I got the Owl because my local authority, the London Borough of Southwark would like us all to save energy. Southwark was by one measure in 2005 the 19th most deprived borough in the England. It is one of the places in the UK where people spend a relatively high proportion of their income on heating.
Politicians are driven by, the possibility of being voted out. One of the tactics to avoid this is to give people money. In UK General Elections up to 1997, this manifested itself by cuts in the rate the Bank of England charged the companies that lend mortgages on houses. Local authorities don't have that kind of power, but they can tap into centrally funded projects that save people money, and give them things. Savvy residents look for freebies and batten on hard. Which is what we've done. So because I live in Southwark and Southwark wants us all to spend less on energy we get, help with loft insulation, radiator panels, highly efficient fluorescent light bulbs, heavy-duty balloons to shove up one of our unused chimneys, and the Owl .
The Owl monitors your instantaneous use of power. It clips onto the electricity supply near the fuse box and transmits the power you're using to a separate display, which updates about once every10 seconds through the day.
The Owl is both fascinating and terrifying. You turn on an old-fashioned light bulb and the number goes up a bit, you make a piece of toast and the number goes up considerably, you decide to tumble-dry some clothes. A cup of tea will not in this situation steady your nerves because using an electric kettle makes the numbers on your Owl blur. Don't roast a chicken, bake a cake, boil potatoes and peas on different rings and look at the Owl. It is hard to believe that aluminium smelters could use as much energy.
Is the Owl affecting life at home? Yes it is, we turn lights out, we close doors, we huddle closer to our newly reflecting radiators during the coldest UK winter since 1963. One of us has even put on a woollen sweater, and filled up some draughty cracks. We are learning too, the Owl may be scary, but the Owl is our friend.