Categories
Reviews Technology

My experience of smart meters

This post is written in partnership with British Gas, however as always, all opinions are mine.

In December 2011 I wrote about how smart meters are the future for our electricity. The UK roll-out is well under way and I suspect that some of you (like me) now have a smart meter in your homes.

Smart what?

So what exactly is a smart meter? Brownie points need to go to whoever name it, as (unless it was named after a Mr Smart) the name is pretty self explanatory; a smart meter is a smarter version of your original gas and electricity meter.

So what makes it smart(er)? Well smart meters are going to put an end to estimated bills by feeding your energy usage directly back to your provider, removing the hassle of having to report your readings. This also means that there is no longer a need for someone to come around and read your meter.

So your bill is always timely and accurate. Isn’t that convenient!

This video by British Gas explains it a little further.

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It isn’t just your energy provider who gets data from your meter though. British Gas provide a smart energy monitor, so that you can see exactly what you are using, in real time!

A British Gas energy tracker
British Gas’s smart energy monitor

I have found this really useful, as it lets me see exactly what (gas and electricity) I am using at any given moment. I can set an ideal level of energy to use each day, and then track this with my monitor, to see whether I am over using!

A kettle boiling
Seeing how much energy my kettle uses has made me think about how much tea I drink!

The real time aspect of the monitoring does make you more conscious of what you are using. I nearly had a heart attack when I turned on the kettle! The electricity consumption shoots up to about 2.5 kilowatts of usage! I can now tell you what (almost) all of my appliances use: the vacuum is around 1.5kW, oven around 3-4kW, computer and monitor is about 0.3kW (more with speakers on though – use headphones!). I believe that being more energy conscious is saving me money – and also reducing my carbon footprint.

The smart monitor British Gas provide is really good, showing you everything from how much your energy use so far today has cost you, to how strong the WiFi connection is. The touch screen monitor comes with some on-screen tips (which you can access through the help menu) which give you ideas as to how to save money.

As I mentioned above, the meter lets you set targets as to how much energy you want to use each day, and then alarms when/if you go over. This is helping me to encourage everyone in the house to keep their usage down, so we can go later and later each day without going over the target and setting off the alarm!

I have noticed that (especially with concern to gas) my energy usage is higher in the winter than summer. This is my first year with the meter and I had it installed over the summer, but the cold and dark means we are in the house more often, using electricity and the heating more. Using the gas hob doesn’t have much of an impact at all, but whacking the boiler on for the heating and hot water certainly does.

I feel that my smart meter has given me more control over the energy I use and more flexibility in how I manage it. Smart meters get a thumbs up from me. If you have one let me know what you think in the comments below.

UK Roll-Out

Because of the benefits smart meters offer, (mainly helping to significantly reduce our carbon footprint) the UK government has stipulated that all homes and businesses will have a meter installed by 2020 – to help us meet our 2020 EU energy targets.

This means that if you live in the UK and don’t already have a smart meter, you will be getting one very soon. Which? explains how the roll-out is going to be picking up pace from 2015-2020, however if you can’t wait that long, you can get yours installed now. If you switch to British Gas, you can get one installed straight away, or if you are already a customer you can register your interest for a free upgrade here.

More

You can get more information on smart meters in British Gas’s video series on YouTube. You can also find out more about the benefits and the roll-out on their website. If you want to know more about my experience of having a smart meter, please feel free to ask me in the comments below. 🙂

Categories
Gadgets Technology

The Gadget Show Live 2013

The Gadget Show's 'G' logo at The Gadget Show LiveOn Sunday the 7th of April, I went to the Gadget Show Live at the NEC in Birmingham. It was a really great day, and I want to share the experience with you, I just haven’t had time to finish this post!

First of all I must give thanks to British Gas, who were very kind to give me tickets to the sold out event. As you may know, thanks to a collaboration between Technology Bloggers and British Gas, I have been able to step into the future of smarter living, and experience how technology has the potential to improve our lives. The technology I tested was of course their Remote Heating Control system, and I got to try it a few months before the national roll-out; I reported my findings via a series, which British Gas later posted on their website.

The day was very good fun, and I live tweeted from the event – take a look at our Twitter account and you can find some of the Tweets.

There was a lot of technology on show, some of which was cutting edge stuff, just being brought to the market.

Super Show

I had tickets to the ‘super show’ which was an event in which the three presenters of the Gadget Show: Jason Bradbury, Pollyanna Woodward and Jon Bentley, showcased exciting gadgets, offering various prizes to members of the audience. The show was good, however it did feel slightly commercialised, as pretty much every third word was plugging a product!

Smarter Living

After the show, the first stand (there were hundreds!) I visited was the British Gas stand. They had been kind enough to send me to the event, so I thought it only fair to pay them a visit!

They had designed their stand to look like a home, and had equipped it with all the very latest smarter living technology. Their Safe and Secure security system, Remote Heating Control and smart meters were all on show. It was very well designed and the complimentary Stuff magazine was appreciated!

