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Home energy management: one man's story

Yesterday, in my usual roundabout fashion—I've been called "wordy"—I discussed the emergence of the smartphone as remote control for home energy management, as presented at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. 

You may wish to check out "Smartphones and Home Energy Management?"

I mentioned the "smartphone as remote control for life" meme, which I've repeated, despite its absurdity. (If it was so, who wouldn't dial up fame and fortune or, failing that, simply change the channel?) 

And I introduced Dan Geiger, electrical director for the city of Chaska, Minn., who shared his thoughts on smart appliances, which we'd just written about. While I typically muse from the clouds, Geiger gives us a view from the ground. Herewith, his story.    

"As part of my job as an electric utility manager I am always looking for ways to get people to understand their electric usage especially in terms of kilowatt-hours not dollars," Geiger wrote. "A couple of the ways this can be accomplished is by having customers install energy monitoring devices or having an energy audit.  

"The City of Chaska has a program for home energy audits that looks at monthly energy usage and determines how that is broken out into individual appliance, HVAC and lighting usage.  But it is a broad overview utilizing generalizations and pointing out obvious problems. A much better way to determine home energy usage is to install home energy monitoring devices.  

"We routinely loan out a device called a `Kill-A-Watt' that can be plugged into a wall socket. It measures the instantaneous and accumulated kWh usage over time for whatever is plugged into it. This is very useful for items that have a cord and the outlet is accessible. But this does not work for refrigerators, furnaces, hot water heaters and other hard-wired devices. For those devices we have to go to the AC panel and measure real-time readings using an amp probe.  Unfortunately this does not give us the accumulated usage over time. 

"So I started looking at monitoring systems that could be installed for a more comprehensive view. One I came across that a neighboring utility uses is The Energy Detective or TED device.  This monitor comes in various styles and can be hooked up to a couple circuits. It also has a countertop display that shows a variety of data including accumulated usage.  

"The City of Chaska acquired one to try and we have it connected at our office so we can show customers when they come in. The problem with this monitor though is that it is limited to how many circuits it can measure. The basic unit is designed to monitor the whole panel, not individual circuits, so all usage is lumped together.

"Another monitor that looks at individual circuits is the eMonitor Energy Monitor. This device has multiple-circuit capabilities but also comes with a monthly service fee. Most people, including myself, do not want to pay a monthly fee to monitor their energy usage.

"This search for a good energy monitor became more important to me when I decided to build a new house. I was determined to find a good solution that I could incorporate into the AC panel during construction and find a place for a display that I would use.  

"Unfortunately, after doing extensive research on the Internet, talking with utility product suppliers and asking everyone I know if they've ever seen a good monitor I failed to find a product that met my needs and did not have an ongoing cost. Since this seems to be an evolving new industry I decided to hold off hoping something comes along in the future. It really surprised me though that with all the talk of energy conservation and people wanting to reduce their energy usage that certain products to meet those needs weren't available.

"Fortunately, I'm a member of a progressive cooperative utility that does offer free energy monitoring through their AMI meters. The product they serve up is called MyMeter by Accelerated Innovations. It displays daily, monthly and yearly energy usage with other useful tools including usage alerts, historical and neighbor comparisons. Plus, it has download capabilities for further analysis. I use this tool regularly in the absence of my much desired home energy monitoring system. It also is available as a nice mobile display for a smart phone. Until the future gets here, this will have to do."

Sincerely, Dan Geiger, P.E.
Electrical Director, City of Chaska

Readers, I simply add a few questions to generate discussion.

What are the drivers for monitoring home energy use? Customer costs? Environmental concerns? Utility needs? All of the above? Other factors?

What are the drivers for managing home energy use? (Same questions.)

Apart from early adopters such as Dan Geiger, will active management or automation be the path for consumers? Will automation be the default and active management be the override? How about utilities—what will serve their interests?  



Phil Carson's picture

Thank Phil for the Post!

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