Issue #118
March-April 2012

Visit Home Energy

Table of Contents

Energy Monitor Alerts

Green Energy vs. Energy Metering

Getting Started

Ten Energy Saving Tips

Forward a Copy

Energy Monitor Alerts

Some of the higher-end home energy monitors offer an alert system. Basic alert system may identify vampire loads, changes in usage patterns, or areas where energy was saved when compared with a previous period.

More sophisticated systems allow you to receive alerts at the device level which can be immediate notification of equipment failure. When an alert is triggered a message is posted in software dashboard, or it is sent directly to the user via email or text messaging.

An alert system monitors the parameters that you set as boundaries for normal operation such as a total number of kilowatt-hours used per month or a peak demand level. For example, an alert may be set to trigger a message when the current demand level reaches 95% of last month's peak. When this demand level is reached, the system fires a message immediately stating the nature of the alert in a predefined format.

Alerts are particularly useful when they are associated with specific devices or appliances. A circuit level monitor is required to analyze data at this level of granularity. If the usage pattern of the device changes or moves outside of the alert presets, you get a message.

For example, a message about a refrigerator or wine fridge not cycling on and off may indicate the door is cracked open. A message of no power usage at all for a refrigerator or freezer could indicate a compressor failure. How much food would go to waste if this happened in your home?

Another good example is electrical safety. Knowing the breaker rating for each circuit, the alert system can notify when the actual load reaches 80, 85 or 90 percent of the breaker rating. This would indicate a heavily loaded, or possibly overloaded circuit.

For example, kitchen counter top circuits that support a coffee pot, an electric skillet and a blender along with a few other appliances can experience this condition during meal prep. Other circuits showing such conditions may not be properly wired and pose the potential risk of fire if the breaker were to fail.

Alerts can trigger messages if an appliance is on when it should not be. When its bedtime the kids lights should be off, TV's off and computers shut down - nothing but a small, consistent vampire load at most. If your smart phone has an alert the next morning showing otherwise, you may have a topic for discussion with your child over breakfast.

Take the concept of alerts from the home and move it to a small business. Being able to monitor air conditioning and refrigeration can be very important to a restaurant. Think about lighting for a retail store during off-hours. Obviously security lights are needed, but beyond that lights on in off hours indicate energy and money are being wasted. Alerts can tell you which light circuits were left on during periods when they were supposed to be off.

What about heating and cooling systems in Spring and Fall? It is not uncommon to find each or portions of each on at the same time, competing, at your expense. A good alert system will notify you when this occurs so you can take action and correct it.

If you are considering the investment in an energy monitoring system for your home or small business pay close attention to the type of alert system each offers. Saving a freezer full of food, identifying potential wiring problems or knowing when repairs are needed can recoup your energy monitor investment very quickly. Think about all the headaches that might be prevented in the future.

Green Energy vs. Energy Metering

We have all heard about some of the recent green energy investment debacles, such as Solyndra, where the Federal Government backed a half billion dollar loan to a solar collector company only to watch it go bankrupt last Fall. A number of other solar energy companies have also filed for bankruptcy in the past year.

Five years ago, many of these companies were going strong and there was a positive outlook for the alternative energy market. What was actually happening is that many of their sales, especially to Europe, were being propped up with government subsidies. When the economies of such countries as Greece, Spain and Portugal began to falter, the stronger economies of the larger countries such as France and Germany committed to take up the slack to avoid a catastrophic default.

These extreme economic measures caused solar power subsidies to dry up quickly along with the demand for these products. This, coupled with the prolonged recession in the US and low cost production coming out of China inflated inventories and decimated sales for the U.S. solar companies forcing many out of business.

On the wind energy front, we see many huge new wind farms cropping up around the U.S., not only in coastal areas but inland in such locations as central Indiana and southern Wisconsin. Billions of dollars are being spent by utilities and the Federal Government (i.e. 30% tax credit) to construct thousands of wind turbine towers.

Based on the energy each produces, the investment should be recovered in about 15 years. The catch is that the mean mechanical life of these turbines is only 12 to 13 years. The towers will remain intact but the main bearings for the rotors will require replacement and many units will need to have core windings overhauled - a major expense to keep them operating. What we've seen happen in the solar industry may be looming ahead for the wind generation industry.

Now, consider energy metering. It can measure alternative energy generation as well as power from the grid. It can track your carbon footprint based on the mix of power generation serving your area. It monitors your energy usage to give you the granular information you need to make good decisions about to use energy efficiently. All these attributes support green energy objectives. As a result many tend to group energy metering under the green energy umbrella.

I contend that this assumption is false. Energy metering may support green energy efforts but is totally independent of it. Even if alternative energy never developed, energy metering would still stand on its own as a way to monitor, evaluate and use energy efficiently. Energy monitoring serves all forms of energy production.

Solar and wind only constitute 1.3% of total energy production in the U.S. (See Meter Messeneger #116. Nov-Dec 2011). A well managed energy metering system can save 10 to 15% at a minimum. If energy metering were deployed on a wide scale, how would its impact reduce fossil fuel emissions from generation as compared with the energy produced by solar and wind?