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Microsoft

A tweet I posted about the Gadget Show, had attracted the attention of the team at Microsoft Windows UK, and they invited me to check out their stand, and to use their bloggers lounge.

As the main sponsor of the event, Microsoft got a pretty big stand – making it hard to miss!

Microsoft's stand at The Gadget Show Live 2013On their stand, Microsoft were showcasing many of their different software and technologies, including IE 10, Windows 8, Windows Phone, Surface, Bing, 3D scanning software and a real time, 3D webcam!

There was quite a lot on display, and the amount of technology was quite impressive, that said, as the event was so busy, they needed it all, as their stand was quite crowded at times.

I got talking to the person manning the 3D printing section, and was then offered (as a blogger) to go to the bloggers lounge. There I met some great guys from the technology giant, including the faces of @IE_UK and @WindowsUK, and the Senior Product Manager for Windows at Microsoft UK. I was given a tour of Surface and IE 10, and got to test them out for myself. I was quite impressed.

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I love Windows 7 and don’t have any problems with it, so I have never really thought about upgrading to Windows 8, however having been given a Windows 8 license, I am going to test it – expect more soon!

AQUAdue Loo

There was some really innovative technology on show this year. One example was AQUAdue‘s toilet system, when you need to flush, a tap which runs into a basin on top of the loo, starts to run. Use this to wash your hands, and it fills up the toilet for the next flush. What a great idea to save water and space!

AQUAdue toilet system

3D Printing

TARDIS 3D printout
3D printed TARDIS cufflinks.

The 3D printer Microsoft were using on their stand was an Up! 3D Printer. On another stand there was a firm called Denford Ltd there, who were showcasing the capabilities of a 3D printer. Probably the best giveaway I got from the event were some 3D printed TARDIS cuff links – as a techie, and a Doctor Who fan what better freebie could you get?

The technology has been around for a few years now, however it’s now starting to become mass market. Fancy a 3D printer? Well they aren’t as expensive as you might think, here’s a link to somewhere you can buy an Up! Mini 3D printer for less than £1200!

3D printed objects
An Up! 3D printer and some printed objects, included a printed TARDIS, castle and Yoda.

Microsoft were also using the Up! 3D printer to showcase their 3D scanning technology. You could get your head scanned, and then a miniature version printed out, right there and then – how cool is that! Gadget Show presenter Jason Bradbury seems to think so too, as he went to get his head scanned and printed! Take a look below.

Gadget Show's Jason gets a 3D printout of his head
The Gadget Show’s Jason Bradbury gets a 3D scan and print out of his head.

Too Much!

It was a really great day, and there was far too much there for me to talk about it all. Some of the best bits I have mentioned above, there’s loads more that I haven’t mentioned, mainly because I don’t want to run too far over 900 words – people tend to switch off after that!

I think from the number of tweets and images in this post, you can see that there was a lot going on 🙂

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Categories
Computers Internet News Search Engines Software Technology

What is Shodan?

EDITOR NOTE: This is Jonny’s 75th post on Technology Bloggers! Jonny was a complete newbie to blogging when he wrote his first post (about prosthetic limbs) but he is now somewhat of an expert – although he probably wouldn’t agree! – note by Christopher

Recently a couple of articles have appeared on large US websites about a type of search engine called Shodan. This search engine has been about for about 3 years, but it is different from Google and its cohorts in many ways. I looked at it and could not understand it at all, so what is it then and why is it causing such concern?

A screenshot of the Shodan website
Expose online devices

I have seen Shodan described as “The scariest search engine on the Internet”. This CNN money article explains that Shodan navigates the Internet’s back channels. It’s a kind of “dark” Google, looking for the servers, webcams, printers, routers and all the other stuff that is connected to and makes up the Internet.

What interest could there be in such capability? Well a lot apparently. The system allows an individual to find security cameras, cooling systems and all types of home control systems that we have connected to the Internet. (See Christopher’s series about his British Gas system here).

One serious problem is that many of these systems have little or no security because they are not perceived as threatened. Shodan searchers have however found control systems for a water park, a gas station, a hotel wine cooler and a crematorium. Cybersecurity researchers have even located command and control systems for nuclear power plants and a particle-accelerating cyclotron by using Shodan.

Hacking apart it turns out that the world is full of systems that are attached via router to the office computer and web server, and on to the outside world. Access for anyone who can find them and might like to turn of the refrigeration at the local ice rink, shut down a city’s traffic lights or just turn off a hydroelectric plant.

The Shodan system was designed to help police forces and others who might have legitimate need for such a tool, but what when it gets into the wrong hands. Security is non existent, just get your free account and do a few searches and see what you find.

See this Tech News World article for a further look at the ethical and practical issues that such a freely available product might bring

Regular readers will be aware of my interest in these types of problems through my work at the Bassetti Foundation for Responsible Innovation. I am not sure how the development and marketing of such a tool could be seen as responsible behaviour, but as I have been told on many occasions during interviews there are plenty of other ways of finding out such things. These types of systems are gathering already available information to make it usable, nothing more, so not doing anything wrong.

Do you agree?

