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13 December 2010

Vampire be gone!


Vampire Power is a $3 billion per year drain on the U.S.
economy.  The wasted energy powering devices when we
are not using them accounts for as much as 1% of global
CO2 emissions.  Image Source.

A new kind of affordable home energy monitoring device helps you achieve heightened energy awareness and cost savings.

What's more effective than garlic or holy water for killing off the very expensive and wasteful Vampire Power problem in your home?  A new series of home energy monitoring devices retail for around $200 and can be set up in minutes.  An LCD screen in your home displays real time energy consumption and cost information based on electricity cost rates that you program into the device.  The device also beams the data to the Internet where you can view it from anywhere using a variety of free web-based applications including Google PowerMeter.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that wasted power accounts for 10% or more of consumer electricity bills.  Vampire Power load is just one example of the information you can unlock by watching your electric panel react to your everyday activities in real time.  These devices help illuminate normal energy usage trends and make it fun and interesting to get your consumption numbers as low as possible.  Ever wonder just how much energy is used in a hot water clothes washing cycle vs. cold water washing?  Run both cycles and observe the difference in the power spikes on your personal Google PowerMeter graph.  Turn off the power strip that's connected to your home entertainment center and the power meter will instantly display the monthly and annual cost savings. 

Like many other people I was exposed to the concept of saving energy at home from a very young age.  Growing up, my dad had a mysterious form of extrasensory perception when it came to energy consumption around the house.  If someone messed with the thermostat or left a light on in an unoccupied room, dad would somehow receive a warning signal as if he was connected up with the circuitry of the house.  This was about 20 years ago, long before any kind of device existed, but dad was on to something.  To avoid countless reminders about how electricity does not grow on trees, or for the perfect father's day gift, look into a home energy monitor.  At the very least, you can lower your home's overall energy consumption by becoming more aware of when your electric meter is spinning up a massive bill and what appliances are slurping up valuable watts. 

The energy monitoring device itself does not reduce energy consumption. It simply displays what you're using instantaneously, daily, weekly and what it's costing you in dollars according to the rate you pay for energy. The monitor plugs into your computer or home network so that it can upload your data every few minutes to Google PowerMeter or any number of third party applications that allow you to access your home's energy usage data from anywhere in the world. In the first few weeks of using my device, I took action in ways that will pay for the device in under a year (read my conclusions below).
On the environmental side, eliminating half of a typical home's vampire power load can save over 1,000 pounds of CO2 emissions per year. 

Google PowerMeter collects data from your home energy
monitor and displays it on your Google Home Page.
Post-Publication Update 25-Sept-2011: Google discontinued its PowerMeter project a couple weeks ago.  Time will tell if the minds at Google introduce a similar consumer oriented energy use portal.  In the meantime, there are a bunch of start-ups focused on energy use awarness. Some, like Opower, partner with your utility company to analyze your usage and benchmark you against neighbors.  We are sorry to see PowerMeter go. 

Google has taken notice of this new consumer friendly technology and now offers a free online application that displays, charts and stores your energy usage details collected by the energy monitor device in your home.

The Google PowerMeter interface takes just a click or two to set up.  Just why Google is entering the retail energy market remains to be seen.  Our guess is that the geniuses at Google foresee a time in the near future when electric vehicles, distributed power generation and other innovations will change the way our power grid operates and they want to have a hand in the action every step of the way. 

Here's a step-by-step list of the setup process for the home energy monitor that I recently purchased, the CurrentCost Envi: 
1.  Buy the power meter online.  There are currently a few manufacturers selling meters for the U.S.  TED (The Energy Detective) and CurrentCost are the two largest.