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Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Meter matters

Two real-life examples of why meters are your friend and reading them is a good idea.

1. "Where did our water go?"

We've had a lot of rain this month. Following a two month stretch during which a total of 26mm fell at our place, we had over 220mm in just five days. That's enough to fill our tanks four times over. With no room for more water, I decided to let any further showers flush out the internal dirty water diverters and opened up the valves. Then promptly forgot about it.

It rained twice more in the following three days: falls of just a few mm but enough that I expected to see the new inflows make up for the water we'd pumped out for the laundry and toilet. But for some reason the gauge didn't go up. In fact it was heading downwards at a surprising rate - around 10cm (800L) in two days. I figured we must have been catching up on a lot of washing.

Two days later we were down another 800L. Something finally triggered my memory - the diverter valves were open! I suddenly recalled that the internal hose which allows the diverter to drain to the outside is not watertight, which means that water from the main chamber can slowly leak out when the drain valve is opened. We must have wasted well over a thousand litres this way.

If I hadn't put a gauge on the tanks and made a habit of checking it, we'd have lost half our supply (the valves are about halfway up the tank wall) within a few more days.

2. "The bill is for how much?!"

A week ago as I sat here working in my home office I noticed somebody briefly inspecting our electrical meter box. "Ah," I thought, "our quarterly electricity bill will be turning up soon." Well turn up it certainly did!

With all that rainy weather I mentioned just before, we had to use the electric booster on our hot water system for a couple of days. Imagine my surprise when the total bill came in at well over twice what I'd been expecting, with an off peak consumption for the quarter of one thousand, five hundred and twenty six kilowatt-hours! The charge for that was almost as much as I'd budgeted for the whole bill.

I hadn't read the meters since a few days before it rained, so I rushed out to check them. After sitting on 90615.3 for about eight months, the off-peak meter today reads... 90638.1. A grand total of 22.8kWh difference.

That's actually more than I'd been hoping to see given how little we used the booster, but it's rather insignificant compared to the matter of the invoice. The meter for the constant supply had also been recorded incorrectly - even today, a week after the reading, I'm still 157kWh short of what they're claiming. It'll take us another 20 days to reach that point.

The lady on the phone conceded that it was a bit odd to have such a spike, although for some reason this bill is recorded as being an "estimated" value. She spent a long time conferring with a supervisor before agreeing that the meter should be re-read. The soonest they could get somebody here would be the 20th (I told them not to rush on my account - I'm in no hurry to get a bill). And she made it sound like she was doing me a favour not charging me the customary $24 fee for a repeat reading (like hell I'm going to pay for them to fix their screw-up).

Ah well, I probably won't be paying too many more bills to that company anyway. I was already looking into switching retailers to get a better rate for the energy my PV panels will produce - 20c instead of 14c per kWh. And once that gear's installed you can bet I'll be watching the new meter closely indeed.

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