Tag Archives: technology

Measuring Energy used with TED 5000 and Kill-A-Watt

You can improve a lot of things about your energy consumption by following a few rules of thumb, but at one point or another you’ll need to measure your use to know where to place your efforts. Your utility bill is a great tool, and it gives you a high-level overview of trends, but it won’t help you change your behavior in real-time, pinpoint problem areas, or dispel assumptions.

By tracking things better you can also decide where it may be worth it to install some smart control (a timed switch or outlet, a presence sensor, etc), or if upgrading an appliance is worth it energetically. In this post I will share some some of the approaches to measurement I’ve taken for electricity use.

  • TED 5000 for house-level usage and overall patterns
  • Kill-a-watt EZ for appliance and outlet-level analysis.

TED 5000

The TED 5000 (http://www.theenergydetective.com/)is a small simple device that installs in your main electricity junction box and measures current and voltage in real-time. This allows it to compute power used and keep track of it over time.

You install the measurement unit (which they call “MTU”) in the junction box, and then it sends out the measured data to a box plugged elsewhere in the house which is called a “Gateway”. This gateway has a network cable interface and you can plug it into your ethernet. The Gateway exposes a web page which you can see in your browser, which shows real-time and aggregate information.

The TED 5000 Dashboard, accessible by browsing to your TED Gateway’s IP Address

I have found TED 5000 (TED is an acronym for “The Energy Detective” and a not-subtle resemblance to the TED talks logo) to be useful for:

  • Real-time checking of how much appliances are using when they are on or an average over time.
  • Good for real-time tracking that allows me to hunt down phantom/vampire/leech devices that eat up more energy than I thought
  • Seeing how my hourly & weekly electricity usage patterns can be changed.
  • Getting really annoyed at appliances that I can’t turn off e.g. refrigerator.

I have not found it useful for:

  • An appliance-by-appliance analysis of my usage, because of the way it measures and tracks electricity, and also because it’s appliance “Load Profile” scheme seems to mix up my house appliances a lot.
  • Everyday behavior adjustment based on usage and projections – I am finding external apps are more likely to do this for me.
The TED 5000

Mobile Apps for the TED 5000

The information can be seen in a bunch of mobile apps which connect directly to your TED 5000 Gateway, amongst which Mirawatt T5K (http://ted.mirawatt.com/)is the one I liked the most (I use an iPhone, there are similar apps for Android and possibly Windows Phones). It is only worth the $4.99 price because it has no competition as far as user experience goes. (It is not spectacular, however. It is just the least bad of the bunch). Others I didn’t like as much were TED-O-Meter or iTED. These are free, so yay & kudos for the efforts to those developers. To access the information outside your home via your mobile network you will need to configure your internet router to expose the TED Gateway IP address directly on the internet.

Cloud Services & Mobile Apps

PeoplePower (http://peoplepowerco.com/)is a relatively new effort that provides an internet service and a mobile app to access your data. The TED 5000 Gateway stores some usage data, but PeoplePower promises to save your data for a longer time on a real server and its mobile app has more features around projecting and setting goals for your electricity use. It’s headed in a promising direction, and they are also making some steps in gameifying environmental behaviors.

You configure the service by telling your TED device to “post” data to their website. Just follow the instructions you get when you sign up. If you run into any issues or the TED configuration is acting up on you, just email them- I can attest their technical support is excellent.

Kill-A-Watt EZ

The Kill-A-Watt EZ is a great little device. It tracks the energy usage over time and displays real-time or accumulated information. It can show Watts, KWH, or $ (you have too tell it your electricity rates).

I have found it useful for:

  • Measuring the overall electricity used of a device that has complicated use patterns (e.g. my workstation, where I have multiple monitors, and I use it more of it some days than others)
  • Keeping ongoing track of devices that have “spikes” of use. For example, knowing how many watts my microwave oven uses when it’s on is less interesting than knowing how much energy I am using in it over a month.
  • Measuring specific outlets I want to track for other purposes like the charger outlet to the battery of my car, which runs off a standard 120V outlet. I want to track if my battery recharging becomes less efficient over time, and have concrete data for EV naysayers who say it uses more electricity than it’s worth it in gas.

I have tried other devices like the “Belkin Conserve Insight Energy-Use monitor”. It has a nicer physical design but it’s almost a waste of money when it comes to measurements, because of the way Belkin chose to aggregate and display the data. I’ll stick with the Kill-a-watt.

