Issue #101, May 2010

Table of Contents:
An Introduction...

Home Energy Monitors

Carbon Footprint

Know Your Energy Usage

Ten Energy Saving Tips

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An Introduction...
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Howard Holmes and I am the author of and the Meter Messenger e-zine. The first phase of our new web site on residential energy monitoring has been completed. The second phase launches with this first issue of the Meter Messenger.

Here are a few paragraphs about how we got to where we are today...

Coming from a background in industrial metering I saw the emerging residential metering market as being somewhat fragmented.  Technology from the commercial and industrial market was beginning to trickle down into the residential sector. Price points were improving, however, real product availability proved to be limited as many items were, and still are, in the product development process.

As I searched for a home energy monitor system for my own residence in the Fall of 2009 I found inventories of the more popular systems to be critically low.  This shortage dragged through the 2009 holiday season which hurt some manufacturers. Many had little or no product to sell at a time of typically high demand as energy monitors do make great gadget gifts.

Given these fragmented market conditions, coupled with the fact that my industrial metering work was in a lull due to the recession, I decided to embark on a web site project entitled  The goal was to create an information source where visitors could get straight, unbiased information about residential metering, alternative energy metering, power quality and have a tool for analyzing power use in their home.

In addition to being an information source, visitors can use the site as a product portal to compare technical details and purchase plug-in meters, special power strips, energy meter readers and home energy monitor systems from qualified suppliers.  Many products have links to source from different suppliers so visitors
can easily shop for the best deal without having to peruse the Web.  There are still a few purchasing links to be added.  We are currently working directly with those manufacturers to co-ordinate updates at their sites with ours.

Where are we going with this project?  As mentioned, the first phase has been completed. The Meter Messenger E-zine marks the beginning of the second phase as we begin to reach out to our visitors.  Site traffic doubled in March and quadrupled in April so we feel that we're on to something here.

The site will continue to expand into the area of managing electrical load by showing you how to deploy energy saving techniques with home energy monitors.  As electric rates continue to rise, alternative energy becomes more attractive.  We'll expand that section of the site as practical, cost effective products and ideas emerge.

If you have a particular area of interest as it relates to home energy metering let us know,  If there is enough interest we'll expand the site in that direction, as well.

Home Energy Monitors
Based on our web site traffic stats this page receives more visitors than any other page on our site - even more than our home page. This tells us that there is a lot of interest in these devices, as there should be.  Here are some of the reasons...

> Communications are IP based so power usage and cost can be viewed from anywhere on your local network.

> Google Power Meter compatible units allow you to view home energy use from anywhere on the Internet.

>  Multiple channels allow for measurement of large appliances in addition to whole house use at the main panel.

>  Displays located in high traffic areas of the home increase energy conservation awareness for the whole family.

>  The graphical user interfaces (GUI)  for home energy monitor systems are very creative.  We have just launched a new page showing key screen comparisons.

Due to this high level of interest in home energy monitors we are looking for additional products to feature on the site. If you have, or know of someone who has developed a home energy monitor system that meets the following criteria and would like to be featured on the site please contact us.

To be featured on Home Energy home energy monitors must:

1. Be commercially available in the United States and be designed for single phase,       120/240 V. 60 Hz power.

2. Have installations we can contact to verify performance.

3. Have a complete system cost that is under $500 USD.

We know there are additional energy monitoring products available in Europe which we may include at some point in the future.  However, for now our focus remains with those products that serve the US and Canada as that is where the broad majority of our visitors are from.

Carbon Footprint
Several home energy monitor systems offer a calculation of the carbon foot print you create with the kilowatt-hours you consume.  It  most cases the calculation of carbon footprint is nothing more that an estimated ratio of 1.0 to 1.5  pounds of carbon dioxide produced for every kilowatt-hour used.

While it may be ecologically correct to speak in terms of carbon footprint,  the accuracy of such a number is subject to a wide degree of variability.  And, here's why...

It is very difficult to determine what mix of generation sources produce the actual power you use.  Your utility most likely has a combination of coal, natural gas turbines, nuclear, hydro and alternative energy sources generating power at some point throughout the day.  In addition, they may buy wholesale power off of the grid at any time to satisfy demand.  This purchased power can come from anyone of those aforementioned sources.

Coal plants will normally carry the highest carbon footprint depending upon the type of scrubbers their stacks employ. Other forms of fossil fuel combustion used for generation would be next followed by natural gas.  

Nuclear power generation does not produce carbon dioxide. However, it does produce spent fuel rods that must be placed in long term quarantined storage as they will remain radioactive for thousands of years.

Hydro, wind and solar have no carbon footprint but constitute only a small amount of the generation capacity available.  Alternative energy sources have greater generation costs per kilowatt-hour due to the high capital investment required to build hydro-electric dams, wind turbines and solar arrays.

