Adventures in Home Energy Monitoring or “How I Became the Energy Enforcer”

September 18, 2009 at 12:45 pm 73 comments

a guest post by homecamper and Quest Software guy Joe Baguley.

It all started one drunken night a few years ago with my neighbours in the garden (as do most life-changing events I’m assured). It appeared that they were all paying an awful lot less for their electricity than me which I found confusing as we lived in similar houses.

Electrisave

After some investigation I discovered the Electrisave (since rebranded as the OWL). £45 later and I had fitted the clamp ammeter to my main feed into the house and was going round the house switching things on and off to see how much they cost. Hours of endless fun, no seriously!

I quickly worked out that my house idled at about 3.4p/hr unless the fridge/freezer was cycling when it hit 5.5p/hr. This small nugget alone dramatically changed household behaviour. Everyone was trained that as we went to sleep, or before we left the house, to check the meter. If it was more than 5.5p/hr then something was on that shouldn’t be and was switched on. Already my bills started to drop by about £10-£15/month.

Then one night I am sitting by the TV, with the meter in front of me (I became sadly obsessed) when it jumped up by 30p/hr to my amazement, something that I thought only the fridge or kettle could do for me, but neither was on. Some investigative work led me to the immersion heater (no gas water heating) and further playing showed me that the cams were worn on the mechanical timer and the thing was never turning off. One new electronic timer later and my bill dropped by a further £30/month and suddenly I was paying less than my neighbours. They were now borrowing my meter to wonder around their homes discovering savings.

Within less than 2 months the unit paid for itself.

Wattson

Ever on the lookout for new gadgets I discovered Wattson and purchased one of their first devices. This did much the same as my Electrisave, but this time allowed me to capture and graph the data using their rather cumbersome app. Now I had usage graphs and could track trends, associating activities with expense. Now I was really starting to annoy my family.

I played with that for a long time, now further rewiring both my study and TV ‘complex’ to ensure that I could switch as much off as possible ‘at the wall’ when I could, leaving only ‘essential services’ powered on 24/7 (Sky+, Cable Modem, NAS drive etc.)

The only problem with the Wattson was that though it glowed pretty colours, the display would show you your ‘estimated bill for the year’ based on current usage, so the thing fluctuated from £350-£4000 as stuff went on and off, but was to abstracted from reality to be useful to drive behaviour with the family compared to the cost/hour of the previous solution.

I was however generally happy with the Wattson, but felt that I needed more info…

GEO

So, along came an Eco show at the Earl’s Court and the discovery of Green Energy Options and their home monitoring plans. They included not only monitoring to an individual device level, but were also looking at my other big and untrackable expense – gas.

So, I begged to get on their beta trial, even though I was well outside their trial area (East Anglia) and through some stroke of luck I was accepted.

I opted for the top of the line unit, the Trio+ at £250 (discounted for the trial) because that was the one that gave me detailed reporting to a device level and included gas.

So a couple of weeks later 2 chaps showed up in my house, placed clamp ammeters about everywhere possible in my consumer unit (fuse box) and installed individual appliance monitors on everything I thought appropriate in the house (washing machine, tumble dryer, dishwasher, kettle, TV etc.)

The best piece of it all was that the data was all collected onto an EeePC running MySQL, Apache and their own Flash interface which is beautiful and well thought out. More importantly as it is a webserver I can view my house (and turn things on and off) from ‘anywhere’ after opening port 80 on my router and doing the redirect. Here are some sample screenshots:

The number of screens and ways you can view the data are fantastic.

The gas monitoring I am assured will be coming in the next couple of months, but for now the electricity detail is great. The fact it measures cost over time as opposed to one fixed point means you can learn a LOT:

  • I now know my dishwasher costs 16p/cycle, compared to my washing machine at 7p, and that running it on the thermonuclear remove the spot-welded lasagne from the dish mode only takes it to 17p. Best suggestion I have had yet is to get all plastic plates and cutlery and wash them in the washing machine. Instead we don’t put the dishwasher on part-full anymore.
  • My kettle was costing us near on 50p/week, whereas my new ‘on demand’ model costs us about 6p/week
  • The oven is no longer left on for 30-40 mins to ‘warm up’, neither is the kettle left for 20 mins to ‘warm up’. These things get hot very quickly nowadays.
  • Taking into account both the cost of food and energy used in cooking it, the chip shop is wallet friendly in some cases…
  • My ‘little 3kW pool heater’ we use in the summer for our 10’ pool costs about £9/day to run – kids now cope with it a little colder than 33C… ;-)
  • My 40” Sony LCD TV costs hardly anything to run (60-70p/week) – fabulous
  • The over 1500W of GU10 spotlights downstairs are killing us, and we are trying to find acceptable either CFL or LED replacements, none found yet but some are on their way to me this week to try.
  • Laptop power supplies left plugged in are a BAD thing.
  • My wife hates it when I am travelling and phone her up to complain about the amount of TV she has been watching instead of doing the housework… ;-)
  • My kids know that I can turn their TV off from anywhere in the world…

My next big step? – gas monitoring when they fit it. I will finally be able to answer the question this winter as to whether leaving the heating on all the time on a thermostat or turning it off at night and then reheating the house in the morning is best.

Footnote: What drove me to do all this was not only a fascination with tech, but more importantly a fascination with not wasting money. Not saving the planet – saving cash. In my experience cash beats morality every time… ;-)

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