I have a couple of Kill-A-Watt unit (one fixed for the car charger and one that ‘roams’ around the house as I make week-long measurements). The next obvious evolution is to have these meters transmit data via wireless to services such as PeoplePower’s. I’m sure an enterprising soul with a Kill-A-Watt, some micro controller  knowledge or a new ElectricImp and time to invest in a cool project could take the output of the former and beam it via wireless provided by the latter. Sounds worthy of a Maker Faire project.

Note that none of the above help measure electricity used by built-in lamps or lighting systems that you turn on and off via a wall switch (unless you wire things yourself). Maybe one day soon light switches and outlets that automatically measure, store , and forward usage patterns will become economically viable. Some smart digesting of the ensuing data deluge could provide actionable and personalized tips to do more with less.

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Use Less with Smarter Controls

In general, to reduce the footprint of a resource I look at the following strategies:

Smarter control is really a means to reduce demand or increase efficiency, but I like calling it out as it forces me to think of new areas of improvement. Smart controls avoid the use of resources when they are not needed because of real-time environmental conditions, they allow remote or automatic control, give you more fine-grained options on how to use a resource, and can even learn your behaviors and nudge you into less demand. The difference between a control and just a sensor/meter is that it does stuff.

Examples of some controls I have installed:

Gas & Electricity: Nest Programmable Thermostat

Nest Controllable Thermostat

Nest Thermostat

This is the energetic rockstar of my house, and a design beacon for the growing industry of smart controllers. Based on my data, I can attribute an approximate 20% on heating gas savings this last winter to this device alone. It has been the item with the highest energetic ROI-per-dollar in my house since. The Nest thermostat allows me to control my heating remotely via my phone, learns common patterns, turns of unnecessary heating, and nudges my behavior via little ‘green leaf’ icons and monthly points I can accumulate, gamefying my energy conservation. It’s worked so well it will get a bunch of blog posts on its own.
Nest’s website

See the Nest thermostat and reviews on Amazon.

Electricity: Belkin Conserve Socket with Energy-Saving Outlet

Belkin Conserve Socket with Energy-Saving OutletThis smart power strip senses if a ‘master’ outlet is being used, and if not, shuts off the power to most other outlets. I use this strip  to reduce “phantom draw” from peripheral devices around my computer, for example. USB Hubs, speakers, and other accessories are all plugged into the secondary/slave plugs. When I take my laptop away or it is not drawing power from the source, all these devices loose their source power within a few seconds.

Electricity: Belkin Conserve Outlet with Timer

This small plug adapter from Belkin has a built-in timer that can be set to 1/2, 3 or 6 hours. Press the button, and the outlet will deliver power for that long. It’s that simple. I use this for:

  • My external monitors. In addition to the power strip above, it just turns all of them off every 3 hours. If I’m in the middle of something I just click them back on. The timer also takes care of external monitors when the computers’ driver for some reason or other forgets putting them to sleep
  • A power strip that feeds to electronics I rarely use but for some reason tend to stay on like printers.
  • Our home theater assembly. After 3 hours, it turns all the gear off (except a network switch and a Roku, which are fanless solid-state devices that draw a few watts combined combined). I also plugged the Xbox is also on a non-timed outlet, for long downloads to continue independently, but the Xbox is pretty good about turning itself off when it should.

Water: Timed/Regulated Watering

Solenoids (electric faucets) controlling outdoor irrigation

Solenoids (electric faucets) controlling outdoor irrigation.

I’m on the fence on this one, but I’ll include it as it touches upon using smarter controls for water conservation.

I am not a fan of using mains water for irrigation and I believe automated timers have done more harm than good in conserving water (I haven’t seen data either way, but it’s a strong hunch), even with the growing popularity of drip irrigation. Anyways, I recently wired some solenoids (water taps that can be controlled via electricity, in this case 24v) on a couple of irrigation lines and hooked them up to a timer device. It stays off and we use it as a manually activated timer on seldom occasions. If I could hook it up to soil humidity sensors I would feel better about leaving them in automatic. I guess this “Smart control” isn’t so smart yet. Maybe it will be an Arduino project for a rainy weekend to improve this. It rains so often here that capturing some of that would make the most sense.

Another example of a smart control for water conservation would be those simple toilet-flushing buttons that give you two options to use more or less water based on what needs to be flushed. It’s simple but I haven’t installed these yet.

Conclusion

Smart controls can help us reduce consumption and increase efficiency. Sometimes they may seem expensive but if you make sure to  keep measuring your gains you may be surprised! There are many other ways to reduce, reuse and conserve resources that don’t require you to buy anything, but these controls are an example of technology playing a good role in helping improve our lives and the planet.