EcoDog FIDO Energy Advisor Review

by Bill Neering
(Michigan)

Service Panel and EcoDog with 32 CT's

Service Panel and EcoDog with 32 CT's

I looked at different electric monitoring systems and selected the FIDO Energy Advisor by EcoDog because I could monitor at the breaker level and all of the information was stored on my computer. I do not have any generated energy, so that was not a requirement even though EcoDog supports generated energy. This option did not require an internet service or monthly charges like some providers to house data and print reports. I worked 35 years on mainframe computers and I wanted control of my own data.

I have a 200A service using 25 breakers of which 6 are 240V and the remaining 19 are 120V. I used 31 current transformers (CT’s) and have 1 spare. I used 2 CT’s for each of the 240V breakers because usage could be slightly different for each lead. EcoDog has an option to designate a device as 240V using one CT and it will double the usage, but you could be slightly over or under depending on which lead you selected. I used 6 CT’s to monitor the three 240V circuits added for the geothermal unit, auxiliary heat, and hot water heater. This left me with 10 CT’s to monitor other circuits.

I installed the first EcoDog with 16 CT’s on August 6th, 2011 and quickly became an energy monitoring junkie. I ordered a second EcoDog unit with 16 CT’s and installed it on August 14th, 2011 to monitor the rest of the panel. I installed both units myself and it took about an hour for each install. The software installed very easily on my computer with no problems.

I created a form which looked like my service panel to use as a background for the meters and devices. I could then easily see all of the meters and usage by circuit. I also color coded the meters in groups, like green for geothermal devices, blue for basement, yellow for kitchen, and red for garage so I could identify areas easily.

Within EcoDog, you can link CT’s together for 240V devices so that when you point to the device, it gives you the total for the device, or point to each meter of the 240V device. Each little square within a meter represents 200 watts. When you look at the energy odometer it says I am currently using 1058.9 Watts. It would be nice if the meters also displayed the watts next to the meter. If you look at the 18 meters below that are in use, you can’t see at a glance which ones are using the most. You can’t tell if a meter is using 2 or 200 watts unless you point to it and by the time you check each meter, the numbers could change.

I have now been operational for over six months and had a hardware problem the end of October. EcoDog shipped me a new board for the breaker monitor box because of a problem with the clock trying to sync with my computer clock. The new board also had to be replaced because the firmware had not been updated and was causing other errors. EcoDog sent another board and it was installed the next day. The board holds about 30-45 days of data so you do not have to have your computer up all the time. When you start your computer, FIDO Link will start and bring the application current.

There are many energy vampires in my house with multiple televisions, VCR’s, DVR, cable boxes, modems, routers, cordless tools, cell phone charger are just a few. One thing I did find was that a heater in my garage was drawing 6.2 watts all the time. I shut the power off because I only need it on during cold months. The dishwasher was drawing 2.7 watts all the time waiting to run if the door was shut.

One big thing I found was an old refrigerator and TV in my garage was drawing about 6 kWh per day. I replaced both of them and now draw about 1.2 kWh per day. I replaced the halogen floods in my kitchen with dimmable CFL’s and cut my demand by over 2/3. I also replaced the washer, dryer, and microwave with more efficient models. We used to run the ceiling fan in the bedroom 24/7 and now turn it on at bedtime and off when we get up. A lot of these seem small, but they all add up.

EcoDog had to add support for Consumers Energy in Michigan for my rate structure. It is working the way it was designed, but does not work the way I want it to or the way Consumers currently calculates bills. EcoDog uses the rate at the time it was consumed. We have summer rates where the base cost per kilowatt is doubled over 600 kWh. This causes all meters to calculate based on where you are in the cycle. It could cause my AC cost to be low at the beginning of the cycle or high at the end of the cycle based on the weather.

There is no easy way to compare usage and cost from EcoDog with my Consumers Energy bill because of meter reading dates. My meter is not read the same day and time every month and the number of billable days each month varies. I would also like to see some type of reconcile function where the system would match up with my Consumers billing days, usage and cost.

The EcoDog charts and graphs are nice to look at online, but the dollar amounts are not accurate because of the above mentioned issues. The print option needs lots of work to resolve what I feel are report deficiencies. These have all been documented and sent to EcoDog for fixes or possible enhancements in the future. EcoDog was able to provide me with an option which I can dump the databases to .csv files.

On average I have been within 20 kWh ($2.60) each month compared to my Consumers bill, but that difference depends on the time of day the meter is read on both ends of the cycle and the accuracy of EcoDog. My own reporting identified the data problem which was the result of a hardware clock problem. The clock problem caused the system to move some of the usage to other time periods which altered some of the daily totals.

The system needs some type of checkpoint or control to prevent altering previously valid data and generating an error message when it occurs. Accuracy is very important to me. EcoDog also generates messages on a periodic basis, and like your email there are some messages you want to keep and others you delete, but there is no way to delete the unwanted messages. It would also be nice if the system had an export option or a report writer feature where you could produce custom reports.

Another area I feel needs improvement is more technical documentation on how the software works. This is probably because of my years of working with computer software systems. When updates are sent out there is nothing to say what was being fixed or what enhancements were added.

Overall the EcoDog system has been very reliable. The only problem I did have was the hardware problem and all of the existing reports which don’t print properly.

In my years of working with computer software, no package does everything the way you would like to see it work. Every user has different issues or requirements. In comparison to other systems, the cost was about 30%-50% more than others out there, but EcoDog had more of the features and functions I was looking for at the time.

As for my original reason for purchasing the EcoDog system, I have been very happy with the performance of my geothermal heating and cooling system.

The cost of my propane averaged $205 per month for the past four years. Taking the average usage and what would have been my propane cost for this year, the monthly cost would have been $224. The gas company projected my budget payment at $235, but I cancelled it before it started.

The cost of the geothermal and hot water heater for the six months increased my electric cost by $559.95 ($299.02 Geo, $260.93 HWH), but my propane cost of $1344 ($224 x 6) was eliminated for the same period. My December and January unit cost were also up slightly because of a special surcharge of $9.82 each month for an interim rate increase which is under review by the Michigan PSC.

In looking at the usage for the first six months compared to prior years, my daily kWh increased about 27% (40.1 to 50.7). My daily kWh usage without the geo and HWH decreased 30% (40.1 to 27.7). Some of this decrease is attributed to the changes made with the help of EcoDog and one unknown which was the blower on my old furnace. In mid November I put out my bird bath heater which uses about 3.5 kWh per day (100 kWh per month), but I have been doing this for over 20 years.

I have over 40 years of data since I built and moved into my house in February 1971. At that time propane was $0.18 per gallon and electric was $0.024 per kWh. I have made many changes to improve heating efficiency over the years because back then I was using about 2200 gallons per year and last year I used about half of that amount.

Back then I was using about 9000 kWh per year and didn’t have a dishwasher, central air, microwave, two refrigerators, six televisions, computers any many other things in the house that use electricity.

Prior to the geothermal I was using about 14,000 kWh per year. That electric usage increase still has me surprised, but I am making progress on that because without the Geothermal and Hot Water Heater my usage for the last six months was 5211 kWh.

I hope to update all of this information after I have been operational for a full year. If you have any questions or comments on this report, I would be glad to clarify. I can be contacted at wneering@chartermi.net


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