Buzz Off: The Problem With British Gas’ Hive

I am sure everyone has seen the British Gas Hive adverts by now. Indeed they seem to be on every quarter of an hour. Even when you walk away from the TV during an intermission you can hear the nonsensical happy-go-lucky jingle following you down the hallway.

“So why aren’t you surfing on a cab, going to visit your mad Dad, or shopping for some trousers, when it starts snowing on your schnauzers, while Hive is busy controlling your heating at home”. The questionable lyrical content of the advert is not the only bone I have to pick with British Gas’ Hive.

The adverts song has no doubt proved a hit with children and anyone who is a fan of the Black Eyed Peas, racking up almost half a million plays on Youtube in the last month. But if we put aside the Eurovision-esque quality of the song, we are left with the message it is trying to deliver. A message that few seem to be concerned about.

In an age of new innovations, greater technology and lazier people, the world welcomes advances and creations that make our own lives that bit easier. I don’t doubt that a remote control was a good idea, so too a microwave, a shower too uses less water than a bath and is quicker. But when do our needs and desires for an easier, more comfortable life go too far? Where do we draw the line?

Essentially Hive is an application on a phone or tablet that allows you to control your heating and water from wherever you are. As the advert suggests, you could be driving down the M4 coming home from a hard days work and you want to step in to a warm house, so you switch the heating on as you’re overtaking that annoying orange Land Rover Defender. Or you could be jogging in the rain and want to have warm radiators to dry your clothes on when you return, so you pop out your phone and use the app.

It all seems pretty straight forward and pretty useful, but aren’t we all missing the point a little. The point is that we are turning the heating on in our homes when we are not even in them.  Until we step in through that door our action has no impact, and no effect on ourselves at all. The only difference it is making is that it raises our gas bill – costing us more money – and further lowering the dwindling amount of gas reserves in the world.

I don’t see why people feel it is so torturous to walk in their front door, think to themselves, “its a little nippy in here”, leave their coat on for five more minutes, turn the heating on themselves, with their own human hand, and wait a very short while until the house warms up. How long would you have to wait? Five minutes? Ten minutes maximum? Has it got to the point whereby we can’t wait that long? Whereby we are so desperate for instant comfort and instant pleasure that turning the heating on in our own homes has become too much of a chore.

It is an entirely unnecessary task. I mean, lets look at cars, we know that it takes a short time for the engine of a car to warm up, but we do not demand an app that allows us to remotely turn our cars engines on. We don’t think to ourselves “may pop down the shop in ten minutes, better turn the car on”. We don’t do that because it is stupid, it burns unnecessary petrol and within a few minutes of actually driving the car the engine will have warmed up anyway.

According to Carbonbrief.orgthe UK is producing less and less energy itself and its reliance on imports is increasing. “Between 2009 and the end of 2012… [this] rose by 7.1 per cent a year”. It is a dangerous position to be in when you have to rely on other nations to heat the homes of your own people. Not only are we almost entirely dependent on gas from abroad, we are also at the mercy of international prices. Whatever the price reaches the likelihood is that we will pay it because we have no alternatives. Like the UK, Norway gets much of its gas from the North Sea, and unlike the UK, Norway has been incredibly smart with the money from the extraction. Adittya Chakrabortty wrote in the Guardian about how Norwegians have been setting money aside to provide for future generations, whereas the UK has seen “£450bn” slip away.

Setting aside the argument for self-reliance, and ignoring all environmental effects of an increased gas usage, the most obvious effect Hive will have will surely be on your bank balance. I must admit that I don’t know the intricate in’s and out’s of household heating but any new innovation that allows you to turn on the heating before you even get home, must surely cost you more money. If I did not have Hive I would have to wait until I got home to turn my heating on or up, but with Hive I do it before I get home. Therefore it follows that when I have Hive the heating will be on more often than if I don’t have it, costing me more money.

I have read a number of reviews online and all of them state that Hive will actually save the user money, but none of them have shown how and where. The closest I got to finding one was here, and they said “We’ll report back in six months, when the most expensive part of the year has blown through”. British Gas say that Hive can help you “save up to £150 a year on your energy bill”, which is not a definite promise of money saving, and it is coming from the business that is selling the product, so obviously they will say it will save you money. Moneysavingexpert have had questions running on Hive for quite some time and the users there don’t seem overly fond of it either.

Call me cynical, but I have my doubts when a business making £571 million profit advertises a product such as Hive. Nothing is designed to save the customer money because if this were so the business would make smaller profits. And nobody wants that to happen. £571 million is just not enough these days. That is why in October of last year, just a few months before introducing Hive, “British Gas announced an average increase of 9.2% in household energy bills”. A Guardian article in November 2013 stated that energy prices are rising “up to eight times higher than increases in average weekly earnings” and British Gas is the worst of the big six energy companies. From October 2010 to October 2013 their prices increased by 42%.

The only way that I can see Hive saving people money is if you have it installed and you leave the house empty, forgetting to turn the heating off. Then you are able to turn it off using the app on your phone. Hive costs £199 to buy and have installed but for a fraction of that price I could sell you a wonderfully designed post-it with the words “TURN THE HEATING OFF”. You can stick this to the inside of your front door and save yourself a ton a money on your energy bills. And I don’t even need an awful advert and terrible song to sell it to you.

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