Back in engineering school, one of my professors was fond of saying ‘You Get What You Measure’. What he meant was, if you measure and track it, you will make progress. This is definitely true in industry, where we track our utility usage in great detail, always looking for an opportunity to improve efficiency, and it’s also potentially true at home. But the problem with your home power bill is, your power meter doesn’t give you much information – it’s hard to read, and it’s a long way from where you use the power. So you just get a bill every month, and don’t correlate that with any specific activity. And at our house, we use a fair amount of electricity - it’s our biggest utility bill - but other than constantly going around turning off lights, we can’t really track our power usage.
Enter the Smart Meter industry. Smart Meter is a general term for the new power meters that give you real time feedback on your electrical consumption. If you’re really lucky, your power company provides one and you don’t have to buy and install your own, but this isn’t the case in most areas (including mine), so I decided to purchase my own. I selected a model called the TED 5000-C, from The Energy Detective. I chose it because it is compatible with Google PowerMeter, which I felt would be a useful tool, and in its way was a powerful vote of confidence from Google. Also, I liked the idea that it has a handheld display that will show instantaneous usage, allowing me to walk around the house turning things on and off, thereby determining the power consumption of individual appliances, lights, and devices. The TED works by installing current transducers (your electrician, who should do the install, might call them amp clamps) over the main electrical feed to the house. There are some competing devices that work by actually reading the meter, which you can install yourself, but aren’t considered as accurate. Cost: $240, or about two months power bills.
So how does my TED work for me? Although we’re learning a lot about our power usage, I’m afraid this particular unit is still at the early adopter stage. A particular disappointment is the handheld readout, which works only within about 5 feet of the transmitter and has a battery life of about 30 seconds, essentially rendering it useless. I did call and talk to a tech service rep, and he promised a firmware update was coming that would address the issue, but I’m doubtful. Additionally, the unit uses an arcane plugwire communications protocol that has you running around the house plugging it in different places to see if it will connect. I did get this to work, but it struck me as technology for technology’s sake, and there’s always at least one hour a day during which no data is available due to problems with communication.
However, the integration with Google PowerMeter is pretty cool. Here’s a look at some recent usage:
You can really see that we went away for the weekend! We arrived back Sunday night, and I switched the electric water heater back on. That uses a lot of power (we’re actually having a solar hot water system put in – can’t happen too soon, and I promise a blog posting). I don’t know what the spike around 1AM is – maybe the water heater again – but I do know what the early morning spike is. It’s my coffeemaker, and it’s a getting replaced based on these results. I had no idea it used so much power! I should wire it for 240V, like a welder. I do like my coffee, but this is a bit much. Another very interesting result is the continuous blip while we’re away – I assume it’s the refrigerator, but I have to track that down. And the baseline usage or ‘always on’, which probably accounts for the majority of our power bill, is substantial. That typically consists of computers, televisions, adaptors, chargers and other power ‘vultures’, which use power while in a dormant state. I have been going around looking for adaptors to unplug, including the one that feeds my internet connection, which doesn’t need to be on all night. I’ll turn it on when I turn on my coffeemaker.
So, I'm interested in your impressions. Have any readers tried a smart meter? Is there a competing model which works better than the TED? Have you found better ways to monitor your electrical usage? I will try to post some more screenshots as I identify the power vultures and improve our results.