Categories
Updates

Technology Bloggers turns 2!

Today, Technology Bloggers turns 2!

Happy Birthday Technology BloggersMany blogs get abandoned within the first year, blogs that last more than a year are rare. Blogging is said to have died and been reborn so many times, with millions of blogs, big and small falling by the wayside. But we haven’t!

Amazing growth, a growing social influence, and ranked in the top 275 technology blogs on the internet by Technorati, Technology Bloggers has had an amazing two years; and there is loads more to come!

Always striving to improve, every day we are becoming a bigger name in the technology industry.

Lets have a look at what’s happened in the last year…

Traffic

The blog has undoubtedly grown in popularity since last year. Here are some interesting visitor statistics which show the extent of our growth.

  • In year two (2012/2013) we had 65,000 unique visitors, 20k more than in year one (2011/2012)
  • Overall the number of visits were up 88% year on year
  • Year one saw 70,000 pageviews, whilst year 2 saw a staggering 64% increase to 115,000!
  • On average people spend 100 seconds (1 minute and 40 seconds) when visiting the blog

Social

Our presence on social media has significantly grown in the last year. We now post every article (title, excerpt and link) to Twitter and Facebook, as well as interesting things we find across the net, and developments – like my recent visit to the Gadget Show Live – more to come on that soon.

  • Our Facebook page has gained 246 new likes, which is a 473% increase in the last year
  • We now have 275 followers on Twitter, which is 299% up on the year 2011/2012
  • Since last year we have joined Google+ and now have 33 followers

Want to join our followers? If you subscribe you can get updates from the feed. We will only ever post something additional if we think it will interest you.

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Achievements

As a blog we have achieved far more than traffic and a strong social presence, here are some of our other great achievements:

  • Almost 4,000 comments have been posted by around 500 different commenters
  • We have 175 feed subscribers 63 of whom subscribe via email
  • We are ranked in the top 300 technology blogs in the world by Technorati (we are currently ranked 261, which is in the top 0.6% of all technology blogs in their index)
  • We were awarded British Gas’s blog of the month last April
  • We have a Google PageRank of 4 (although this doesn’t really mean very much)
  • The blog has attracted 71 different writers 24 of whom have written more than one post
  • Of our writers, 4 of them have 10 posts or more and 2 authors who have written more than 50 articles
  • Many of our writers are now claiming Google Authorship, strengthening the names behind the content on our blog

Community Awards

In the last two years, we have awarded 12 community awards in total. These awards have been given to 7 different people, with notable award winners including: Alan Tay winner of two awards; Peter Lee also winner of two awards; myself, (Christopher Roberts) winner of two awards; and Jonny Hankins who has won three awards.

2012 Community Award WinnersWinners of Technology Bloggers Community Awards - 2011

The Future

Our current growth seems to be showing no signs of slowing down, everything is just accelerating at the moment – which can be hard to manage!

In the pipeline for next year there is already a series, a competition, and loads of ideas for new posts!

Thank You

As always, thanks for playing your part in the community. Without you we couldn’t operate. Read, write or comment, everyone is important and everyone is part of the community.

Thank you everyone, here’s to another great year 🙂

By the way, this is our 400th post!

Categories
Competitions Gadgets

Go Go Car competition winners announced

Way back on the 4th of December, we launched a competition to win a build your own solar powered car kit, thanks to British Gas, who provided us with 5 fantastic Go Go Car’s to give away, to celebrate The Future Car Challenge!

The competition closed on Wednesday the 12th of December, and the winners were announced shortly after. Three of the winners got straight back to me with their addresses, and soon had their Go Go Car in the post to them.

Of the other two winners, one lived outside the UK, so asked us to redraw their name, and another never replied to my messages, so after nearly a month of waiting, I was forced to redraw their name. British Gas have received the names and addresses of all five winners, and they each now have their prize, or it is currently on the way to them.

I thought it would be good to share some of the responses I received from the winners.

The five winners (that are now displayed on the Rafflecopter entry widget) were:
Build your own solar powered car set - John Lewis

  • Claire R
  • Julie K
  • Mel J
  • Michelle J
  • Christopher T

Julie was very appreciative, saying

“Thanks so much – my son will be over the moon”

One happy customer 😉

Chris replied:

“Thank you Technology Bloggers, I’m thrilled and delighted to have won this prize, I always wanted a steam powered model as a child and in the 21st century here I am with what I consider the modern equivalent.

Thanks again, I’m sure my grandson will be fascinated with his new toy.”

I am not sure John Lewis make the steam powered kit anymore, but I am sure the solar substitute will be just as good!

Mel thought the car would be great for her nephews, saying:

“Thank you I am really happy to have won. I’ve told my nephews about it and they think it looks really fun and futuristic and are really looking forward to going solar powered.”

Hopefully we have made more than one person happy with that kit 🙂

Claire jokingly replied:

“Oh my gosh! That is amazing! I can’t wait to drive my new car!”

Claire even sent a picture of the car fully constructed!

Solar Go Go Car picture
The picture Claire sent of her fully constructed solar Go Go car.

