Electric prices

I know the news is boring and miserable as fuck, but it seems what they’ve been going on about is now affecting us which is rather annoying all things considered.

In the finance chat I asked about our latest electricity rates and was told:

Electricity is being charged at £0.52 per kwh as of 01/09/2022, minimum charge £15.

I basically want to see if we can thrash out how we as a community plan to deal with energy prices that have doubled (they were about 0.20/kWh), and could continue to increase.

What can we do to reduce consumption? How do we work out what uses the most power? How can we increase income to cover the rise?

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Hey Cone,

Thanks for raising a discussion around this.

Its on the cards to have a number of the lights in the space on PIR sensors to cover the situation where someone walks in, turns on all the lights and disappears into a single area. Ideal situation would be, those lights that don’t get triggered by the PIR don’t turn on at all (eg lights in metal stay off when a person turns the lights on, but walks into Woody only).

It would make sense to have a low powered light in each area that is not on a PIR sensor and a PIR duration that it short enough to increase efficiency but not annoyingly so. The option of overriding the PIR would be a nice to have if not abused. Certain areas could have locally controlled on/off lights for low movement activities (sewing comes to mind maybe?) edit: though these would still be turned off by the 6 switches near the front doors.

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I think the first step has to be finding out what things use the most energy. For the lights we can pretty much calculate based on rating, but power tools etc. very much depend on how much they’re used. A saw that’s used for several 30s cuts might not actually use much power overall even though it has a high draw. There could be a big difference between different 3d printers depending on efficiency etc.

If we could get one or several tracking plugs and leave them attached for representative periods of time this would help.

Another thing is that depending on the tariff it could be cheaper having an ‘only overnight 3d printing/cnc/laser’ rule etc. I think those types of tools will be the highest draw because they’re on continuously for hours, probably followed by the fridges and the lights. Servers etc. can also obviously draw a lot if there are any around.

It would be useful to know how much overall electricity we’ve used historically, particularly in summer vs winter, so we can get a better idea of what’s coming. Hopefully we have that somewhere in our statements.

I will bring in a plug-in power meter and leave it on the laser cutter for a few weeks so we can figure out its average and standby usage, same for the Mac in visual arts.



Using usage data from 23 June 2020 - 27 July 2020, I have worked out that we use approximately 212 units a week. The cost per unit is going from £0.28 to £0.52 which equates to a cost increase as follows:

£8.50 → £15.75/day.
£59.36 → £110.24/week.
£267 → £496/month.

It looks like we’re on a single tariff and the price we’re getting from Northern matches offcom’s price cap price (so I don’t see any shenanigans here).

My suggestion (previously posted on Telegram but with some editing):

Under the Members Portal → Manage Your Balance, we should introduce a new section for electricity!
Each machine should get a sticker for average power consumption (static number) and another for price/min or price/hour (subject to change over time) which could be set a touch higher in price to account for tool wear. When a person uses a tool, they calculate the usage cost and pay the appropriate amount.

In the case of 3D printers, the slicing software usually gives pretty good estimates for print time so prints don’t need to be timed by the user. The only thing is the heaters aren’t on constantly, they turn on and off to maintain a certain temp, so it’ll need some degree of averaging. In principle, this idea of averaging is applicable to all tools. But a good clamp on current meter or plug in meter (as previously suggested) would give us good numbers for each bit of kit we have in the space.

While I’m on the subject, let’s talk money in/money out.

I’m not aware of a strategy or system in place for dividing money between the different spaces or exactly how things have been run over the many years that the space has existed. Bear that in mind as I continue. If anyone knows of an existing system then please let me know, especially if it has any implications for how we want to move forward.

At the moment we have Snackspace which, assuming everyone is honest and pays, should be making a negligible profit which would go towards paying for the lights and the electric to run the fridges. I would like to see a change to bring in a small reimbursement for the mileage for the person who does the Booker’s runs, but that’s a topic for another thread.

The laser cutter is again supposed to be self-sufficient in that it brings in money which is hoped will cover the cost of an expensive bulb replacement when the time comes. We need better visibility on the total amount of money that it brings in, something I’m hoping some cleaver coding people will volunteer to implement in the near future, so that we can track to what extent the money in covers costs - not just for the bulb, but for electricity and maybe even upgrades too.

