January 25, 2008
With New Years day already fading into the distance, many of you may have hammered out some resolutions. Maybe you are with the millions each year who decide to go on a diet, join gyms, and try and live a healthier lifestyle. Maybe you are cutting expenses as the economy looks a bit un-sturdy. Possibly your goals are a bit greener; to reduce your carbon footprint, help clear the air, or maybe to reduce your dependence on the grid. Whatever your goals, the odds are against you if you don’t have meaningful feedback on your progress.
I’m not trying to sound dismal, but if you were to graph out gym memberships for a given year, you would see a strong spike in January and February and a steady decline for the remainder of the year. People just quit going. Some might say they are lazy or suffer injury and need to stop, but I would propose that most stop going to the gym due to a lack of accurate and meaningful feedback and possibly an unrealistic goal to begin with. When measurable results don’t come on their time table, their resolve is weakened, day after day, until they no longer strive for that goal. Sure they still want to achieve it, but they begin to think that the goal is out of reach.
Putting your lifestyle on a diet also can be met with meager results if you don’t have goals, a good plan, and the tools to monitor progress. To that end, Watthackers has compiled the following list of devices that covers the gamut of energy monitoring in home applications. Most of the devices reviewed are designed to be added an existing electrical circuit to monitor the consumption an individual device or the whole house. No matter the device, each one succeeds in raising the awareness to power consumption in the home.
Each of the following products are reviewed and displayed in no particular order. Moreover, none of the devices reviewed are sponsors of this site. This review is purely my unbiased opinion based on information available about the devices which I reviewed in pursuit of the ideal device(s) for our home. My hope is that this summary will prove to be a useful collection of information for those of you on a similar quest to control personal energy use.
1. TED (The Energy Detective)
The Energy Detective, or TED for short is a simple and effective device for monitoring home power use. Inductive pickups are easily installed in the electrical panel without the need to disconnect power and hire an electrician. Simply locate the two service lines coming into your 100/200 amp breakers, and clamp the two inductive pickups around each of these wires. The wireless transmitter will then start broadcasting your energy usage to a remote digital display.
You can also use this device to monitor individual circuits and loads. I have requested specifications on how small a load can be measured accurately with this device. At the time of publishing, I have not heard back for the manufacturer, but will update the article in the event that I do.
Another nice thing about TED is that it accommodates almost all billing structures, including any combination of Time-of-Use (off-peak, mid-peak, peak, critical-peak), up to 5 tiers, Summer/Winter, fixed charge, energy surcharges, and taxes. This allows you to closely replicate your electricity bill from month to month
TED has built-in alarms to alert you to high energy use or to keep energy costs below a monthly budget. But maybe more interesting is the ability to plug the device into a computer via usb and download all your usage data to their data logging software called Footprints ($45). This is a nice feature if you like to see a lot of detail about your usage.
The Meter Reader is a lot like TED. It’s primarily designed to be a whole house monitor, but can be used to monitor individual circuits. It can measure both 120/240 circuits as well. Installation is performed by installing two magnetic pickup clips over the main service wires. These clips are then wired directly to the display, which limits where you can monitor usage.
It does have a neat feature in that it will attempt to predict your next power bill based on average use. However, for the money I would suggest looking at some of the other devices in this list before purchasing.
Brace yourself, this one is going to get a little technical. The Smart Works line of power monitors is a bit unconventional in this line-up in that they are aimed more towards the data center community than the home market. The Smart-Watt is an in-line watt meter that connects to a network via an Ethernet cable. Live monitoring is done via Plug and Play Host software which can automatically discover and configure newly connected Smart-Watts making installation effortless. Multiple Smart watt devices can be daisy-chained together to create a network of monitors.