Michelle’s story is probably the one that will touch you the most, when I emailed Michelle, she responded:

Thank you so much for your email. It’s made my day! I have MS and am currently experiencing the worst relapse I’ve ever had. The pain is ridiculous and it’s taking me for ever to type this reply as my hands are currently on strike – along with my body and legs!

It will be lovely to see the look on my youngest daughter’s face when I give her this prize. It’s perfect because she’s been learning about the importance of this kind of technology at school and she’s going to feel like Adrian Newey when I give her this!

Five deserving winners and an overall good competition – well done everyone!

Our thanks go out to British Gas for offering the prizes, and to everyone who took part for their entries. Stay tuned to the blog, as we hope to run another (our fourth) competition in the near future.

Categories
Competitions Gadgets Technology

Win a Solar Go Go Car to celebrate The Future Car Challenge

Petrol cars have no future. That is a fact, in 50 years time there will be no crude oil left on planet earth (assuming current consumption rates don’t decrease) therefore there will be no oil left to make petroleum or diesel.

Biofuel, hydrogen, LPG and electric cars are the future, there is no doubt about that. Right now there are many hybrid cars which use petrol with another power source, but in the future, petrol from natural oil will be no more.

There are of course other ways you can power cars, using compressed air is one method as is water-cell technology. These are not however currently concepts in mass production. If you follow those two links, you will find posts written by Jonny on the concepts mentioned.

Arguably the greenest option for the future is electric cars. The electricity used to power the cars can be generate from renewable sources, (it isn’t necessarily, but that is an option) and electricity from renewables is a lot less damaging to the planet than energy generated from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels – be it in on the micro scale inside an engine of a car, or on a macro scale in a network of power stations.

Electric cars are starting to look more and more normal, (in the past some have looked somewhat abstract!) and are becoming more efficient every year.

The Future Car Challenge

This year, British Gas (the company who installed Remote Heating Control in my home) became an official partner of The Future Car Challenge. The Future Car Challenge is an annual event, which showcases the latest developments in the electric car industry. This year, members from the British Gas team drove fro Brighton up to London, with the aim of using the least amount of energy as possible, using the latest electric cars. The team included comedian Robert Llewellyn, Ben Collins, (A.K.A. ‘The Stig’), and Commonwealth gold medal swimmer Ross Davenport.

The Future Car Challenge Ross Davenport
Ross Davenport playing his part in the British Gas Future Car Challenge

British Gas are setting up a national charging network, to help increase the viability of electric cars. A charging network is as vital to electric cars as service stations are to petrol and diesel cars. Some electric cars do have the ability to transfer energy generate from breaking into electricity, (as seem in Formula 1 cars) however this alone isn’t enough to power them, so electric recharge points are essential.

Here is a statement from British Gas on their involvement with electric cars:

The Future Car Challenge Robert Llewellyn
Robert Llewellyn taking part in the Brighton to London Future Car Challenge

“British Gas is dedicated to making the world a more sustainable place now and in the future. We are leading the way in providing expertise and charging solutions in the Electric Vehicle market through partnering with Nissan, Renault, Hitachi Capital, Toyota and Vauxhall.

British Gas’ dedicated charging solutions are safer, convenient and more compatible than plugging electric vehicles directly into the mains supply socket at home. Not only do we offer charging solutions that can cut charging times by around a third, but British Gas also offers its customers specially designed tariffs to help them charge for less.”

For more information on The Future Car Challenge, check out this article on British Gas’s blog. The article also has an embedded video of the event.

The Giveaway

To celebrate the event, we have five solar power car sets to giveaway, courtesy of British Gas!

The prize is a John Lewis Solar Go Go Car, (click the link for more info) a cool kit from which you can build your own solar powered car! Okay it isn’t quite as good as an electric car, but it looks great fun, and could make a fantastic Christmas present…

John Lewis Solar Powered Car KitThe giveaway will run for 8 days, from today until the end of next Wednesday (12.00am on Thursday the 13th).

The prizes will be sent out by British Gas to the UK only, so if you don’t live in the UK I am afraid you can’t enter. If you have an address in the UK you can get the prize sent to if you win, you are in!

How To Enter

It is really easy to enter the competition, all you need to do is enter an email address we can contact you on (if you win) in the Rafflecopter widget below. If you like the blog on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or are subscribed to our feed via email, then you can gain some extra entries.

Want a Solar Go Go Car kit? Enter below!

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Winners will be emailed on Thursday the 13th to let them know that they have won, and will be announced on the blog shortly after.

Good luck everyone!

Categories
Series Technology

My experience of smarter living

This is the conclusion to a series of articles in which I explored Remote Heating Control – a technology of the future. Learn more about this series by reading the introductory article, called stepping into the future of smarter living.

Three months ago, I wrote an article in which I told you how British Gas had approached Technology Bloggers and asked if I would like to have Remote Heating Control technology installed for free, to test the technology as part of their don’t take our word for it (DTOWFI) campaign. Remote Heating Control is a technology of the future, and therefore they wanted reputable bloggers to test it out and give their honest feedback in order to help people (consumers) understand the pros and cons of getting the technology, and just generally what it is like to live with an intelligent (or smart) heating system.

