Smart meters that automatically turn off unused appliances and send electricity readings to a central server may be the talk of Whitehall at the moment, but until someone works out who is going to pay for them, we'll have to rely on lower-tech solutions such as this electricity monitor from British Gas.
The company is currently doling them out for free to people who sign up to its EnergySmart range of tariffs. The tariffs give you the ability to view a page online showing how much electricity you've used each month -- the idea being you'll start switching things off and save money. Instead of receiving a quarterly guestimate bill, you input meter readings online each month. The site then calculates how much it thinks you'll spend in the future, offering you the chance to set a reduction target.
So far, so meh, but the electricity monitor that comes with the tariff is actually quite useful. There are two parts to it -- a clip that goes around one of the wires that supplies your main board, which runs to a wireless transmitter (pictured below), powered by four C batteries.
The second part is the display itself (pictured top), which plugs into the mains. Once you've paired the transmitter with the display, it shows you your consumption in real time (we were using 46p of electricty per hour when we took this picture). It can become pretty addictive working out what each of your appliances is costing you by turning it on and off and watching the display change. Appliances such as kettles and tumble driers send the graph off the charts, as you'd expect, but even things such as halogen spotlights can make a significant difference.
Input how much you're paying per unit of electricity, and the monitor shows you a bill for the day, week or month, but you can also choose to see your consumption in kW/h or kg CO2/h to see what impact your behaviour is having on carbon emissions.
The irony of plugging in an electrical device to save electricity isn't lost on us, but we're told the monitor uses less energy in a year than it does to boil your kettle three times, so we're not too worried. The batteries in the transmitter are due to last for two years.
If the EnergySmart tariffs make financial sense for you, we'd recommend them, not only for the accurate monthly bills, but the easy-to-install and useful cost monitor. But if you can get a better deal from another supplier (Scottish Power is offering £110 cashback on Quidco at the moment, for example), you might be better off plumping for that and investing in an energy monitor of your own, such as this £25 Owl Micro home energy meter from Tesco.