If you are in the process of building a house, developing rentals where you need to monitor multiple fuse boxes, or possibly want to remotely monitor the output of a solar panel installation on your cabin, you may want to take a look at the Smart-PDU. Smart-PDU accurately meters power and energy usage on individual branch circuits of your Power Distribution Unit (PDU) or fuse box. The Smart-PDU is designed to be scalable with modular BladeMeters that measure load for a pair of circuits. This voltage input along with current information provided by split-core current transformers installed on each circuit is continuously monitored by the BladeMeter to accurately determine the cumulative energy usage and power load for each circuit. The Smart-PDU cabinet supports up to 21 BladeMeters so you can configure Smart-PDU to meter between 2 and 42 branch circuits in two circuit increments. For large installations, multiple Smart-PDU cabinets can be daisy-chained together to form a larger monitor network. Probably more that any home user may need, but it’s nice to know the option is there.
Finally, the Smart-Net device is designed to pull it all together and form a network accessible collection of your Smart-Watt and Smart-PDU devices. Each Smart-Watt is equipped with a unique device ID that identifies it on the Smart-Net network. As you add Smart-Watts to your network the host software can automatically discover each device and read its Unique Device ID, User ID, Model Number, Rated Amperage, Rated Voltage, Watt-Hour Reading, Power-Cycle Reading and other device specific data. Smart-Nets’ daisy-chain architecture supports connecting to multiple Smart-Watts from a single Serial Port, USB Port or IP Address. This greatly simplifies setup. A Smart-Net Gateway is a network appliance that provides a bridge between a Smart-Net (group of daisy-chained Smart-Watts) and your TCP/IP network. By connecting a Smart-Net Gateway to a single static IP address you can connect across your TCP/IP network to a group of Smart-Watts and manage them with the services it provides.
The folks over at P3 International make the device that may do more good for the environment than all the others combined. Not because it’s better than the rest, but because it’s so affordable that just about everyone should get one. Average retail is around forty bucks, but regularly you can find them in online sales for half that much. At those prices, it will pay for itself many times over.
The Kill a Watt is designed to plug directly into an outlet, then the device you want to monitor (toaster, tv, microwave, etc.) plugs into the Kill a Watt. Forget about it for a day or two and then come back to see your treasure of data.
The Large LCD display shows consumption by the Kilowatt-hour, same as your local utility. You can calculate your electrical expenses by the day, week, month, even an entire year. Also check the quality of your power by monitoring Voltage, Line Frequency, and Power Factor. Now you´ll know when it’s time to replace that old air conditioner.
The down side to the Kill a Watt is that you will need to do some basic math to arrive at cost of energy consumed. Moreover you will need to do those calculations while the device is still plugged in since the Kill a Watt lacks an internal battery. If you are a data geek and want lots of feedback on how you are doing with your power project, you should be looking at a data logging capable device like TED or Watts Up PRO, but pick one of these up when they go on sale. You will find a use for it, I promise.
One of the more feature rich “Plug Load” meters, the Watts Up Pro is hailed as their best selling model according to manufacturer Electronic Educational Devices who is based in Denver Colorado. These units have been in the marketplace since 1992 and have undergone many improvements over the years. What makes the Watts Up? PRO so unique is the data logging feature that can be downloaded to a computer via the usb or serial cable and their custom software. How deep you dig into the data is up to you, but it’s nice to have the level of detail and the ability to save the results over the long term. It records all the data as fast as once per second so you can see the load profile as it changes over the course of a day, week , or any time frame desired. The software automatically graphs all the data and includes an integrated analysis tool, called the Payback Calculator, which automatically calculates the time required for a new energy efficient appliance to pay for itself. Monthly savings are calculated, and they are compared to the purchase price of the new appliance.
The Watts Up? PRO model retails for $130 – 145 depending on your source and comes with needed software and a USB cable (same type as for digital cameras) to download the data directly to a PC. They also sell a basic model without the PC connectivity, but with a retail of $95.95, I don’t think the savings is enough not to step up to the Pro. If you like the Cadillac version, there is one that also connects to the Internet to allow for remote monitoring and power switching. At $235.95, it’s not for everyone, but could be a great addition to a second home.
