How to look after the watts

The bill payer running around the house screaming at teenagers to ‘turn that light out’ was a sit com staple in the 1980’s, but with electricity bills going through the roof it is no longer a subject for cheap jokes. Before you start looking at turning off everything in your house, though, it might be worth taking a closer look at where your electricity is going. 

It helps to understand how electricity usage is measured and priced. You pay for each kilowatt hour (kWh) you use, currently at a rate of around 34p if you pay by direct debit. A kWh is the power, or number of watts, a device uses multiplied by the time for which it is using power. So a washing machine, say, that uses 500 watts for two hours will use 1kWh (a kilowatt is 1,000 watts). 

If you have a smart meter and a device that shows how much energy you are using it is easy to see the difference turning on a kettle or hairdryer makes. But there is another important element to your consumption that is harder to see, which is the base load. This is the power your house uses even when you are asleep or on holiday. 

When we first got a smart meter, we found that even when we thought nothing was going on, the house was drawing a not inconsiderable 541 watts all the time. So, every day our base load was 541 x 24 or nearly 13kWh, costing £4.42 a day at the current capped unit price.

We decided to find out what was drawing all this power. We happened to have a remote-controlled plug we use to switch our Christmas lights on and off which measures the power used by the device connected to it. You can buy similar plugs quite cheaply. 

Moving this plug around the various sockets in the house enabled us to figure out where we were ‘leaking’ power. 

We started in the kitchen. When we moved into our house the kitchen had just a tiny ‘beer’ type fridge. We carried on using it but added a larger larder style one too. Turns out this tiny fridge, being old and inefficient, was using nearly 70 watts every hour, every day. Turning it off saved 613 kWh or £208 a year

The bigger fridge was also old and expensive to run, using 92 watts an hour. It was in need of a new thermostat too, so rather than replace the part we decided to replace it altogether with a more energy efficient model which draws just 26 watts. That saves us a further £196 a year at current prices.

Our next find came with our back-up system, dating back to the days before online backup. Despite now only being used to stream an occasional film it was still on 24/7, using up 102 watts and costing over £300 a year. That’s more than a Netflix and Spotify subscription combined! Safe to say, we pulled its plug.

The fridge and back-up system were the big easy wins, but by measuring every circuit we found others to add to our energy cost savings. One important one was anything left on standby when not in use.

This included the TV, which is friends with various other electrical boxes, and just on standby they were eating 30 watts an hour. We saved £74 a year by buying a voice controlled smart plug that links to the TV remote and disconnects the TV and associated electronics from the mains when we turn off the TV.

We fitted smart plugs to anything else that was drawing significant power while in standby so they are turned off when not needed. 

If you’re not sure which devices to check, computers and audio and video equipment are good places to look, or just measure anything that has a glowing red light even when you aren’t using it. 

Overall, we were able to reduce our base load from 541 to 233 watts, a saving of around £900 a year. Admittedly we had to buy a new fridge and five smart plugs, but you can see that rather than rushing to buy solar panels, heat pumps and battery storage, you can make savings on your energy spending by looking at the little things. Or, to paraphrase a well known saying, if you look after the watts then the kilowatts will look after themselves!

I thought my diesel car would have to go

More than seven in 10 people in the UK are concerned about climate change, surveys show. Nearly half think it is caused mainly or entirely by human activity. This is good news: if enough people are convinced by the scientific evidence that we are the cause of the problem, there is hope that we can be the solution too.

The question is, can we wait around for the government, or industry, or someone else, to take responsibility and action? Tackling climate change feels like too large a task for individuals but I have come round to the view that what we do both individually and collectively is crucial. 

Making changes to the way we live is a challenge, of course, and it is easy to make assumptions about what will make the most difference. In my case, I thought driving was my biggest carbon emissions problem. You see I love driving – it’s always been my escape route from life’s troubles. I can just jump into my car and go somewhere – anywhere. 

