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Whole House Energy Monitoring

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Well, your electricity bills are through the roof and you know you could stand to cut down on energy use at home but just where are you using the most electricity? And is there even a way to find out?

    TOM: Well, it turns out there is. Whole-house electricity-monitoring systems can do the detective work for you. Here to explain exactly what they are and how they work is This Old House host, Kevin O’Connor.

    Hey, Kevin.

    KEVIN: Hi, guys.

    TOM: You know, as green becomes more popular, so has a whole host of tools to help you monitor your electrical use. But while most of them have only been capable of monitoring what was plugged into them today, now there’s a whole-new array of whole-house monitoring systems that are becoming more and more common and more affordable. How, exactly, do they work?

    KEVIN: Well, at the very basic level, they work by giving you information about what’s going on in your house. It’s all about empowering you, as the homeowner, to know how much of your electricity you’re using and what things in your house are using that electricity. Because until you know that, you can’t really change your behavior.

    So, there are a couple different items out there. There are the simplest ones that I call point-of-use monitors and that means that you can take your refrigerator, unplug it from the wall, plug it into the monitor and then that back into the wall. And what it will tell you is how much energy that refrigerator is drawing every minute of every hour of every day. Why is that important? Well, it’s going to tell you just how efficient that refrigerator is and it’s going to allow you to make a decision. Is this refrigerator too old and too efficient? Does it make sense to upgrade it?

    And you can take this simple, little device that costs just a few dollars and go around your house and plug it into whatever – your television, your dryer, your stereo component – and it will allow you to make those decisions. It’s basic but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful.

    TOM: OK.

    KEVIN: Now you take it up from a step from there and you can talk about monitoring the entire house. And there are some great gadgets out there right now that will allow you to understand how much electricity the entire house and everything in it is using. Some of these you actually clip on to the electrical meter outside of the house and it will give you a report.

    And again, what’s good about this is it starts to set benchmarks. You can actually see how much your house – how much electricity your house uses and then through behavioral changes, you can say, “Well, listen, this is how I get it down 5 or 10 percent.”

    And this is going to become a very important tool because as the grid becomes more intelligent – the smarter a grid becomes more intelligent – we’re going to be able to buy power and use power at different times of the day, when it’s more efficient and costs less for us.

    TOM: Now that’s going to happen when we start to become more – have more and more smart meters installed around the country. And we don’t have so many yet but I think we’re getting there.

    KEVIN: No, I think we’re definitely getting there, because people are understanding that the more information we have, the more we can actually change our behavior and the more (inaudible at 0:24:46) we can use.

    LESLIE: So, wait, with this smart meter thing that you’re talking about, it would say – alright, if you use your, say, dryer right now, it’s going to cost you $15 to dry this load of laundry.

    TOM: Oh, God, I hope not.

    LESLIE: But if you – or whatever it might be. But if you wait an hour, it’s only going to cost you $3. Is that sort of what the sense is your getting out of what the capabilities could be someday?

    TOM: That’s where it’s going to. I don’t think that we’re there yet but eventually, the meters are going to be so smart that they can actually be tuned into different appliances and communicate with those appliances in your house. And it might trigger, say, a warning light that says – it’s blinking and you know when the light blinks, it means if you dry your clothes right now, it’s going to be more expensive than if you wait a few hours.

    KEVIN: Imagine the day when you can tell your dryer, “You know what? I don’t care when they’re dry, just so long as they’re dried by tomorrow. Dryer, you dry them when it’s most efficient.”

    LESLIE: When you see fit.

    KEVIN: And it will go out to the grid and say, “Well, guess what? It costs a lot less money to buy electricity at 2:00 a.m. than at 11:00 p.m. when everyone else is watching television.”

    These are great tools that are coming our way and I will tell you that on some of our projects recently, we’ve been installing things like hot-water heaters that have that Cat-5 plug built into them. So you can already see the day when a wire carrying information is going to be plugged into your appliances, into your equipment, so that it can start communicating with you and with the utility companies.

    LESLIE: How far down the road do you think that is?

    KEVIN: The technology, I think, is right around the corner. When mass-adoption happens, I think, is anyone’s guess. I would literally be throwing a dart at a dart board if I said somewhere in the next, say, 5 to 10 years.

    TOM: Yeah but there’s never been more interest in being energy-efficient and being green and being environmentally-friendly, so I think that the market is demanding it right now and that’s what’s really going to drive it over the edge.

    KEVIN: Yeah and I think that’s why we’re seeing a lot of these companies coming out with even more sophisticated systems. There’s one more whole-house system that we’re familiar with and rather than just monitoring the whole house sort of in the aggregate, this is a device that you put down next to your electrical panel and it clips on to every circuit in that box.

    And now it tells you two things: how much electricity is the entire house using but also how much electricity is each individual circuit using. And so now you don’t have to go around and unplug the refrigerator and plug in the TV; to plug in the dryer. You can get a very comprehensive report and it comes with sophisticated software, to empower you to actually save a lot of electricity.

    TOM: And if you’re concerned about getting lost in all that sophisticated reporting, even Google is getting into the monitoring business right now.

    KEVIN: Is Google not getting into anything?

    LESLIE: I think …

    KEVIN: Yeah, they’ve got a software program out there. No surprise, it’s free. But basically, what it does is it allows you to aggregate the data that you’re getting from either smart meters or your whole-house meters, to take all that data, to put it into one place and report it back to you. And of course, because it’s Google, you can do it remotely over the internet.

    TOM: And that’s called the Google PowerMeter at Google.com/PowerMeter.

    Kevin O’Connor, host of TV’s This Old House, great advice. Thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.

    KEVIN: My pleasure, guys.

    TOM: And This Old House is brought to you by The Home Depot. The Home Depot, more saving, more doing.

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