Now my part in the DTOWFI campaign is coming to an end – this is the final article in my series. In this article I am going to summarise my journey with the technology, highlight the advantages and disadvantages and give you my honest feedback as to my experience of Remote Heating Control.

I hope that home-owners (potentially you) will be able to use this series to evaluate whether they feel they would benefit from installing Remote Heating Control.

Installation – The Start Of The Journey

My journey with Remote Heating Control started on Thursday the 16th of August, when a British Gas engineer called Nick came to my house and set up the hardware I would need to run the technology.

British Gas remote heating control
My British Gas smart linked thermostat

First Nick installed a wireless receiver near to my boiler. Then he removed my old thermostat and replaced it with a band new LED display, smart linked thermostat. Finally Nick installed a wireless hub which I plugged into my internet router. These three devices now communicate with each other and between them and the myHome internet portal, determine what my boiler should be doing. Clever huh?

For more info on the installation, check out my article on: how is Remote Heating Control technology installed?

First Impressions

In the next article I discussed what my first impressions of Remote Heating Control were. I explored the myHome online interface, from which I was able to control my heating online. Once I had my login credentials, it was easy to login and navigate around the site.

I was impressed with the amount of data and functions that are available to me. For example, I can see what the temperature has been in my house over the last 24 hours, or the last week, or even month. I am also able to see a weather summary, letting me know what the temperature has been like outside recently, and what to expect in the near future.

At the time of writing article three, I was yet to use the technology on a daily basis, as it was mid-September and still relatively warm.

Setting Up A Heating Schedule

Two weeks later (early October) I published my next article, in which I let you know how I found setting up a schedule for my heating. In summary, it was really easy, I just had to choose what temperatures I wanted my house to be and when, and then drag some sliders accordingly to make a rather complex, but easy to understand, schedule.

Remote Heating Control Schedule - Advanced
My heating schedule

My heating is now designed to fit around my daily variations in lifestyle. I get up later of a weekend, so my heating doesn’t come on until later. I go to bed later on Friday and Saturday, so my heating keeps my house warmer for longer. Instead of me having to adjust my heating to my daily life, my heating now knows what to do and when – meaning little need for interference from me. Check out the article for more on setting up a remote heating schedule.

Daily Changes

From mid-October, I was using my heating on a daily basis, however unlike last year, I wasn’t turning it on and off daily, or controlling it via the thermostat. My heating was doing all the hard work for me, turning itself on just before I woke up/got home, and turning itself off when I went to bed/left the house.

But what happened when my life didn’t fit perfectly around my heating schedule? Say I knew I was going to be home 20 minutes early, would I have to come home to a cold house? No I wouldn’t, thanks to the myHome smartphone app! It was really easy to download and install, and after logging in with my normal username and password, I was able to instantly adjust my heating. Quite literally I could change the temperature to 18°C and in the 10 minutes it took me to get home, my house would have warmed up.

I have found that there is nothing wrong with using my smart linked thermostat (my houses internal thermostat) to control my heating, it works very well in fact, however I just don’t seem to be using it. My heating schedule seems to be regulating things rather well for me, and when I want a change making, a quick alteration on the app, or a text is often much faster and easier.

For more on my views of what the technology is like to use, check out the: using Remote Heating Control on a daily basis article? The article also contains more information about the myHome online portal, what can be found there, what you can control etc.

A Scenario

I recently had the thought, what if I were to go on holiday? My heating is set to a schedule, which I would have to change. I wouldn’t want to have to change the schedule just for my holiday and then reset all the temperatures and time periods when I got home. Well I wouldn’t have to.

All I would need do is login to the myHome app and set my heating to ‘OFF’. It is usually programmed to ‘Auto’ which means stick to the schedule, but were I to set it to ‘OFF’ then it would just lie dormant. When I get back, on my way home, a quick SMS of ‘HEAT AUTO’ or just setting the heating to a specific temperature via smartphone or text message would get my house lovely and warm for my return. It seems that there isn’t much that this technology can’t handle!

Basically if there is going to be a disruption to your ordinary daily life, and you don’t want your heating to be wasting money on unnecessary heating, you can effectively stop the schedule. Likewise if you want your home to be hotter than it is you can override the schedule for that period.

The Money

One of the key factors in the technology for me is the money. I want to be green and save gas, whilst at the same time use the technology to help me save money. So, do I think that Remote Heating Control will save me money?

I haven’t any bills to compare yet, and the weather does vary year on year anyway, so it is hard for me to tell, but from what I have seen so far, my honest answer is yes, I think that the system will save me money.

The way I have programmed my system, it stops my house from getting really cold when I am not there, so it should take less gas to warm it up when I get home. Also the fact that I can instantly change the temperature via the internet, or my phone mean that if I am out of the house, I am still in control, whereas before I couldn’t be. Therefore any mistakes I make – like leaving the heating on when I am going out – I can fix before my boiler burns away my money heating an empty house.

