Beyond Your Utility Meter: Page 2 of 3

Three Energy Monitors for Your Toolbox
Beginner

Inside this Article

Utility Meter
Utility Meter
Clamp-on Ammeter
This clamp-on ammeter measures current in the conductor it surrounds. Multiplying the measured current by 120 V gives watts.
A Kill A Watt Meter
A Kill A Watt meter plugs directly into an outlet, and measures watts and kWh directly for whatever is then plugged into it.
The HOBO data logger with current sensors.
The HOBO data logger with current sensors.
TED Gateway
TED Gateway is plugged into the wall, to receive data from its circuit monitors.
TED Energy-Monitoring Units
TED energy-monitoring units in the breaker box.
The Current-Detecting Clamps
The current-detecting clamps, which attach to the energy monitors.
Utility Meter
Clamp-on Ammeter
A Kill A Watt Meter
The HOBO data logger with current sensors.
TED Gateway
TED Energy-Monitoring Units
The Current-Detecting Clamps

Sleuthing with TED

For folks who don’t like to fiddle with daily downloads and want a more user-friendly and less expensive interface, The Energy Detective (TED) may offer a simpler solution for whole-house energy monitoring. 

The base model TED 5000 ($199) installation is fairly simple: a box sits in the breaker box and wires into a breaker, and two clamps clip over the main electric cables. This energy monitoring unit (EMU) sends signals through the house wiring to TED’s Gateway, a small, black box that looks like a wall power supply and plugs into any standard household outlet. This unobtrusive device is a Web server. It also transmits a wireless signal to an optional battery-powered LCD display up to 100 feet away to show real-time stats. But the main feature of the TED system is that you can plug a network cable into the Gateway that connects to your router and see a beautiful energy dashboard with detailed graphs of your home’s energy use right on your computer. This only works within your LAN—if you want to monitor your home power from the Internet, you can use the Google PowerMeter (more on that later).

I set up the TED 5000 unit with two sets of sensors so I could monitor incoming utility power and my solar-generated power. The installation was fairly straightforward, but I needed to call tech support to get the solar power graph functions to work properly. The TED screen creates a third line on its graphs for the net energy usage. In the screen shots (opposite page), blue represents utility electricity used; the yellow is solar energy produced; and the green is net energy consumption. TED’s main dashboard page displays real-time data, such as kWh used since midnight, energy used this month, projected kWh usage, and average daily kWh usage, along with cost, CO2 offset, and more. Graphing tools can display real-time views plotted by the second, minute, hour, day, and month. I find this scalability particularly useful to track down unusual loads—you can watch the real-time graph in “seconds mode” and turn on a light, and the graph line will jump right away. 

The TED graphing function allows me to pull up the “Minute Live View” in the morning so I can examine the last 12 hours of nighttime electricity use. By hovering the mouse over the lowest consistent dips (when the fridge is off), I can see the total combined phantom loads—about 0.201 kW (201 W), which I’m still trying to find with my Watts Up? meter. For deeper statistical analysis, the software exports data for spreadsheets. 

Overall, TED is an impressive tool for learning about energy consumption—you become much more conscious of your home as an energy system. It takes a while to learn how to interpret the graphs and correlate them with what lights or appliances are drawing power. Just as with the HOBO data logger, I found the information fascinating but much more user-friendly. 

Ogling Google

For checking on your house’s energy consumption remotely, Google’s new PowerMeter application (free) syncs with TED to integrate with your iGoogle page (www.google.com/ig). Only a few simple steps in the TED user interface are needed to connect it to PowerMeter, which gives you a 48-hour graphical snapshot of your energy usage. However, the low resolution of PowerMeter is more limiting than TED and frankly, a bit disappointing—you just can’t dig into the fine details. 

However, Google’s premise is that by sharing energy information we can all learn how to reduce our energy consumption. For instance, you can share your PowerMeter with other Google users and your data will show up on their iGoogle page for comparison—kind of a “competing with the Joneses” premise. The original purpose was to enable utility companies to send data from digital utility meters to this system and make energy use transparent to their consumers. (At this writing, 10 utilities have partnered with Google; check the Google Web site to see if your utility has joined. Note that TED will work with any utility—it does not interface with the utility equipment.) 

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