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Energy Monitoring

Real time energy monitoring is an energy efficiency breakthrough.  Studies show (and we've proven in our own usage) that seeing electricity usage firsthand, in real time, leads to substantial reductions -- 15% savings on electricity bills is not uncommon.

This article is designed to (I) Introduce you to devices that monitor electricity, (II) Describe the types of electricity monitors that are available, (III) Help you figure out which monitor is the best bet to help you reduce your usage and save money, and (IV) address other Frequently Asked Questions about energy monitoring. If you still have questions, feel free to contact us. We're happy to help you get started. 

I. Why Do Monitors Help?

For most us, electricity is invisible, and utility bills are at best cryptic, and at worst complete mysteries. Energy monitors make electricity use tangible - rather like a thermometer makes the air temperature visible. And like a thermometer, a monitor does not reduce electricity use on its own - it simply prompts a response from you. If it's cold outside, you throw on gloves. If your monitor displays a spike in electricity use, you find out why and turn some energy hog in the house off.

What Energy Monitors do:

  • Help you locate things that are always on, even when they aren't doing anything. 
  • Help you notice that the kids forgot to turn off the TV. 
  • Help you become aware of how electricity is used. 

What Energy Monitors prompt us (homeowners) to do:

  1. Understand what goes on when we use electricity in our houses.
  2. Pay attention to our usage and reduce it. 

Studies show that people using electricity monitors will save between 5% and 20% on their bill. One Energy Circle staffer has reduced his electricity consumption by about half, saving around $100/month.

How much you save is a matter of how much you use now, and whether you pay attention to what the monitor tells you.  That's why it's key to find the monitor that meets your needs. 

II. What's the Difference Between Different Monitor Types?

Monitors come in four different categories, each of which we discuss in greater detail below:

  1. Measure Just One Appliance: "Plug In" type
  2. Measure the Whole House in the last minute or so: "Instant Readout" type
  3. Measure the Whole House at the Moment and Track History: "Readout + History" type
  4. Measure Circuit by Circuit of the Whole House at the Moment and Track History

1. Monitors that Measure Just One Appliance:

Monitors that measure just one appliance (e.g. the Kill a Watt) isolate energy usage. You plug the appliance you want to measure into the "plug in" type meter, and then plug the meter into the wall.  We think this is a vital tool for understanding individual appliance draws. The best, most economical product for this is the Kill a Watt EZ electricity monitor.  In addition to the features of the basic Kill a Watt, the EZ model displays the cost of running whatever appliance you plug into it - by hour, day, week, month or year.

2. Monitors that Measure the Whole House in the last minute or so:

A major step up from the single-appliance meters are monitors that measure the whole house.  Electricity usage monitors like the Blue Line PowerCost Monitor and Wattvision Power Monitor attach right onto your electric meter and instead of reading it monthly like your electric company, measure it every few seconds.  Other instant read monitors, such as The Owl, or The Owl Micro, and The Energy Detective (TED 5000) connect inside your electrical box and most send their readings to a table-top display.

3. Monitors that Measure the Whole House at the Moment and Track History:

A step up from the instant read monitors are monitors are that track usage over time.  Being able to track energy usage history - whether month-to-date or month-over-month - can be extremely useful in that it provides you with a benchmark (say, for example, "Let's try to do better this month than we did last month") as well as a means to assess your progress and make adjustments accordingly (for example: "We've used more in the first two weeks of this month than we did in the first two weeks of last month; let's try to really cut back in the next two weeks to make up the difference.") The TED 5000 series was the first to effectively do this trick, even allowing storage of your energy data on Google PowerMeter -- a free service that provides nice charts, evaluation, assessment and comparative data to help you truly understand your power usage.  The TED 5000 has proven to be tricky for many people, but other options are available since late 2010, including a WiFi connection that can be added to the BlueLine PowerCost Monitor, Wattvision, and CurrentCost Envi.

4. Monitors that Measure Circuit by Circuit of the Whole House at the Moment and Track History:

All of these levels of measuring your electricity consumption are like having increasingly detailed picture of how energy from electricity ebbs and flows.  But for a truly detailed picture, you can see your electrical use on a circuit-by-circuit basis, with a new, first-of-its-kind product called eMonitor, as well as a similar product by BrulTech.

A modern house typically has 20 or more separate electrical circuits, all leading back to the main breaker box where the electrical feed comes into you house.  Circuits feed the power to an individual room, and often for larger loads, a single appliance, such as a dishwasher, dryer, or refrigerator.  eMonitor provides all of the instant data collection and history, but is able to break readings down to individual circuits.  Power House Dynamics, the maker of eMonitor, describes their system as a tool for "electricity management", which is a step above monitoring.  The level of detail is really important -- we have heard reports from customers who say that they have found significant unneeded power users, and easily saved the cost of the product by being able to quickly isolate the source.

We think this real-time information is indispensable for understanding and reducing electricity consumption. You will know exactly how many kilowatts your house is using. The question is, what do you do with that information?