To Conclude

I am really pleased that British Gas asked me to become a part of the DTOWFI campaign, as it has not only given me an insight into the future of smarter living, which I have been able to share with you, but also an amazing system which I now use to control my heating with.

I would personally recommend the technology, as I feel it has the potential to save me a lot of money, whilst helping me limit my environmental impact, at the same time as letting me live slightly more comfortable.

Thank you very much for following the series, I hope it has been interesting and educational. I also hope it has been useful to people who are considering getting a Remote Heating Control system.

I would also like to say thank you for all the comments I have received on the articles during the course of the series. I am more than happy to answer questions and give my opinions, just ask anything you may have either on the relevant post, or below.

My final thank you goes to British Gas for letting me test out a technology of the future.

… and that’s the end of my second series! 🙂

Categories
Series Technology

Day to day use of my Remote Heating Control system

This is the fifth in a series of articles in which I am exploring Remote Heating Control – a technology of the future. Learn more about this series by reading the introductory article, called stepping into the future of smarter living.

Well Autumn really has begun, it’s now mid-October and the days are starting to get shorter. Trees are starting to drop their now golden brown leaves and there is a chill in the air that hasn’t been there since last winter.

Now that it is Autumn it is getting much colder, and this means that my heating is now really important to me. It’s that time of year when I want to stay warm, but at the same time am conscious to save energy.

Controlling My Heating Via Smartphone

I have recently bought a Samsung Galaxy S III, a smartphone powered by Google’s Android operating system. This means that I am now able to test out the Remote Heating Control app. British Gas have made an app for both Androids and iDevices, as I have an Android powered Samsung, I will be talking about the Android app.

The application is available for download from Apple’s App Store and from Google play, and is called myHome – after the online portal that you log into to control your heating.

The app is free to download, however (as you would expect) you need to have Remote Heating Control technology in your home for it to be of any use. You need internet access to be able to use the app, as it has to connect to the myHome portal in order to fetch real time data and store any changes you make; however that shouldn’t really be an issue though, as most smartphones now come Wi-Fi enabled and have optional 3G/4G. A smartphone isn’t really that smart without the internet!

Installing The myHome App

I was pleasantly surprised by how fast I was able to install and log into the app. I clicked on the Google play icon on my handset, I then searched for ‘myhome’ and third on the list was the app I wanted. I clicked on the app and pressed install and within seconds it had installed. I then ran the app, and it brought up a login screen, very similar to the one that can be seen if you log in to myHome on your PC.

British Gas myHome
British Gas’s myHome log in screen

After I logged in I was presented with a very similar screen to the one I see when I am online. I was able to control the temperature of my heating right this moment. As you can see, I was at work at the time, so the temperature in the house wasn’t set very high, however it had been on earlier in the morning, so the house was still relatively warm.

A screenshot of the myHome dashboard
A screenshot I took of the myHome dashboard once I had logged in to the Android app.

The heating status was set to Auto, as it was following the schedule. It was really easy to change the temperature, which I did by moving the sliding on the right up and down with my finger.

If you click on the thermometer at the top you get a temperature summary – showing you the temperature in your house and outside.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t edit my heating schedule via my Samsung, however I suppose the settings could get a little fiddly on the smaller screen.

If I want to change the schedule, the easiest way is online. That said, it is really easy to change the immediate temperature via smartphone. I am happy with the app, it loads very fast and is well designed. The layout is clean, and easy to use.

Other Features Of The myHome Portal

In previous article I have discussed some of the main features of the myHome online portal, such as being able to see your heating status and the temperature, and being able to set up a schedule for your heating, however there are some other features which are of use.

Under the ACCOUNT heading you are able to change details like your name and email, along with your PIN (the code you have to text when you want to change your heating via SMS) and alerts. I have the system set to alert me via email in the case of a failure of any of the technology and also it will contact me with any warnings that may be relevant, like to let me know the battery on my smart linked thermostat is running low.

As I mentioned in a previous article, it isn’t ideal that my thermostat now needs a battery, that said, it has been running for around 3 months now, and still has 5/5 bars of battery, and if it does start to run low, I will be told in advance of the batteries dying.

If you click on the DEVICES heading, you will be taken to a page displaying all the devices that are currently in your system. On this page I can see my wireless hub and smart linked thermostat. Both are reading status ‘All ok‘ and have full battery and signal strength. My wireless hub is plugged into the mains, to the battery should always read full on that, as the power is mains supply.

Finally, if you click on the HELP heading, you are taken to a screen where there are various guides to help you use the software. If you ever get stuck you can either call British Gas, send them an email, or consult one of their PDF help guides. There is also a link to the app download pages on this page.

British Gas myHome Help and Advice page screenshot
A screenshot of the Help and Advice page in the myHome online portal.

That’s about it for this week.

In two weeks time I will publish the sixth and final article in the series. It will summarise and conclude what I have learnt and shared with you over the last five articles, and I will also give my verdict as to whether the system met my expectations, and whether it is really a technology of the future. See you on the 2nd of November!

