There's no easy way to tell if leaving the lights on in the kitchen is causing sky-high electrical bills, but digital tools for smart homes are coming down to earth.
The Building Dashboard from the Lucid Design Group displays a running tally of electricity, natural gas, and water usage within an elegant, precise interface. Showing how many resources are being spent and where in a building, it hooks up to energy meters as well as automation systems from Siemens, Honeywell, and other brands. Alarm bells ring if consumption spikes past preset levels. The real-time display also adds up the dollar savings of solar panels.
At this point, the dashboard is integrated more easily into new homes than retrofitted into standing structures, mostly due to hardware constraints. Lucid is partnering with LivingHomes and other green developers to embed its digital resource readouts into new construction.
Schools, museums, and nonprofit groups are among the two dozen Building Dashboard customers. Oberlin College in Ohio is using Lucid's product. Tuesday afternoon, for instance, each resident of the Saunders dormitory was consuming about 237 watts per hour--which would add up to $12.75 and 221 pounds of global-warming carbon dioxide for the month. Members of two residential halls there used the dashboard to reduce electricity consumption by 56 percent.
Installation of Lucid's system earns credit toward green-building certification with LEED, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program run by the U.S. Green Building Council. Displays can be set up online or in lobby touch-screen kiosks, with data accessible on a server and available for download into Microsoft Excel. Webcam integration can provide time-lapse views of energy consumption patterns.
Meanwhile, some utilities are promising by 2012 to offer Web-based power consumption displays. California's Pacific Gas & Electric is working to offer customers online readouts with their bill of hourly electricity and daily natural gas consumption. But such details will likely fail to show consumption hot spots within regions of a building, said Michael Murray, CEO of Lucid Design Group. Lucid is swamped with work lately and is working to refine its products for a broader market. For now, upfront residential installation may begin around $5,000 and climb into the six-figure range for commercial structures.
Someday, there will probably be a variety of Web-based power widgets like Lucid's dashboard. You'll be able to log in from your handheld, see that the TV in the kid's room is on past midnight, and give the baby-sitter a call.