If my suggestion in the post above was implemented then every tool in the space would be self-sufficient in terms of running costs.

This would leave member’s monthly contributions (which vary depending on how much people feel they can afford) and how many members we have, which at the moment covers the cost of rent & service charge, consumables (toilet paper, blue roll, bin bags, plus a host of area specific items), having the lights on, paying admin fees like Companies House, GDPR, and so on and so forth.

The amount of money in the bank might seem a lot but for a space of this size, it really isn’t. The timing of moving downstairs to the biggest space we’ve ever had, and Covid hitting, meant we needed support from the government to stay afloat. This should go some way to explaining why we need pledges in order to get new equipment and why tool loans or donations are so valuable. But if the membership continues to rise steadily and if the increased cost of electricity is covered by the people who are using it, then we should start to see a surplus. This is important because it’ll give the space financial security, meaning we can expect the space to exist for many years to come.

A good portion of any surlpus we make should go into savings because one day, we might need to find a new home for the space and that would require a huge contingency fund, but… these changes we’re proposing on how to pay for electricity would mean that membership fees could correctly go towards funding things to better the space.

So I am for the notion of charging for costs at source (paying for the use of a tool at the time it is used) and against the notion of increasing the minimum monthly membership fee for everyone.

My general principle on which I base most of my opinions for Hackspace is we should look to reduce admin and intervention required wherever possible. My dream space would charge only a single membership fee and then everything in the space would be included with no further charge. That doesn’t mean raising the membership fee necessarily, but increasing the membership.

I don’t think charging people per tool used, or for periods of time etc. will work. It’s currently a struggle to get members to clean the table they’ve been working on, let alone log how much time/electricity they’ve been using for each tool and then log onto the members portal and add money to cover this.

I think this system would result in a handful of people who understand/care enough about the system paying their share, and no one else doing so. The only way i could see this working is having prepaid meters wired into tools, and that is not something i would like to see.


Yeah I second Joe - I don’t think nickel-and-dime-ing folk is the way to go.

I recall that most people are under the recommended £25 a month membership, it’s not easy asking for more money any time especially not in the current climate but I think with the right approach, targeting and message we can explain the costs facing the space and some may well be able to chip in a fiver a month extra.

We shouldn’t pester folk quietly paying who don’t frequent the space. We need to find out who is using the space.
An idea I have started is having the door report to the membership system every time someone scans in. This currently happens for the keypad and I’ve already made the necessary change in the software but it needs Bob or Greg to do run Ansible in the space to get the fob system updated to using the updated code - noone else can do this and it’s a bottleneck that will need sorting one day.

Data gathering:
In the database, joining the activity log table with the users table will mean we can group by number of visits over the last month, quarter etc…

Find people who visit more than once or twice and then get their email bcced into a mail merge.

An email saying “dear < member >, we are really glad you’re enjoying hackspace Manchester, and can see you’ve visited the space < N > times in the last month! If you’d like to help keep the space open, we ask anyone who can to meet the £25 recommended membership amount. This is to account for electric costs such as lighting, tools, heating” etc…

I reckon that this targeted approach will help find the balance of getting regular users aware of the costs involved, even if they aren’t active here or telegram, and not pestering everyone for more money which isn’t a good look.

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I like this approach. Personally I am probably in the space every other day, but usually for 10 minutes while i pick up/drop things off, so the stats wouldn’t look good for me.

What I like about your suggestion is that it is a nice prompt without being forceful. It’s enough to make one review if they’re being fair with how much they pay, and whether it is time they increased their dues.

It also means if the people managing the system leave the space then it’s not a massive issue if it stops existing or people run out of time to maintain it. It’s a prompt, not based on a hard and fast rule that someone has to chase up. The space does, and can only run on honesty, we don’t have the person-power to do it any differently.


Good suggestion to gently ask active members to consider paying more. I’d happily support this approach.

Increasing the membership comes with a price however in that we’re nearly out of members storage and large projects is overflowing so let’s just make sure we’ve considered these things before actively trying to drive the numbers up.

It’s a nice idea that everyone pays a single membership fee and everything else is free, but this approach has the potential to be grossly unfair and I’ll try and explain how this could be.