Getting Started

Are you new to energy monitoring? Not sure where to get started? Uncertain about what type of equipment you'll need? Uneasy about knowing whether or not you will recover your investment?

Here's a suggestion: start small. Invest less than $30 in a simple plug-in meter such as the Kill-A-Watt EZ which we are featuring as our meter of the month at Home Energy Use it to track simple plug-in loads such as a coffee pot, a lamp or even your refrigerator. Leave the plug-in meter on the circuit for at least 24 hours. Several days will deliver even better data.

Using the kilowatt-hour cost feature allows you to see how much you spend per day on each of these appliances. To help you keep track of this information we have developed the Power Panel Profiler which is a comprehensive spreadsheet that will track up to 400 loads across the 40 circuits found in a standard 200 amp residential service panel. It is FREE with a subscription to our Meter Messenger E-zine which can be accessed by clicking here.

The biggest risk to any successful energy metering endeavor is apathy on the part of the user. Some people think that just by installing a home monitor the utility bill will go down. This may be true initially, before the newness of the device wears off, but it won't last. Sustained savings can only be achieved through diligent monitoring of usage and following through with energy saving ideas that lower that usage and eliminate waste.

This is why we recommend starting with a low cost plug-in meter. It is a lot easier to recover a $30 investment than a $300 one. If you feel you are the type of person who would be diligent in monitoring and serious about reducing your energy cost, test your tenacity by putting a plug-in meter to work.

If you pass this test the next step is to consider investing in a whole house such as a TED 5000 or an eGauge. A whole house unit will measure all the power entering the home through the service panel. Most units have a few extra channels to measure 240 volt loads such as the hot water heater, clothes dryer or range.

Coupled with your plug-in meter, you should be able to measure just. about every single electrical load in your home. Using the Power Panel Profiler to keep track of your information will provide a benchmark from which you can measure the impact of each energy saving idea you implement.

If you want to automate this process, consider a circuit level monitor such as the eMonitor, Ecodog or BrulTech. Circuit level monitoring logs the amount of energy used by each circuit and rolls it up into an overall usage and cost figure for the entire home. Alerts, as discussed above, can provide timely information for maintenance needs and energy cost reduction.

The circuit level monitor has greatest potential for long term savings because it can deliver electrical data at a very high level of granularity. This catches energy saving opportunities other systems may miss. However, if this information is not acted upon, nothing will will happen. That's why we recommend starting with a plug-in meter to verify whether or not you have the time and diligence to follow through.

Ten Energy Saving Tips

1. With warmer weather just around the corner it is a good time to get a checkup on your HVAC system. Your local contractor can check refrigerant levels and make sure all mechanical parts are in proper order for the upcoming cooling season. If refrigerant is low or you have a tiny leak, the compressor will run longer hours this summer costing you kilowatt-hours.

2. As you do your Spring landscaping consider solar powered outdoor lighting. Self contained units require no special wiring as they charge during the day and discharge at night without adding to your electric bill. Great for patio walkways, sidewalk steps and garden paths.

3. Get a jump on the swimming season with a solar water heater for your pool. Position the black plastic panels facing the sun at an angle that matches your latitude. Plumb into your pool pump's filtration loop to heat the water as it circulates.

4. Turn off your computer when you are not using it. Even in energy saver or sleep modes it still draws a trickle of power as do peripherals. Consider a smart switching power strip. When you set your computer as the master, all the slaved peripherals shut off automatically when you power down the computer.

5. Plug battery chargers for tools, phones, laptops, etc. into a power strip. Turn the strip on only when you are charging and turn it off when you're done. The coils within any size charger continue to draw a trickle of power regardless of whether or not a device is being charged.

6. When preparing a meal for one or two people consider using a toaster oven rather than a full sized oven. Even though they are not as well insulated toaster ovens still only draw a third to half of the power used by the full sized oven to get the job done.

7. Adjust refrigerator temperatures to save energy. The refrigerator should maintain 37 to 40 degrees F. The freezer compartment can do just as good a job at 5 degrees F. as it can at zero. Reset refrigerator freezers, especially side-by-sides to maintain 5 degrees instead of zero. Large chest freezers should be kept at zero. Since cold air is heavier than warm, chest freezers retain the cold air while refrigerator freezers tend to loose much of it when the door is opened.

8. If you have south or west facing windows without drapes, consider applying a reflective sun control film to lower heat gain in your home. The tint may be slightly darker than the glass alone, but heat buildup in the room can be reduced significantly on those hot summer afternoons.

9. If your home has an unshaded south facing roof, and you use an electric water heater consider installing a solar water heater to offset energy costs. Systems can be fully independent or plumbed to augment existing hot water heating.

10. If upgrading your central air system or just planning to add a window air conditioner be sure to size it properly. Remember that the system not only controls temperature but humidity, as well. Seek professional advice if you are not sure.

Forward a Copy...

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