Categories
Series Technology

Setting up and testing my heating schedule

This is the 150th article I have posted on Technology Bloggers!

This is the fourth in a series of articles in which I am exploring Remote Heating Control – a technology of the future. Learn more about this series by reading the introductory article, called stepping into the future of smarter living.

In the last few weeks it has been getting colder, and around a week ago, I decided that it was time to put my heating on. I would usually try to hold off until October, however this year, as I now have Remote Heating Control installed, I didn’t think about it in the same way. Why set a date before which you will not turn on your heating? If it is cold in September but warm in October, why not have your heating on in September and off in October?

With Remote Heating Control I can tell my heating to come on only when the temperature in my house drops below a certain level. I know it may sound odd, but I can have my heating scheduled to come on in July if the temperature drops below say 15°C. Is that likely? Probably not, however if it were to happen, I would be able to justify putting my heating on, as it isn’t the time of year that should govern my heating habits, I believe it should be the temperature.

Setting Up A Heating Scheduled

I was now ready to become one of the first people in the country to programme a heating scheduled via the internet!

To set a schedule is really simple. I login to myHome, and on the homepage click the heating box – remember from last time, there are two boxes on the home screen, temperature and heating. This takes you to the schedule screen where you can set your heating schedule.

The schedule is split into four sections, Sleep, Wake, Away and Home. Sleep covers late at night until early morning, Wake covers early morning, Away covers the day, and Home is the evening. These times are obviously just guidelines, and you can use them for whatever you want, but I imagine most people will use Sleep for when they are in bed, Wake for when they get up in the morning, Away for when they go out, be it for leisure, work, school or whatever, and Home for when they return.

That schedule plan worked for me, so I set mine. For the moment, as it isn’t that cold, I decided that at the time of day I want my house the hottest I would have it at 18°C – I don’t mind wearing a jumper, but I don’t want to freeze! That is in the evening and morning, when I wake up and return home. During the day I am out, so I don’t mind the house getting colder so I have set this to 8°C – no point heating empty rooms! Then at night, I want to be comfortable if I get up, however I should be in bed for most of it, so I have set the temperature to 15°C. It will keep the house from going cold but wont waste unnecessary gas.

The image below shows my heating schedule.

Remote Heating Control Simple Schedule - Simple View
My heating schedule

The image above shows the temperatures at which my heating will be triggered. You may notice that there is one schedule for weekdays, and another for the weekend. This is because of a weekend, you are likely to do different things than on a weekday, so you may want your heating different. If your days are all pretty much the same, then setting your heating via the Simple schedule is probably the easiest way. For me however I use the Advanced schedule option (see the blue tab at the top right of the image).

Below is my heating schedule as viewed from the advanced view.

Remote Heating Control Schedule - Advanced
My heating schedule – advanced view

As you can see, throughout the week my heating has slight daily variations. I can only make these changes on the Advanced heating schedule tab. Some noticeable variations are that on Monday morning, my heating comes on a little earlier than the rest of the week. This is because I have to get up slightly earlier. On a Friday and Saturday, my Home period lasts slightly longer, keeping my house warm later into the night, this is because I will usually stay up later on these days. Also on a weekend I am usually in the house all day on Sunday, so during the day my heating is at 18°C.

The brilliant thing about setting a schedule is that I can still change the temperature whenever I like. Say it is Monday and I come home at midday, my heating will only be set to come on if the house temperature drops below 8°C. When I arrive home I want the temperature to be 18°C though. The change is really easy to make, I just get out my phone and text HEAT ON 18 to a number British Gas have given me, and for the duration of that heating cycle (which would be Away) my heating schedule will be overridden and my house will stay at 18°C. When the next cycle (Home) starts, the heating schedule will automatically turn back onto the default temperature for that time.

I could also change the schedule via an app. Both Android and iDevice apps are available, so you can change your heating temperature via any iDevice or Android powered phone with an internet connection.

The heating temperature can also be altered from within my house on the smart linked thermostat, but it is often much more convenient to do it remotely – it means coming home to a warm house!

Hopefully you now understand how the schedule part of British Gas’s Remote Heating Control technology works. I have been using it for around a week now, and it has been really great. I have been getting up and it has been warm, and when I come home of an evening the house is already warm.

I am sure in the weeks to come when it gets colder, I will change the schedule, to make it hotter than 18°C, however at the moment, with the weather like it is seem to be just the right temperature to be comfortable whilst not wasting too much gas.

An interesting and useful tool that the myHome system has is that is tells you the temperature your smart linked thermostat has read in the recent past month. This means you can work out when your heating will have been triggered, and when it wont have because the temperature will have been above the ‘kick in’ level.

I am able to use the temperature history graph (reached by clicking on the temperature box on the homepage) to see what sort of temperature my house has been at recently, and judge against how I have been feeling (e.g. too hot, comfortable, nippy, cold etc.) the temperature it has been, to ensure that I only have my heating come on when I really want it to.