Until we gather data on how much tools cost to run (both in terms of electricity and wear n tear), it’s difficult to make firm decisions on the best direction to take but using the laser cutter as an example. It’s plausible that a person could rack up many hours of usage in a single day and so not hard to imagine someone clocking up 20 hours of usage spread over a month. At the current cost of £5/h, this equates to £100 of usage over the month. And that’s just this tool alone. Even if they pay the recommended monthly amount, they’re costing the space 4x more than what they’re paying.

To ask a lot of other members to increase their monthly membership fees to cover usage like this is not something I can agree with I’m afraid. If the laser cutter were free to use tomorrow, I’d expect its usage to increase massively but we wouldn’t be bringing in any money to pay for that usage. Whereas the opposite is a proven and scalable solution. If the membership doubled, on average the usage of the laser would double but also the income from it would double. If the laser brings in slightly more than what it costs to run, then doubling the usage would mean we could afford upgrades sooner.

Ok, having run some rough ‘back of an envelope’ calculations, leaving all the lights on permanently could cost the space around £50 a month (assuming they’re all LED, which I’m lead to believe is actually the case). Which leaves somewhere around £400-450, prob coming from a few power hungry machines that get used a decent amount in a typical month. So can I ask those members who very kindly offered to bring in clamp on current meters or plug in power meters, to bring them in and gather any data they can for tools around the space?

In addition to this, it would be very interesting to measure the overall power draw of the space and systematically turn everything off, one by one, recording the usage as we go. There might be some surprising results; things we’ve taken for granted that use more power than we thought and are left on permanently (fairy lights, clocks, raspberry pi’s, anything on “standby”, etc). But also, can we account for all the usage? Can we get the overall power draw down to zero? Or might we find out that there’s some other usage, outside of our unit that we shouldn’t be paying for? Careful thought might be needed before doing this though - in case there are any servers or IT infrastructure that shouldn’t be turned off. If we can account for the usage using a clamp on current meter, then it shouldn’t need turning off.

Lastly, there are a number of good reasons to introduce fob activated switches on a number of tools in the space - think of machines that won’t turn on unless your fob is inserted. This system has been discussed at length many times in the past and it offers many benefits, most notably limiting operation to only those that have been inducted. This same system could also be used to monitor when the machine is fired up and sum up how much power has been used, and could be implemented on any machines that require the user to be present to operate. The whole process could be completely automated with running costs automatically being deducted from a users remaining balance. 3D printers, the CNC and anything else that can be left running would need alternative arrangements, so as to not hog a member’s fob for hours.

Your message has multiple points and themes, I’ll address the main ones in turn:

You raise members storage as a reason to pause attracting new members, sadly members storage needs continuous work to audit and enforce as multiple people have taken up multiple spaces. Whether we have ten members or a thousand, it needs constant auditing. This is not a barrier to wishing to expand. Let’s break discussion of that to a separate thread.

You mention members paying a single membership fee and everything else is free. Paying a single membership fee to cover most things is indeed exactly how the space has operated since it started. As it’s not immediately clear in your message, I’ll point out that I’m not expecting people to pay the same amount. I’m asking people to ask themselves if what they’re paying is fair, if they’re under the recommended amount.

I’m also not suggesting that everything else is free. You’ve misinterpreted my words there. Plenty of things like materials are rightly charged for, as they’re taken out of the space and no longer benefit others once used. But tool use is generally included - that’s exactly what the membership fee is for.

The notable single exception is the laser, and this is an exception due to the high cost of the machine, tubes and parts that wear out. There could be scope to reduce this cost and a more efficient pricing structure was temporarily in use with the laser timer. Billing of the laser should be discussed on a separate thread but could be worth discussing.

You indicate that the current setup is unfair. It’s not unfair to give complete access to tools regardless of your membership amount. We have never discriminated based on what people can afford. The point of the space is that those who can pay do, and those who can’t are still welcome. Tools are free at point of use. If you’re arguing the laser should also be free for use, let’s break this out to another thread, it’s an interesting topic and one that will be good to discuss.

Making everything chargeable up front is logistically difficult, as you note, the system has been talked about for years but never happened, it’s also financially not worth it - making the devices costs more than what it is worth in savings. I get the appeal of tools being fon controlled, but this only makes it worth the expense when viewed from a H&S angle, to which the padlocks satisfy the extremely dangerous and misused tools.

