Ariel Schwartz

Energy 101: How to Monitor Your Energy

by , 05/07/09
filed under: Renewable Energy

energy 101, sustainable design, green design, alternative energy, energy monitoring tools, renewable energy, energy grid, smart meters, household electricity

Last week we looked at the smart grid — essentially, a modernization of the transmission and distribution aspects of the electrical grid. This week we’re focusing upon tracking energy usage, since the first step to cutting down on our power consumption is being able to measure it. Smart meters installed as part of smart grid projects will make it extra-easy to monitor home energy use — and while there are numerous smart grid-linked energy monitoring devices coming out soon, there are also are plenty of ways to keep track of your power consumption with an old-fashioned meter.

energy 101, sustainable design, green design, alternative energy, energy monitoring tools, renewable energy, energy grid, smart meters, household electricity

Before getting into individual products, it’s important to have a handle on how home energy use is measured. Electric energy and natural gas consumption are measured in kilowatt-hours (power in kilowatts multiplied by time). The price of individual kWh varies depending on the time of day, but the devices below can help you estimate your power consumption costs.

energy 101, sustainable design, green design, alternative energy, energy monitoring tools, renewable energy, energy grid, smart meters, household electricity

One of our favorite energy-monitoring devices is P3′s Kill-a-Watt . It’s cheap ($20), and simple to use — just connect any electronic device to the Kill-a-Watt outlet and find out exactly how much power it’s consuming by the kWh. The Kill-a-Watt also lets you calculate energy expenses by the day, week, month and year, and they can even be rigged to tweet your power usage!

energy 101, sustainable design, green design, alternative energy, energy monitoring tools, renewable energy, energy grid, smart meters, household electricity, energy detective, power

At $145, the Energy Detective requires a bit more of an investment than the Kill-a-Watt, but it’s also a more complex system. The Energy Detective consists of a Measuring Transmitting Unit that taps into your circuit breaker, a pair of Current Transformers that are clamped around power cables, and a Receiving Unit Display that plugs into a wall outlet and displays real-time power use by the kWh–much like the Kill-a-Watt system. Unlike the Kill-a-Watt, however, the Energy Detective displays energy information for the whole house.

energy 101, sustainable design, green design, alternative energy, energy monitoring tools, renewable energy, energy grid, smart meters, household electricity, wattson

Perhaps the most elegant power-monitoring device is Wattson, a $280 contraption that consists of a sensor hooked up to power cables along with a wireless receiver. A readout on top of the box shows power usage in either kWh or cash spent, but the device‘s color-changing ability makes it easy to gauge your energy use from across the room. When power consumption is low, the box glows blue. When energy use is high, the box glows red, and if consumption is average, Wattson glows purple. It’s a simple, attractive way to keep an eye on energy.

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5 Comments

  1. petertroast May 26, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Clarification to tuttles\’ point about Google PowerMeter. Like Google Analytics, what Google has announced so far is a free data display system that is expected to be out late this year. Last week they announced partnerships with a bunch of utilities and smartmeters. They\’ve stated publicly that they\’ll also connect PowerMeter to consumer measuring devices like these, but no announcements yet on which ones. The key point, which many in the press are confusing, is that Google PowerMeter isn\’t a measurement device or data logger in and of itself. It\’s a fair bet, however, that for information design and data visualization, PowerMeter will rock.

    For a sneak preview of what it *might* look like, here\’s our TED, connected to the web in real time, displaying our home\’s electricity data using the Google Finance graph: http://www.energycircle.com/ted_display.php

  2. tuttles May 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    I think Google is coming out with something like this, called the SmartMeter. It’s supposed to be free to monitor electric consumption through your computer. What isn’t Google coming out with these days.

  3. misticalone May 8, 2009 at 1:27 am

    granted you can see your bill at the end of the month. However i think the point is to see how much each appliance is using to hopefully make better decisions or electronic use. its also fun to calculate how you using to see how much the things you use contribute to the bill. $0.19/KWh*(hours of use)*(total watts used)/1000watts = $$

  4. jamesmanny May 7, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    This is awesome. You can also see how much energy you’re saving at http://bSaves.com

  5. rgz321p May 7, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    I have a great way to monitor my energy. I get a bill every month from the energy company from whom I purchase energy. It says right on the bill how much energy I used.

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