With the rising costs of energy, some homeowners are installing energy monitoring and management systems in an effort to reduce energy consumption and lower utility bills. These systems provide feedback that homeowners can use to maximize a house’s energy and resource efficiency, and help their homes live up to performance expectations. Some manufacturers are adding even more advanced features that will help them monitor and control the sources and use of resources.
The most basic level, energy monitors provide a simple readout of the total amount of energy the home is using, often by attaching a sensor to the electric meter that sends a wireless signal to the in-home display. The monitors may show the dollar cost of the electricity based on electric rates that the user enters or may let users monitor energy usage by day or time. This type of systems is known as “direct feedback”. In a 2006 report, “The Effectiveness of Feedback on Energy Consumption” for the University of Oxford, Sarah Darby wrote, “Estimates show that utilization of such devices can yield between 5% – 15%”.
Homeowners who desire greater feedback, or who wish to fine tune their energy savings can install systems such as Agilewaves and EcoView which provide specific information on gas and water use as well as electric loads for rooms or floors in a home. Other options include home control systems and intelligent HVAC controllers that not only monitor the energy a system uses, but also control settings based on occupancy, temperatures, or the cost of energy at a given time.
Homeowners can now operate and manage control and monitoring systems in a variety of formats, from the traditional wall-mounted touchscreen to a web application to mobile phones or devices. Most companies offer e-mail or text alerts when certain energy or carbon footprint thresholds are met and can automatically take action, such as setting back the temperature, to decrease the load.
The return on investment for the a number of these devices is still an obstacle for some home owners. Prices range from $500 for basic feedback systems to several thousand dollars for a full home control system. According to Eric Smith, chief technology officer of Control4, payback at current energy prices is six to eight years though he adds, “the company is working on a basic package that would cost less than $250”. Agilewaves’ typical whole-house gas and electric monitoring system with details on seven circuits retails for $7,500, and prices can range higher or lower depending on capabilities.
Note: One of this year’s MacArthur Foundation Fellows (Genius Award) recipient is Shwetak Patel, Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. His work as centered primarily on development of low-cost and easy to deploy devices to measure energy and consumption without expensive instruments. To learn more about his work click the link below.