A new device will soon be available, and if I could place a pre-order, I would — it’s the TED 5000, and it looks like a big step forward.
I currently have a BlueLine PowerCost Monitor — it is very good device, and I still recommend it. Using this device, we have even further reduced our energy cost for electricity by a significant amount.
But there’s a new game in town: the TED 5000, set to be released this month (June 2009). It solves a whole bunch of problems that the PowerCost Monitor and its existing version do not.
Indeed, the TED 5000 may be a very reasonable alternative to the smart meter your electric utility is going to install, then configure. The difference is that your utility may take years until they get all that done and provide the kind of information you could have right now.
And the savings are big indeed — from our current real-time power meter, we have saved a great deal of money on our electrical bill, and save every month.
But while going from a dumb electric bill to the PowerCost Monitor is a big step, it certainly has its limitations. For me, the most difficult aspect of the device is simply that all the nice juicy data is collects is locked up. A more minor quibble is that it requires a couple of sets of batteries and some fiddling around when they need to be changed.
A competing product, called The Energy Detective (TED) in its existing 1000 series models solved both problems of the PowerCost monitor, while introducing another. TED has a way to get at the data it reads, and also works in a way in which no batteries are needed. The new problem is that it needs to be installed at (actually in) the electric panel of your house — while this sounds intimidating, the actual installation is something a reasonably handy person can do. And it does strike me as odd that the monitor itself needs to be plugged in.
The current version of TED requires an actual connection to a computer to get at the data, and a special bit of software needed to display it. OK, but far from great. Clever people have gotten around the limitations of the 1000 series TED and come up with other cool but geeky solutions, but soon, such heroic acts will not be needed.
The New TED 5000. Nirvana? (TBD)
The new version, to be released in “early June”, called the TED 5000, promises to get rid of several of these issues. The key is that it is an “internet device” from the start, meaning it can be part of your home network, and if you choose, part of the Internet as a whole (with a little work).
The TED 5000 promises a convergence of several evolving technologies: real-time metering, and data collection and display. Yes, a few lucky people have power companies that will install Smart Meters and who have also agreed to make their data available to the Google Power Meter project, and indeed, this is perhaps one step beyond what the TED 5000 will offer. But the other 99% of us are still in the dark ages.
Immediate Data and Usage Over Time
By getting your data stored and visible online, you can see not only the immediate usage in your household, as you can from the existing TED or PowerCost Monitor, but you can also look at historical data, and that’s very important to understanding how you really use power.
It’s very easy to tell when the dryer is on if you have a real-time metering device. But what’s harder to tell is whether that very large number you see in the display compares to the more innocent or invisible power gobblers in your house. Consider that a 100W light bulb on continuously for a month uses 72 kWh. Your dryer may use 5,000W when heating, unless it is on for more than 14 hours in that month, it uses less electricity than the single bulb. (And we found not one, but several things in our house that were using around 100W, all the time).
The combination of immediate data and usage over time provides most (if not all) of what you’ll need to start making wise choices about your energy use.
Nirvana, Versions 2 and 3
There are two more parts of the equation that are still not quite here.
The first is the ability to break down energy use by device (e.g. knowing that big spike was from your dishwasher, instead of your clothes dryer, for example.
The second is far more important: we need to get beyond metering electricity — assuming you heat your house and water with oil or gas, almost 2/3rd of household energy use is not from electricity — to make a real dent in household energy consumption, we need a means of adding these large components into the mix.
Smart Meters have the ability to meter more than just electricity, and there’s no real reason why the TED 5000 couldn’t also do this (it appears to have the critical bits needed). The problem is, that most furnaces and water heaters don’t have good way of sending that information to a meter … yet. But I am working on that :-)
While electrical use accounts for only a share of our household energy use, it’s certainly the right place to start. Electricity use is inherently measurable, it is used in more “discrete applications” than heat and hot water and can therefore be conserved more readily, and importantly, much of our country’s electricity is generated by burning coal; coal produces about 40% more CO2 than other fuels.
In the longer term, as we migrate to renewable energy sources, more and more of our power will come from electricity. Electricity is a more expensive way to heat than oil or gas today, but when the costs of CO2 are internalized, electricity from renewable sources will be the obvious and immediate way to heat and cool our houses, and water.