of power back to consumers. It has happened or is happening in most other industries – the energy market is long overdue for disruption and we’re happy to be leading the charge!

    Reply
  7. tony

    Do it, If you don’t I’ll change to another power provider… :P

    I hope you *aren’t* even considering *not* linking into google powermeter.

    Reply
  8. Gareth

    Google PowerMeter really requires live-connected smart-metering at the minimum to be useful. I know a few Auckland homes are now updated to smart meters over the cellular network (and this rollout continues), are Powershop tied into those readings where a customer’s home has one?

    Reply
  9. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Gareth:

    You are correct, ideally PowerMeter would have a live feed of 30 minute, or hourly usage information. The smart-meter providers in NZ do not currently provide real-time (or even near real-time) information and are unlikely to over the GPRS cellular network. However, Google PowerMeter can provide some useful information even without this level of information – this is essentially what we are prototyping.

    There are also other technologies around that are not accurate enough to use for “billing” customers, but that are useful in providing real-time information to help customers understand their usage patterns and behaviours.

    In answer to your question about access to smart meter information, yes, Powershop does get usage information from the major smart meter owners. For some meters we get daily usage readings, for others we get half-hourly usage information (but only supplied once per week) ie. neither are neal real-time.

    Reply
  10. Gareth

    Thanks Ari, interesting stuff. The smart meter rollouts are purely about internal cost reduction at the moment (no need to pay an MRO) rather than a value play for customers – I guess given that customers can churn and take that smart meter investment with them, retailers aren’t keen to make it.
    Will watch with interest though, cheers.

    Reply
  11. tony

    @ari I could. you should give me a job.

    Also, I don’t agree entirely with the need for totally real time data. Capturing the data (near realtime), storing and uploading once a week sounds like a good compromise and efficient use of resources.

    Does anybody see the irony in a full-featured centameter/smartmeter type device with always on internet and constant power to a radio transmitter… in every single house in the country?

    Reply
  12. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Tony:

    I agree you can gain a lot of value without having real-time data, but the closer to real time you get, the more you will influence behaviour change.

    I see what you’re saying (the irony) of smart meters in every home, but I would hazard a guess that the electronics in the meter and comms network probably still use less energy than spining the dial on an old style meter – at the end of the day these are a mechanical device driven by an inefficient motor.

    Reply
  13. Jon

    @Ari:

    I have been looking into the power thing for a while now. In the next few weeks it seems the currentcost bridge and envi-r will be available in NZ. These have the capability to upload directly to Google’s PowerMeter. This would be an ideal situation for me if your site was able to import data from PowerMeter. Presumably ongoing accuracy could be managed by continued meter readings, although I here these units are pretty good.

    The alternative is waiting for Genesis to put in a “smart” meter at my place and then make the switch, but this relies on them doing the work (apparently according to their website my suburb has already been done), and doesn’t necessarily provide “real-time” data.

    Any thoughts?

    Reply
  14. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Jon:

    There is no technical reason that meter reading data from Google PowerMeter couldn’t be used to provide meter reading data to Powershop – we would treat these readings as the equivalent of “customer readings” – they would be used to update balance information, but not generally for account reviews. This could be done by writing a small piece of code that linked the Google PowerMeter API to the Powershop API. We don’t currently have plans to do that because we are concerned about the accuracy of data from “clip-on” style meters – even high quality meters are probably only +/- 5%. So they are good for giving you an indication of when you use your power, and you may be able to link this to the appliances you use etc, but we have reservations about the quality of data for other purposes.

    Depending on what area you live in, we are happy to install a smart meter for you – just call us on 0800 1000 60 and ask to speak to Steve or Nikos and they can work through your options.

    Reply
  15. Emanuele Ziglioli

    > There is no technical reason that meter reading data from Google
    > PowerMeter couldn’t be used to provide meter reading data to
    > Powershop

    Interesting, that would be going the other way. I hadn’t thought about it, yet :-)

    http://techno.emanueleziglioli.it/2010/05/google-power-meter.html

    http://groups.google.com/group/powershop-developers/browse_thread/thread/54460039ec71fa1b

    I think the utility of a smart meter for the end user depends on who provides it.
    In my case, having had one since may, the readings that appear on powershop have still got roughly a monthly frequency.
    So I haven’t been able to track detailed usage as I wished.

    Reply
  16. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Emanuele:

    Yes, I think doing “back-to-front” is the better way to integrate for devices that are set up to supply information to Google PowerMeter already. I haven’t looked at this in detail, but I would think it would be sensible to ensure regular “calibration” of PowerMeter data with actual meter readings.

    And you are right, the frequency of information supplied by different smart meters providers does vary – at the moment. I think this will change over time, most smart meters that have been installed in NZ are capable of providing half-hourly consumption information on a frequent basis. There are 2 main reasons why that information is not currently available:
    1. Other than Powershop, no other retailer has the ability to do anything with this data, so the meter owners have not developed their Meter Data Management (MDM) systems to provide it yet.
    2. Cost/reliability of communications. Many of the meters communicate across the GPRS network which is relatively expensive, and has some reliability issues.

