Blog: Big Brother’s watching… And you’ve left the lights on!

You finally get home after a long day’s slog, gratefully slump in the sofa with a cup of tea and put your feet up for a few blissful moments. The […]

Register now!

By Vicky Ellis

You finally get home after a long day’s slog, gratefully slump in the sofa with a cup of tea and put your feet up for a few blissful moments.

The television crackles to life sinisterly: “This is Big Brother calling, are you watching?” You spill your hot tea in shock – oh no, you think, what have you done this time.

An angry face on the TV screen screeches, “You left the bedroom lights on all day! That’s an extra ten pounds of tax for you. Don’t do it again or we’ll cut the hot water off halfway through your morning shower.”

Unlikely? Perhaps…perhaps not…Over the weekend the tabloids railed with headlines packed with Big Brother (Orwell’s version, not the cheap reality TV show) hysteria at the National Grid’s plans to hook up to British fridges and freezers, with power to turn them off when the grid is overloaded.

Is that an outrageous imposition on our privacy, a breach of personal space? Ultimate big corporation/state control?

Well how bad is it? We already voluntarily share huge amounts of personal information about ourselves online, whether it’s our social indiscretions on Facebook or bank details and buying habits through email accounts and shopping sites. We let other firms do things automatically on our behalf, like paying bills with direct debit or magazine and TV subscriptions.

So what’s wrong with handing over a tiny bit of control over something which won’t significantly affect us?

This fear is a precursor of concerns over the safety of our energy data when the UK’s 14 million homes and businesses get smart meters by 2019. Perhaps the idea of someone or some machine having a hand in our homes is a step too far for us too deal with.

In reality, the National Grid says it will only ever turn off the appliances it will be connected to for a matter of seconds and this process will be automated. In my humble opinion, what’s the big deal? As long as we make sure there’s no way for this power to be abused, conceding the National Grid a teensy bit of control is only going to benefit us – cutting the country’s energy use and avoiding the need for more big power stations. We’re not exactly likely to have a Machiavellian energy manager sadistically tampering with the homes of colleagues or enemies who have annoyed them.

No matter how much I bet that idea appeals to the budding energy dictators who read ELN…