In order to accurately determine your carbon foot print you would need to know what generation mix your utility is using as well as the mix of any power sources they may purchase from the grid at a given point in time.

Needless to say, we won't spend much time on carbon footprint measurement at or in the Meter Messenger because as it is very difficult if not impossible to calculate accurately.  Our measurements will focus on kilowatts, kilowatt-hours and dollars.  If energy and dollars are saved, emissions will naturally follow a similar path.

Know Your Energy Usage
Before embarking on any type of energy saving game plan it is important to understand your current baseline. How much electricity does your home use each month? Gas? Water?  If you don't have a baseline, how can you tell if the changes you make are really saving you money?

Start with your last twelve months of utility bills.  Why twelve months? Because the single greatest energy load on a home is heating and cooling.  These loads vary significantly from month to month so we need to look at a whole year of history to compare "apples to apples".

Build a simple spreadsheet listing consumption and cost by month.  Divide total cost by consumption to see what rate you paid each month.  Energy charges, seasonal charges, peak rates, taxes and fuel cost surcharges are all boiled down into a single number which is the real rate you paid each month.

Graph cost, consumption and rate on a simple line or bar chart by month.  These graphs and data tables become your baseline for electric, gas and water usage.  If you have had usage circumstances that are out of the ordinary over the past year make a note of it.  Examples may include remodeling, change out of a cental air system, a water leak or a teenager moves out to go to college to name a few.

Study the charts and tables.  When did the highest peaks occur?  What caused them?  Is there anything you or your family can do to make changes in the way you use energy to reduce those peaks?

Memorize the rate your paying or keep a good idea
of what it is in the back of your mind if it fluctuates throughout the year.  Realize that a single 100 watt bulb burning for 10 hours costs you that amount.  If you have five 100 watt bulbs, say in a recessed lighting array, know that the cost is reached in 2 hours, not 10.

If you want to take the assessment of your home energy use to the next level download our FREE Power Panel Profiler if you have not already done so.  The Profiler is a comprehensive spreadsheet that analyzes electrical loads on a 40 circuit, 200 amp panel down to the last outlet.  Click here for more information on how it works.

Ten Energy Saving Tips
As we move into the warmer months here are a few energy saving tips to keep in mind...

1.  Whole house fans are effective at cooling your home at night when the outside air temperature is lower than inside as they draw air through the entire house and expel it out the attic vents.

2.  If you are looking to replace an air conditioner this summer look for a SEER rating of 14 or above.  If your current AC unit is over 10 years old it may make good economic sense to replace it even though it is still working. Older units with SEER ratings of 9 or 10 are much less efficient than current models.  This makes the most sense in the southern states with higher rates.

3.  Take advantage of the increased cooling of air in motion. Ceiling fans can provide the same level of cooling comfort with the thermostat set 3 to 4 degrees higher.  This can save energy at night especially when occupants are resting at a fixed location.

4.  Landscaping this Spring?  Plant shrubs and bushes to mature at a distance of one foot from the outside wall of the house.  The dead air space between the plants and the wall helps to insulate south walls from the heat in summer and north walls from the cold in winter.

5.  Locate shrubs and bushes next to, but don't let them interfere with, the outdoor condenser unit for air conditioners or heat pumps.  Better yet, locate these units on the north side of the house in the shade if you are still building.  Up to 10% energy savings can be achieved by operating condenser units out of direct sunlight.

6.  Set up outdoor flood lights with photocells and motion sensors.  If you leave a light on all night for security, be sure to have a photocell shut it off at day break.  Motion sensors turn other outdoor lights off
automatically after 4-5 minutes.

7.  Compact flourescent bulbs use about one fourth of the energy of regular incandescents and can last up to ten times as long.  Use them where ever you can.  Remember to get low-temp ballasts for outdoor installations when the temperature is below 40 deg. F.

8.  If you heat a swimming pool, by all means use a solar cover.  The heat gain from the solar cover reduces the energy requirement, reduces evaporation and extends the pool season in Spring and Fall.

9.  Drain a quart of water from your hot water tank every three months to get rid of sediment that accumulates in the tank. Procedures vary so check your hot water heater manual.  That sediment forms scale on the heating element which reduces efficiency.

10.  Use dimmers, motion sensors or occupancy sensors to shut off lights when not in use.  As good rule of thumb, incandescents should be shut off whenever not in use and flourescents should be shut off if you are going to be out of the room for more than 15 minutes.

Forward a Copy...
If you found the Meter Messenger helpful please consider forwarding this email to a friend that may be interested in reducing his or her home energy costs.  They can subscribe to future issues directly at Home Energy if they wish.