    However, I expect that within the next 3-5 years we can expect more frequent and reliable smart meter data.

    Reply
  17. Emanuele Ziglioli

    Thanks Ari,

    incidentally, while upgrading to the smart meter, the installer had discovered that our ‘controlled meter’ was in reality ‘uncontrolled’ (non out fault, we’ve just been in this house for a year…).
    So the unit price went up 4c/unit. But then thanks to the smart meter we’ve been able to switch to night/day so the price has gone down again (I think about 2c/u). So yai for the smart meter!

    Let me mention this project: http://www.ladyada.net/make/tweetawatt/
    You can build a smart power meter yourself! one for each room if you like. And then upload the data to Google Power Meter or even Powershop

    Reply
  18. Jon

    @Ari, @Emanuele

    Thanks for your help Ari, I have signed up, talked to Nikos, who was very helpful, and he has arranged a smart meter install.

    It would be interesting to know if the smart meter could be coupled to a device that I could connect to my router, which could send information to the powershop servers. This would get around the cost issue for using the gprs network, but provide semi realtime data for those who are interested. Currentcost’s bridge does this for their Envi. DAta could then also go out to Googles Power Meter at the same time. Will have a look at tweetawatt.

    Reply
  19. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Jon:

    As far as I know none of the NZ smart meter providers allow any interconnection, and they do not yet include a Home Area Network (HAN) chip (but I understand they are capable of it). We are probably ahead of ourselves by 3 years or so :)

    In the meantime, the ENVI/Current cost bridge is probably the best commercially available option, although it is quite expensive. It is an area they is evolving quickly and I don’t think it will be too long before lower cost options come to market.

    Reply
  20. chainey

    Hi

    Just received by AECT rebate and was momentarily confused as to why they had sent me a cheque instead of crediting my power account – then realised I would have switched to Powershop since the last one. Can I send it back and have it credited or doesn’t Powershop cater for credits?

    Reply
  21. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Chainey:

    These payments are all managed by AECT. We notify them of all our customers at the time of the cut-off for each years payment (from memory I think this is August) and they distribute payment according to the customers preference (cheque, Direct Debit, or account credit). I am not 100% sure what the selection process is, so I’ll get back to you tomorrow on this so that you can nominate account credit for next year.

    In terms of this year, I think the easiest thing to do will be to bank the cheque and pay the money straight into your Powershop account. You can do this using the “bill pay” feature through internet banking (select Powershop as payee and enter your customer number) or you deposit into our bank account dircetly, phone us on 0800 462 668 to get details. I think sending it back to AECT will result in delays and/or mix ups.

    Reply
  22. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Chainey:

    Apparently, Vector contact all recipients of the AECT rebate and allow them to chose which option they would like. If they do not get a response they send a cheque. Most likely you overlooked or did not receive your letter this year – but at least you got the cheque :)

    Reply
  23. chainey

    Okay, thanks for the response. It’s a real pain for me to get to a bank branch during their opening hours because of my work hours and location in the middle of an industrial wasteland. I think I’ll risk the delay and send it back. Just wanted to know if Powershop can deal with them and apparently the answer is yes.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
  24. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Chainey:

    Yeah, I hate cheques too – they should be outlawed.

    And yes, we are able to apply account credits. As soon as we get notification from Vector we will apply it. When you get a chance can you login into your account and send us “Feedback” telling us that you’ve sent your cheque back, that will create a ticket on your account and we’ll have the background info when the notification comes through.

    Reply
  25. Aaron

    The WordPress thingee killed my comment for some reason, it thought I was typing too fast?

    Anyway the comment was I noticed a special for new PS customers. Not for exisitng loyal customers. I think this sort of marketing is short sighted and encourages churn.

    Why alienate your valuable customers in search of switchers?

    Reply
  26. Ari Sargent

    @Aaron:

    I couldn’t agree more, we do have a plan for existing customers, however, it is not quite ready to go. Ideally it would have been unleashed at the same time as the new customer offer, but in the end that was not possible.

    Watch this space :)

    Reply
  27. Sandy

    Hey Ari, left a message on your email, you may not have got it. Want to talk about a hardware offer for Google PowerMeter.

    Reply
  28. Jon

    @Ari

    Following our talk about using your home broadband network to relay smart meter info, found this (along with an FCC filing), it uses Zigbee – ie. compatible with some of the smart meters going out at the moment – including mine…

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/10/01/belkin-conserve-gateway-will-track-your-whole-home-energy-usage/

    Be interesting to know the value proposition on Powershop paying for a customers router, + zigbee module in exchange for using the existing internet connection for readings…

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/10/01/belkin-conserve-gateway-will-track-your-whole-home-energy-usage/

    Reply
  29. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Jon:

    Thanks for this. To be honest the value proposition for what you suggest is not that strong. Meter reading costs are a relatively small proportion of overall energy supply costs, and obviously the read cost of a smart meter is very low. And the amount of data being transmitted is very small.