We are also a trust based community group and this trust can been eroded from two fronts:
• By consequence of actions - such as people abusing tools and leaving damage and mess
• By intentional choice - such as people not wanting to trust the vast majority to do the right thing

The one thing it seems we can agree on is finding out where the power is going. Understanding power usage and logging this in a spreadsheet would be useful. Watts used can easily be calculated into kWh, and thus unit cost per hour. We can get a picture then of how much things like 3d printers, laser, plantspace, fridges, the lab, etc cost.

At this point we must have a sense of balance - we don’t need to know how long every tool is in use for over a typical week, and we won’t actually achieve anything if it just involves saving milliamps. Just targeting the high level stuff (such as things requiring heat) will be enough. If we obsess over getting to usage 0, all fun and joy of the space will be removed. You’ll also quickly find its undone if what is done is something people value.

The only occasion to try and get to 0 is to check for abstraction of electricity, by turning off the main breakers and noting any power use on the upstairs meter. Otherwise you’ll drive yourself mad and go to extreme lengths for very little actual outcome.

It also sounds like there’s possibly an ideological difference here above all else - the space is and always has been largely a NHS/socialist model, whereas from your message I see a more neoliberal desire to bill people exactly for what they use and not a penny more. From what I gather, you seem to find the idea of paying into the space regardless of metered use unfair, but that’s how we have always operated. We won’t suddenly “solve” our finances by penny pinching for individual tool use.

The model is simple - If you don’t come in much, or don’t value the space so much, pay less. If you are in regularly doing paid projects, you’re expected to chip in more. If you care about the space you’ll pay what you think it’s worth to you and what you can afford. Completely changing how we use tools isn’t the answer. Dealing with heaters, lights, and being aware and transparent of where power goes is all we nees to do.

It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

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Conor, it might be worth re-reading my message in the context of Joe’s comment which was: “My dream space would charge only a single membership fee and then everything in the space would be included with no further charge.”

“penny pinching”? I’m talking about the need to bring in hundreds of pounds per month to cover the rising electric bill.

We don’t currently know how much other tools cost to run, if it turns out that a particular tool costs say £5 an hour to run (electricty + wear n tear, just like the laser cutter) and it’s used for say 5 hours at a time (CNC and lathe can often run for these kinds of durations) then it would be fair to ask the user of that tool to pay for that usage, just like we do with the laser cutter.

I think we need to discuss this in person because it’s clearly very easy to get the wrong end of the stick in a forum environment.

While I understand that comments can be misunderstood, it’s important to keep this discussion on the forum to ensure everyone is kept in the loop as this broadly affects all members. Clarifying statements in person may help that individual understand better but others will still be confused. I think an issue we’re all making here is hypothetical arguments are being made which adds to the confusion.

Fundamentally there are two parts to this discussion. The first is the one we need to really focus on as it would be the main determining factor of how we go about changing the way the space operates.

  1. What is the financial situation/health of the space. Are we making or losing money.
    This is a question that has been asked since before I joined back in Summer 2019 and still is unknown. Until we know this its hard to suggest any changes that the membership will support as without evidence that increasing costs has a benefit or is necessary requirement, members won’t be interested, especially when cost of living at home alone is getting worse.

    If it turns out the space is currently generating more that its spending, then our goals should be to focus on where we can reduce or operating costs including long term as well as attempting to predict our financial situation ‘n’ months away. However, if we’re losing money then the focus should be on ways to boost revenue which leads on to the second point…

  2. How do we increase income in a fair and sensible manner, while not impacting the ethos of what the space is and means to the community.
    The suggestion to email members who use the space frequently I think is a good first step approach as its passive and automated once setup. I think raising the minimum fee from the current £12.50 to at least £15 and contacting all members currently below it to match it would be another option most members would support as it wouldn’t change our method of operation and is again passive. Our current recommended membership that we ask people to match is £25, of which only 9% (22 members) pay according to the membership poral.

    I would like to also note here that part of the space’s community principles is that money shouldn’t be a barrier to entry. Like Conor mentioned, we ask that those who can pay to do so, but for those who can’t afford the minimum, we (the Board) should be open to finding solutions and helping people access the space.

