Knowledge is (conserving) power.

It’s proven that when people can see how much energy they’re using–or money they’re spending–at a given time, they tend to conserve.

Drivers who have a miles per gallon gauge in their car often drive more conservatively… learning through practice the techniques that get that number UP: stopping and starting more slowly, rolling down their windows instead of using the a/c, not exceeding the highway speed limits, keeping their tires properly inflated…

Mother Jones has a fascinating article about a guy who can get 59 mpg in an old accord. In a competition with some other “hypermilers” he averaged 180.91 mpg in a Honda Insight (it’s a hybrid) on a 20 mile course through town!

But what about energy in your home? Well, a few companies have rolled out products that help you see your electricity usage in real time. These fall into two general buckets:

  1. Readers like Kill a Watt that tell you the amount of energy individual appliances use. These help you find out the electricity hogs in your house–surprising things like coffee makers that suck up huge amounts of energy when left on–and hopefully get you to think about powering down things when you don’t need them.
  2. Meters that track the electricity use of the whole house, by reading your meter. There are a few of these out now: The Wattson, the Electrisave (sold in the U.S. as the Cent-a-meter) and the Powercost Monitor.

Each of these has slightly different pros and cons, as far as I can tell.

The Wattson has a unique feature that allows you to connect it to your computer to archive your energy usage. The company also has an online community of users who trade tips and such. The downside, however, is that it is sold in the UK for £350 pounds and has to be specially ordered for the United States.

The Electrisave (Cent-a-meter) seems to have the most features. It tells you your current energy usage in kilowatts, the real-time cost, your accumulated usage and costs, the temperature and humidity outside, plus it estimates your greenhouse gas emissions. Very cool. The downside, at least here in the U.S., is that you need to hire a licensed technician to install it and make sure that your utility company approves.powercost monitor

The PowerCost monitor seems to be the easiest, and cheapest to use (though at $150, it’s still a little pricey). I just helped my father install one and it took us only about 20 minutes. According to the company’s research, using their product saves consumers 10-20%–simply because it delivers real time information in dollars and cents. And I think my father would attest that it’s already done him some good. Together we tested turning on and off his lights and powering up certain appliances, and were able to see within minutes the impact. He reset the monitor when he went to bed in order to track how much energy his outdoor and nightime lights used. Pardon the pun, but it was illuminating.

Now, here’s what I’d love to see: A product that allows you to determine the electrical usage of independent appliances as well as the entire home, and combines all this information in a program you can install on your computer (or, better yet, access through the web). Think of it as a combination of the best features of the products that are currently out there, plus the added software component.

The product would come with four components:

  • The reader which you fasten around your home’s electrical meter. This is connected to your monitor wirelessly.
  • The monitor, which shows you your real time electricity use in kilowatt hours, dollars, and greenhouse gas emissions, and the cumulative total of each. The monitor would connect to your personal computer through a USB cable.
  • The appliance meter, which also connects with the monitor wirelessly and is able to transmit the real-time and cumulative usage of the appliance to which it’s currently plugged in.
  • The software, which tabulates all of the data collected from each appliance and the electricity meter to present the most accurate real-time and over-time picture of your individual home electricity usage and climate impact. With this data, the program can provide you with a far more accurate picture of how much energy you are using at a given hour, in a given room, by a given appliance, etc. and give you recommendations for changes you could make. You could set targets for how much money you want to spend, how many greenhouse gases you’re willing to emit, etc. and the program would give you alerts when you exceed that threshold. There are a bunch of other uses—many of which would work very nicely with the tools we’re envisioning for—but you get the idea…

So, who’s gonna build it?


2 thoughts on “Knowledge is (conserving) power.

  1. Pingback: UK to give away free home energy monitors. « Climate Changers

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