To conclude this article (4/6 in this series) I am really glad to have been asked to be a pioneer in testing the technology, as it is proving very useful at saving my money – we will have to wait for a bill to come through to try to see just how much.

Next Time

The next article in the series will go live on Friday the 19th of October, when we will be well into mid-Autumn, and looking at a 14 day forecast the temperature outside will be around 9°C where I live, so I will surely be using the heating every day, most of the time.

In the next article I will be talking some more about the other resources that are available behind the buttons on the myHome console. I will also be updating you as always on my experience of the system.

Categories
Series Technology

My first impressions of Remote Heating Control

This is the third in a series of articles in which I am exploring Remote Heating Control – a technology of the future. Learn more about this series by reading the introductory article, called stepping into the future of smarter living.

So far in the series, I have introduced Remote Heating Control technology, its capabilities and potential, and discussed the installation process, with specific reference to my installation. In this article I will be sharing with you my experiences and first impressions of using the technology.

Logging In For The First Time

Remote Heating Control really is a technology of the future. Why? How many parts of your home can you currently control via the internet? Probably non. In the future I believe that most of our home will be remotely controllable. Technologies like smart meters and Safe and Secure are all linked to the internet, meaning that you can secure your home or see what electricity you are using remotely. These are two new technologies which will also be making their way into our homes very soon, and are part of the future of smarter living.

So Remote Heating Control is a technology of the future, as you can now control your heating online.

To login to my heating (I know, at first it sounds a little odd and at the same time cool ‘logging in to your heating‘!) I have to go to this URL: https://myhome.britishgas.co.uk

This URL is British Gas’s myHome homepage, which is the portal that I will log into to change/check my heating. It is also the portal you would visit if you have Safe and Secure technology installed at home.

Basically, myHome could soon be where you go to control your homes heating and security.

British Gas myHome
myHome – where I now go to check and change the temperature of my house

I was given a handy User Guide by Nick (the British Gas engineer who installed my technology) which has been very helpful, as it contains practically everything I need to know about remotely controlling my heating. That said, as I am relatively technical and have found that as the interface is so easy to get to grips with, I have rarely had to refer to the User Guide.

After logging in for the first time, like I explained in my previous post, I had to get the devices to find each other. This is usually all done online, so you don’t need to actually change the device setup at all, the portal just connects to your devices and then synchronises them.

In my case it had been a while since my installation before I got round to setting up my online account. This meant that my smart linked thermostat had fallen out of pairing mode, so the hub was unable to find it. British Gas were more than helpful in getting me up and running, and I was given a personal contact (engineer Steve Plumb) who helped me get my system working. Being a techie, I took the initiative to see if I could get the smart linked thermostat homing again myself, by taking the batteries out, and then putting them back in again – hence restarting the device. It worked. I have no doubt that the phone call I had scheduled with Steve would have helped me solve the issue just as fast, but it felt good to solve it myself.

Tutorial

After all my devices were connected, I was presented with a four step tutorial, which explained how to use the technology.

The first step was a quick guide to the SMS control function. It let me know the commands I would need to control my heating when not in the house, or near an internet connection.

The next step gave me a link to download the app (iPhone and Android) that I can use to control my heating via smartphone.

Step three explained the homepage of the console, what everything meant and how I control my heating instantly – i.e. if I decide to make my house hotter/colder than my scheduled plan.

The final step gave me an explanation of how to set up a heating schedule.

Homepage

When I login to myHome, I am now presented with a very interesting screen, which is filled with data and options. At the top of the screen are some navigation links, and then taking centre stage are two main boxes: temperature and heating.

British Gas Remote Heating Control online homepage
myHome homepage – where I control my Remote Heating Control from

The temperature box lets me know the temperature inside my house at the moment (rounded to the nearest degree) along with the weather and temperature outside too. It also shows me the average temperature in my home today, and this week.

If you look at the image above you will see that my home must be pretty well insulated, as I am yet to have the heating on, and despite it being 17°C outside, inside it is a comfortable 19°C. The average temperature for my house today is 19°C, and in the last week it has been 20°C.

The heating box tells me the exact temperature inside my house right now to one decimal place – the same reading on my smart linked thermometer (18.5°C).

If I click on the temperature box it takes me to a page where I can view diagrams of what the temperature in my house was like over the last day, week and month. Very interesting and handy when setting a schedule

If I click on the heating box I am taken to a page where I can set up a day by day heating schedule. The weather seems to be pretty mild (at least where I live) at the moment, so I haven’t yet set up a heating schedule, as I don’t really need my heating on, so more on this next time.

Overall I am very pleased and impressed with my new online heating portal myHome. It is very well designed, is easy on the eye, and makes me heating seem a lot easier to control. I look forward to using the technology in the next week or so as the weather gets colder.

Next Time

In the fourth post in this series (launching on Friday the 5th of October) I will be exploring how remote the technology really is. I will discuss how to set up a schedule, and how easy or difficult I find that, along with how effective my remote commands are at affecting the temperature of my house, whether programmed via text, app, online or smart linked thermostat.