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June 1, 2009

TED 5000: A Big Step for Smart Metering

Category: Cool Sites,Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 9:47 pm

ted-1000-seriesA 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.

[Update, August — TED 5000 Release Date: The TED is now available for order by phone from the manufacturer; I have one now, and wrote installation notes; see links for details]

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.


  1. Dan —

    I have found the support folks at Energy Inc to be pretty responsive, although undoubtedly they are totally swamped as a result of their huge Google PowerMeter deal.

    I love your idea of a Yahoo group, and also invite people to post problems and solutions as comments here. I have had a couple other similar threads (e.g. Windows not going into standby/hibernate) that have proven to be pretty good forums for solving issues.


    Comment by Tom Harrison — October 13, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

  2. I’ve had my TED 5000 unit running for about 6 weeks now and just posted some notes on my blog. I just saw the Yahoo support group noted here and will jump right on it!

    Notes on the 5000:
    The concept is great and when it works (and you have a lot of time on your hands) it gives unprecedented insights into your homes behavior. However the limitations become obvious right away and the name “Energy Detective” is right on – you have to be a detective to figure out what is driving the spikes in usage you see. I posted a blog with more feedback ( detailing some of the problems I’ve had with the TED 5000 system. Mostly these are not major, but as a small company I guess they have a hard time with tech support. I’ve received replies but no answers so far – and now they just seem to be ignoring me.
    If you are looking at these types of devices I wouldn’t bother with anything that doesn’t give you visibility into historical usage (even as limited as the TED5000 is). Its just too difficult to watch a monitor real time and get anykind of decent information besides what happens when you turn one thing on/off. And you can get that with a Kill-a-Watt for a tenth of the prices.

    Comment by Derek — October 19, 2009 @ 7:49 am

  3. Derek —

    I have owned a similar monitoring device, the BlueLine PowerCost Monitor for over a year and agree that real-time data is good, but has limitations. However I have found that two aspects of the TED 5000 overcome the historical data issue you note.

    First, there’s a wealth of data to be found in the built-in graphing in the Footprints data — you can get pretty granular data out for a couple of days — while you do have to use some detective skills to isolate unexpected loads, the tools provided in TED have helped me find a couple already (my gas oven, of all things, uses about 300W, apparently because of a “glow bar”!).

    Second Google PowerMeter, while less granular appears to be collecting and saving historical data, more than what the TED gateway can keep in its limited on-board memory.

    A bonus third: if you really want to store the data, and you’re a programmer, you can get the TED data via an API, and have all the granularity you need out for as long as you want.

    That all said, I do agree that the TED is just another step in the process of having clear visibility into our data use. But I think it’s a rather huge one compared to what most people have: a monthly bill :-)


    Comment by Tom Harrison — October 19, 2009 @ 8:07 am

  4. Thanks Tom – I didn’t realize the Google interface was in place – that will be a VERY nice add-on and I’ll get it installed ASAP. I have been using the graphs as the primiarily detective “tool”. But it got cold here last week (NC) and I’ve had to kick the heat on. It uses several kW at a time and so pretty much swamps anything else.

    I also own a Kill-a-Watt and will be going around the house and documenting what uses how much, especially in terms of establishing a baseline so I can try and issolate just what might be using power that I don’t even realize.

    Comment by Derek — October 19, 2009 @ 10:11 am

  5. All,
    There is definitely a solution that gets you “closer” to a device level type of analysis. I am working on developing an all in one solution to install into the energy conscious home owner’s domain. Zigbee is a competitor of this system, but I prefer the z-wave device technology.

    You may install outlets and swithches in the home that can be monitored by a z-wave controller and indicate how much energy is being used from a switch or an outlet.

    This is the issue…. it does not dynamically “discover” which loads are where. With the z-wave devices you need to program the cost per kw and the actual load that is on the switch or outlet. The controller would then calculate the load / time /cost per kw and arrive at the cost of usage on the zwave device being monitored. The limitation is this…. you have to know what is plugged into the outlet. The reason this is OK is that the “vampire” loads alluded to earlier are typically on the same outlet day in and day out. Additionally the zwave devices can be controlled by a central remote and “scenes” may be created. In my house, the plan is to have all surge protectors and lighting shut down in my “going upstairs to bed” mode. Anyone using this now? Any input…..?

    Comment by Anthony — January 23, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

  6. Anthony —

    Another approach that gets you a lot closer is a new product called eMonitor — it will be available soon (so I hear) and you can learn more from the primary reseller Energy Circle (disclaimer — I have been doing work for Energy Circle lately).


    Comment by Tom Harrison — January 23, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

  7. The Envi is another option out there as well that I believe is better then the TED. The current Envi has the same features as the TED but at a lower cost, in addition to this the EnviR that is coming out soon has the ability to monitor water and gas usage

    Comment by Energy monitor — August 23, 2010 @ 9:15 am

  8. Dear “Energy monitor” —

    What a surprise that you feel this way, given that the link your submitted was to a company that just happens to sell the Envi.

    So rather than just delete as spam, I have an alternative, which is to give my honest review of the Envi.

    So I have used the Envi (I have one which I installed in my home specifically for review). I found the display difficult to read. There’s a lot more information than is needed. The price is OK, but for $30 less you could get a BlueLine or Black & Decker monitor, both of which don’t involve connections in the power box. A minor quibble of the Envi is that because it reads only current, it needs to make assumptions about voltage in order to correctly calculate Watts — but voltage varies throughout the day, and I found mine read about 5% to 10% lower than what was being consumed at the moment. It’s not a big deal.

    The notion that Envi supports Google PowerMeter is a little specious until the network bridge device you mention is released — to upload to Google PowerMeter with the Envi alone, you would have to run the USB cable from where ever the monitor is plugged in to your computer, then (assuming it’s a Windows computer) install software that uploads data to Google.

    To get a continuous report (which is the only thing that really makes Google PowerMeter useful), you need to make sure to do this every few days, or, just leave the computer on all the time. Needless to say, having to have a computer on all the time isn’t exactly aligned with the idea of saving energy. The real solution is, indeed, the network connection. My issue with that is that this extra component will raise the price of the unit — not sure how much but let’s say $179 (I think I saw someone selling the package for around that price). For this price, you get a device that’s not accurate, has a bad display, needs to be plugged in (no batteries), and requires installation at the breaker panel.

    Just not sure this is an option that’s worth the extra money.


    Comment by Tom Harrison — August 23, 2010 @ 10:25 am

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