Brendan Gill of Plentyways contributed the following post to Green Talk about the benefit of Energy Monitors to reduce your energy consumption. I asked him to write about this topic since I, myself, grapple at which monitors to use.
The idea behind energy monitors is that you measure and graph the total amount of electricity that your home is using. The problem today is that utility bills are too far removed from the actual appliances using electricity. When we receive a bill for $200, we don’t know how much of that is down to the washing machine or the kettle, or what strategies would most effectively reduce our energy usage. However, with an energy monitor we can view in realtime how much electricity we are using and learn about the energy use of individual appliances also.
With this knowledge it makes it a lot easier to start to reduce your energy usage. Using an energy monitor you will notice huge peaks when you run the dishwasher, for example, so you will quickly realize that it is a good idea to minimize its use and decide not to run when it is half empty. Indeed a recent study from the University of Oxford found that the mere presence of an energy monitor had the effect of reducing people’s energy usage by 5-15% on average simply because people became more aware of the amount of energy they were using. In short: using an energy monitor will save you money and help the environment.
So, what options are available?
Energy Monitor Devices
The most common energy monitor devices are physical units that work by placing some kind of clip around the main electricity line as it feeds into your home energy meter. Don’t worry, it’s not an electrical connection it simply cradles the wire and measures the magnetic field. However, it is a good idea to read the instructions thoroughly and use an electrician if you have any doubts. The device can then tell how much electricity is being used in your home at any time. Most good energy monitors will come with a wireless, handheld device which you can place anywhere in your home and it will display key stats such as current electricity usage, average for the day and average for the week etc. Usually you can enter the amount you page for each unit of electricity (find this on a recent utility bill) and it will calculate how much your current energy use is costing you. Many will come with software so that you can create graphs and investigate the data in more detail. Examples of these are Onzo and TED. They can cost around $200 but you are likely to recoup this money through reduced electricity bills within a few months.
Plug Load Monitors
These are similar energy monitoring devices but the difference is that they will just monitor the electricity used by a single electrical output as opposed to your whole house. They will sit in between a plug and a socket and display the current amount of electricity being drawn through that socket. The advantage of these is that you can get a direct, accurate reading of individual appliances. Using a whole home energy monitor to measure an individual appliance can be tricky unless the appliance creates a very distinct peak when you switch it on, so individual appliance monitors are useful. They start at around $25 (e.g. Kill A Watt) so can also be a much cheaper route.)
Smart Meters and Energy Dashboards
Part of the reason that energy companies don’t offer you a detailed breakdown of your energy usage is because they actually have difficulty accessing that data. However, there is currently a trend to what is known as the ‘smart grid’ where energy companies have the ability to track in real time the energy being fed into your home. This enables them to provide customers with a dashboard that displays detailed real time energy usage data, usually via a website. The result is similar to the home energy monitors we talked about above except that in order to use them the consumer doesn’t have to install any devices as the data collection is all handled by the smart grid. Although few electricity providers are set up to provide this service at present there is a definite trend towards this.
Example of data generated from the Google PowerMeter software.
Google have recently got into this game with its new PowerMeter software. It is partnering with energy companies to provide an energy dashboard for consumers. If the energy company can move to the ‘smart grid’, Google will provide the software that allows you to view your real time energy usage data and even access this from your mobile phone. At the moment it is only available with these select energy companies, but look out for PowerMeter in the future. Knowing Google, there will be some very special features. If you can’t wait, then you can get a Google PowerMeter if you purchase the TED 5000 energy monitoring device, which integrates with Google’s software.
Readers, I have really enjoyed reading Plentyways’ blog and encourage you to visit it. If it wasn’t for Brendan, I would never have learned about the GooglePower Meter. Also, while you are visiting the blog, pop over to see what they are selling on their e-green-commerce site. There are “Plenty ways” to be green!