When I realised a couple of years ago what a mess we’re making of our environment I became almost embarrassed to drive my old diesel car. I thought it would make my carbon footprint really high. So I tried out both electric and hybrid cars – in fact my husband really wanted one. But however much I tried I really struggled with them. They were automatic, and it felt as if the car was in control rather than me doing the driving. So I decided the car would have to go. 

Then some friends suggested I use a carbon footprint tracker to find out how I was spending my carbon budget. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my car made a relatively small contribution to my footprint, due to the low mileage I now do. I try to walk most places, usually with my dog – everyone where I live knows me by my dog!

My highest emissions turned out to come from stuff, which is almost more embarrassing than my car being my biggest problem! The damage my spending on DIY projects, outdoor clothing, gadgets, etc, does to my bank balance is bad enough. The fact that it’s also damaging the planet is double trouble. I now pay much more attention to where my stuff is produced, and  make a conscious effort to buy local, even if it means I don’t receive it the next day. 

At least I now know how I am spending my carbon budget, and more importantly, what actions I can take to reduce it.

I was so close to selling my car and making the massive mistake of thinking I was now clean and green. And I could have carried on accumulating more stuff without a thought to the real cost to the environment of each new purchase. 

So my advice to all my friends is, if you want to make changes, just check they are the ones that will really make a difference to your impact on our planet. 

Let’s make 2021 the year of climate action!

Climate Emergency Question Time

Deciding how to vote has never been so difficult, and climate change and the environment aren’t getting as much cover as they deserve. So, ACTion on Climate in Teignbridge has invited all of the candidates standing for the Central Devon and Newton Abbot constituencies to our Climate Emergency Question Time.

Local candidates answer your questions

Thursday 5th December 7-9pm at Coombeshead College’s Bushell Theatre.

With mulled wine and minced pies.

Deciding how to vote has never been so difficult, and climate change and the environment aren’t getting as much cover as they deserve. So, ACTion on Climate in Teignbridge has invited all of the candidates standing for the Central Devon and Newton Abbot constituencies to our Climate Emergency Question Time.

When you book your place, you will have the opportunity to submit a question on how they would fight climate change and help our ecosystems recover. We will choose a representative selection which our Chair will ask every candidate. If any candidates can’t attend, we will ask them to send someone to represent their views – not simply their Party manifesto’s.

We will also be celebrating ACT‘s first 5 months, in which we have been supporting the District of Teignbridge on its journey to becoming carbon neutral. After Question Time there will be mulled wine, mulled apple juice and mince pies – a good time to socialise and share views on the best ways to reach our ambitious goal! We now have around 200 members from all over the District, of which 50 are very active – but there is always room for more. We’d would love to see you there and hear your views! Please share this with any other Teignbridge Environment Groups.

Directions and parking.

Questions submitted in the forum The deadline for submission of questions is mid day on 3rd December.

Please bring your own mug – no glasses for safety reasons.

Sorry this event is now full.

Read the Candidate’s statements

Central Devon

Alison Eden (Liberal Democrats)


Mel Stride (Conservatives)

Has not responded to our invitation

Lisa Robillard Webb (Labour)


Andy Williamson (Green Party)


Newton Abbot

Megan Debenham (Green Party)


David Halpin (Independent)


Anne Marie Morris (Conservatives)


James Osben (Labour)


Martin Wrigley (Liberal Democrats)


TDC formally accept our support proposal

ACT has met Jackie Hook, TDC climate emergency portfolio holder and David Eaton, climate emergency lead officer, on several occasions, to discuss a joint approach for delivering on the TDC declaration. We have also gathered over 150 proposals for possible action from members of the community, which has been passed to the council.

The coordination group is confident that ACT can help both TDC and everyone in Teignbridge achieve the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2025. This proposal describes ACT’s vision, mission and objectives, and proposes a partnership with the council. Finally, it provides an provisional timeline for getting the relationship established.

TDC formally accepted our role in supporting them in at their full council meeting on 24th Sept 2019.

Our full proposal can be read here.