About the size of a small electric clock, the PowerCost Monitor (PCM) is a real-time direct feedback display device for domestic energy consumers. It tells them at a glance, in real-time, how much electricity their home is using in dollars and cents and in kW.
The PowerCost Monitor consists of two components:
There have been some reports that weather, dust, or other debris can affect the accuracy of the sensor, so the cost of having a whole house meter that is so easy to install is that you may need to clean it from time to time and install batteries. Personally I think the display of the PCM is one of the nicest.
The Centameter is a wireless real-time electricity monitor for the home that displays real-time electricity usage in cents/hour and kW. What’s unique about this power meter is that it also displays greenhouse gas emissions in kg/hour. It displays the cost of electricity being used on a wireless, easy to read LCD monitor inside your home. here’s a rundown of the specs:
If you are less geek and more chic, the wattson should get your attention. With both numbers and soft glowing colors, wattson shows you how much electricity your home is using at any given moment. Colored mood light, which breathes and pulses, changing color when you alter how much electricity you use; Cool blue for small amounts of electricity being used; warning red for high energy consumption.
Information from a transmitter attached to your electricity meter or fuse box is beamed directly to your wattson which instantly displays your current usage. Wattson can also store up to 4 weeks of energy-use history which can be downloaded to your computer and viewed using software available from their website.
If we lost you with the Smart Works products, you will love wattson which is really easy to install and even easier to use (the instructions are completely free of techno-babble.) Wattson can now show energy use in Euros, Dollars, Stirling and Yen as well as Pounds, making it a truly international product. It can also measure single and 3 phase systems, making it suitable for large houses and even small businesses.
If you live in New York City, the Home Joule is for you! Consumer Powerline currently offers both Demand Response Event Notification and Peak Load Advisory Notification to all current New York City residents and businesses. They help ensure reliable supplies of power from the grid to consumers by broadcasting ways they can reduce kW usage at particularly critical times-when demand is unusually high and supply dangerously short.
Customers who commit to reduce demand when the electric grid is under stress receive cash payments for this commitment. Energy prices change hour by hour. Depending on the billing plan you are on, you may be paying drastically different rates at different times of the day, during different seasons. When is the grid under stress? When are your rates highest? When are they lowest? And when will you best contribute to the reliability of the grid and improving the environment?
Home Joule is a state-of-the-art energy data display device that tells you how the price of electricity is changing, hour by hour. Welcome to a community making informed decisions about energy use. These decisions are cost-effective, environmentally sound, and helpful to maintaining a reliable supply of clean electricity to you and your neighbors.
Green Switch is a line of replacement home electrical devices that are aimed at cutting phantom loads. When installed, the Green Switch devices form a wireless network that respond to a Master “green” switch. When exiting the home, the last one out simply switches the GreenSwitch to the off position. A wireless signal is sent to all of the GreenSwitch slave components such as wall plugs, light switches, and thermostat. Designated light switches and wall plugs will automatically turn off. The home’s Air Conditioning/Heating System is automatically set to the unoccupied mode allowing for more energy efficient operating temperature range (set points). Upon returning to the home, simply flip the GreenSwitch to the on position and the wall plugs and air conditioning/heating systems will return to normal modes. Light switches may be operated manually as needed for continued savings.
The system is completely wireless and may be retrofitted in an existing home or added during new construction. GreenSwitchTMcan even control out buildings and barns over 100 yards away. A perfect solution for those detached garages or shops. the starter kit is a bit pricey, but the convenience of being able to shut off all your loads at once is certainly worth something. Check out their website and take a look at their online video which explains the process.
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Tags: electrical circuit, energy monitoring, Green switch, Home joule, how do I reduce my power bill, power consumption, Reduce Power Bill, save energy, TED, The Energy Detective, Watt Meter, Watt Tester, Wattson, whole home energy, whole home power, whole house energy, whole house power
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