Power Monitoring

Firstly have the suggestions of attaching power meters begun? If so, where are records kept if they’re being done publicly? As someone who uses the space frequently on weekends, I wouldn’t mind measuring usage of tools/equipment while I’m in.

I know that our main distribution board in Visual Arts can report out our usage, however it takes some setup and I think a qualified electrician to get it working. If we could get this running it would be really helpful as the reading would be automated and not rely on members to manually record usage.

Adding a note of how much power each tool uses to the posters might be helpful. I just expect it to be largely ignored by members including myself if the intent is to use it to workout usage cost. I think Joe is right about only a handful would actually follow it and they’d likely only do so until they realised others weren’t and then stop.

PIR Lighting

This on paper sounds like a good idea but would need the electricians to advise on the benefit as the cost to implement may outweigh it. I often find the lights in Welding have been left on as they aren’t connected to metalwork, and I expect that if more lights were done this way it would become a more common occurrence.

Other factors such as safety would likely need to be addressed for this as well.

Charging at Point Of Use

We discussed this in person today Frank and I mentioned that I’ve been conscious of the fact I suggested that Woodwork didn’t having its own income stream like Visual Arts has with the laser and printers, when what I missed was that workshop areas like Woody generate revenue simply by being available as part of the Hackspace. As such membership fees from those who join just for Woody is what generates the income for maintaining that workshop. The hard part would be differentiating the groups of people who only join for specific interests and allocating their funds accordingly.

Each tool needs to be considered individually with many aspects of its typical usage, operational lifespan / maintenance requirements considered. The argument of “we charge for that so we should for this too” doesn’t really work. Each tool would need a strong argument will all the facts and data to show that charging at point of use is necessary.

I understand that this model is ideal for making the finances of the space ‘fair’ to each member, but it unfortunately adds a massive barrier to members who can’t afford to pay this way and would massively disrupt the culture of the space. Like Conor mentions, the Laser has been an exception because it’s an expensive machine, while the rest of the space follows a more socialist model.

Additionally, this method requires a lot of admin. Using the laser as an example. It’s been echoed that the machine is generating more income than it costs, but to prove that the following is required:

  • Usage logs of time & potentially laser power to determine bulb lifespan
  • Income specifically for laser use separated from other income such as laser materials & snackspace. This would include tracking member credit/debit amounts
  • Maintenance & consumable costs
  • Cost to upgrade/replace machine at end of life

I doubt any of these are done to the level they should be as its a lot of work for someone to volunteer, but if it was then it could allow us the ability to reflect on the costs and determine whether they are suitable

I’d also add that if the space did charge at point of use for more tools, the amount of work I and others do for the space would decrease, even if a system to be reimbursed for it was available. I avoid the laser cutter for this very reason as I try to keep the cost of these projects at a minimum.

Tool Fob Requirements

I’m personally in favour of requiring fobs for turning on tools from the primary point of ensuing only trained members can use them. If the ability to use it to track and pay for usage on tools that require it was made available, I’d support that as well. For now the padlocks have proven effective so I don’t see the Fob system being implemented any time soon.

Members Storage

I think this is probably best separated into its own discussion but to add my own points, I don’t think storage space is an issue. Members storage has always been first come first serve and prior to our current shelving system, some spaces were much larger than others. Currently we have several members using more than their allocated half a shelf allowance and this will need to stop. It wouldn’t regain us many spaces but is necessary to keep things fair. It takes a few members putting in the effort to audit and police which isn’t pleasant or enjoyable so doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. When we do runout, I’d suggest setting up a waiting list on the membership page that notifies when a space becomes available after a member leaves, as the way forward.

We do have several shelves left over so we can expand if we want to, however given how valuable floor space is I’d be reluctant to lose any more to storage. I’d like to point out that some spaces around the country don’t even offer members storage let alone a space for large projects.

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To answer your question about power monitoring: the laser cutter has had a power monitor installed since 27th August. We have measured instantaneous power at idle and while cutting, and also are currently measuring overall energy usage over a longer period. The data at the moment suggest that a lot of the power used is its standby power, and adding an easily accessible power switch for the main laser seems like a worthwhile measure. I intend to make the records public in due course.