    The value proposition of these devices is likely to be around the better information and insights you get as a consumer.

    Reply
  30. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Aaron:

    As promised, we have now unleashed our offer to existing customers to access our free summer power special. Login and look at our latest and best ever friend referral offer :)

    Reply
  31. Barry

    How often does a smartmeter get read? I have got caught up in all the hype expecting at the very least a daily reading, but it seems like it is monthly. That’s not exactly helpful to altering consumer behaviour, however the Powershop model is making me aware of usage and encouraging me to get it down (rather than just experiencing bill shock when I can do nothing about it).

    Reply
  32. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Barry:

    We have two main smart meter providers at present; Arc and AMS. Arc provide us with readings on a daily basis, AMS current supply half-hourly usage information, but only provide this once a week. We are working with both Arc and AMS to get half-hourly data on a daily basis. To be fair to these guys, there main customers have not asked for this, and it requires some development on their part. We expect to get this data within a few months.

    Reply
  33. Steve

    Hi how about an android app :))
    Also I asked about a smart meter and was told it would cost me $170 :( but it costs me nothing for you guys to pay someone to call and get the reading, is this the way to go :)

    Reply
  34. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Steve:

    There are 2 Android apps available in the marketplace; Powershop Anywhere and Power Up.

    The $170 smart meter installation fee is simply a recovery of our costs to install the meter. Unfortunately this is a cost we cannot absorb as the savings on meter reading costs are quite small when we also factor in meter lease costs. We would love for everyone to have smart meters, but we cannot afford to fund the installation ourselves :(

    Reply
  35. Granta

    Hi Ari
    Thanks for a great product – as a new Powershop customer I am certainly benefiting from taking a closer look at my electricity usage. However I am still finding the metering/pricing situation a bit confusing. Like Steve (above) I have been quoted the $170 to switch to a smart meter. I am primarily interested in switching because I believe I can shift significant electricity consumption to night. Currently I have two registers, one controlled for hot water and one uncontrolled for the rest of the house. With the current set up I am not getting any pricing advantage for night time usage but I assume I am getting some pricing advantage for the controlled meter (but I don’t know for sure). If I paid for the new smart meter to be installed would my night usage be monitored and would this be reflected by a lower Powershop unit price? Also would my hot water still be controlled and would this continue to be reflected in my Powershop unit rate?

    Reply
  36. Joe

    Hi

    Is there any way I can get historical pricing data by month wider than my own usage?

    I would really like to know how the forward pricing offered compares to historically what other consumers have paid at a similar time in the year?

    Cheers

    Joe

    Reply
  37. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Joe: this is not something that is currently available because pricing varies for each customer, but we’ll have a look at what we can do for “average” customers.

    Reply
  38. Paul B.

    Hi Ari.
    I made the switch about a month ago and I’ve just had a meter-reader come to read my meter for the first time. When I was with Mercury a smart meter was installed. Why can’t Powershop get readings from this?

    Reply
  39. Ari Sargent

    @Paul B: Excellent question! We have asked the meter owner the same question many times over the past couple of years. It seems we might finally be making some progress though and expect to get electronic readings from them within the next couple of months.

    Reply
  40. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Granta: Firstly, apologies for the late response to your post; for some reason your comment ended up in our spam folder.

    I’ve had a quick look at your account and it looks as though you have two meters, but both seem to be on the same “inclusive” tariff.

    Wellington Electricity (your lines company) does not have a day/night rate as such; they do have a “dedicated” night rate for appliances that only operate at night, such as night store heaters. So there is probably little benefit to be had by shifting usage from day to night in your case.

    Reply
  41. Kristen

    I just can’t figure out why power is so expensive!

    We have a small house (2 bedrooms) and it’s just my husband and I. We don’t use a dryer or dishwasher yet our power is constantly going up and up (approx $150 a month) I don’t even have long showers! Is this nornal?

    We have checked (with a power meter thingy) all the applicances and they don’t seem to be using much.

    This is not a gripe about Power Shop, we find you guys great!

    I even called this week to ask if we could pay our bill late as we had some unexpected bills and the girl I spoke to was LOVELY and let us do it next month. Awesome customer service unlike when we were with our previous provder who’d just say no. Even if we told them we literally wouldn’t be ABLE to pay!!

    I’m, interested to know if that is just how much a normal bill is now or if there is possibly something wrong?!

    Reply
  42. Ari Sargent Post author

    @Kristen: I can’t see anything out of the ordinary with your account. Your expected annual usage is just under 7,000 kWh per year – which classifies you as a “low user” under the electricity regulations. I would keep an eye on your daily consumption chart as winter approaches so you can plan ahead and not get caught short by unexpected large bills. Also make sure your purchase our new Simple Saver special each month to keep your costs down.

    Reply

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