Is everything off?

Written by erik


There’s a lot written these days about the coming boom in home energy monitoring devices and systems. Eventually, we hope to see smart meters that dynamically adjust home energy use to conditions within the home and on the grid.

Nobody in the room? Turn off the lights. Too much demand on the grid? Turn down the AC.

But there’s a more basic step, which is simply letting people know how much their home is using at any given time. We’ve all heard of the way real-time feedback on miles per gallon can affect driving habits. I’m becoming convinced that the same will shortly be true of how we use energy at home.

We installed a home Power Cost Monitor about a month ago. This isn’t a perfect read on home energy use, because it only monitors our electricity usage, but it’s been a great first step. Installation takes only a few minutes (basically you just strap the sensor onto the standard meter used by the local utility take a reading, then calibrate the sensor to the handheld wireless device). Then the fun starts. Geeky fun, to be sure, but fun nonetheless.

The first night we had the read out available, we wandered the house turning lights on and off, making toast, boiling water, running the dryer, and generally seeing what actions carried the highest cost in terms of electricity use. The answer, in broad terms – anything involving heat.

We quickly came to realize that when we weren’t heating anything, our electricity use during the day and evening hovered around 1.5 kW (for those who don’t know, a kW is a measure of energy use – your electricity bill is measured in kW hours, which is simply energy use over time). Turn on the toaster, and we’re at 2.4 kW. Turn on the oven, and we’re at close to 5 kW. You get the picture.

So there we were last night, kids in bed, winding down right before bed. My wife notices that the Power Cost Monitor is at 7 kW. Hmm. That doesn’t make any sense. Then it dropped down to 1.0 kW or so. Hmm, even stranger. I started turning lights on and off, trying to figure out what could possibly have caused the spike.

Then it came back, back up to 7 kW. Then a minute or so later, back down. Can you guess what was happening? No, not the refrigerator (my first thought). Much worse, actually – one of my kids had accidentally turned on the broiler in the kitchen, probably by banging against the button. So had it not been for our ability to monitor our energy use, we would have been sleeping all night with a 500 degree fire hazard on in our kitchen. Scary stuff.

I really believe that we’re on the cusp of a revolution in our everyday understanding of energy use. It’s partly about climate change, and it’s partly about saving money, but in my house at least, another unexpected benefit has suddenly become apparent. I bet a lot of people adjust their driving habits to save fuel and end up saving themselves some accidents as well (driving more slowly, etc, though perhaps not everyone does that).

Save energy, save money, save peace of mind. Works for me.

[You can buy the Blueline Home PowerCost monitor in the TerraPass store here — Ed.]

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