To save energy at home, one of the first things you can do is start measuring your consumption. With more detailed information than a monthly bill, consumers can change their behavior and shave between 5 and 15 percent off their bills, say experts.
Analysts project that millions of home energy displays will be installed in the next two to three years, largely through utilities' smart grid programs. This image gallery will show you some of the different approaches, using both hardware and software, to home energy management from the dozens of companies in the field.
This energy display is from Onzo, which plans to release the device in the U.K. next year. The device is coupled with a sensor that can read energy usage from a home's wiring. The wireless display will show real-time energy usage, historical data and provide access to Web services.
There are already energy monitors available in the U.S., such as Blue Line Innovation's PowerCost monitor, which is already available for about $110. It gets data from a utility meter using an optical reader that you need to clamp onto a meter. The idea is that having a visible reminder of how much electricity a house is using and how much it costs, people will take steps to lower their consumption. Now, dozens of companies are getting into home energy management as smart meters and other networked devices allow for more features than just monitoring.
A start-up doing both devices and software for monitoring and managing energy use is Tendril Networks. Tendril's products work with two-way smart meters and a home network to gather data on appliances and run reports. General Electric is working with Tendril so that its demand-response appliances can automatically take advantage of lower electricity rates during off-peak times.
Microsoft, too, is getting into the home energy management business with Hohm, a Web application. So far, Microsoft has signed deals with a couple of utilities so consumers can have bill information fed into the application. Beyond that, Hohm provides advice on how to lower home energy through a long questionnaire. Since its beta release in June, thousands of customers have registered to use Hohm, according to a Microsoft representative.
This caption was updated at 12:00 p.m. PT on November 20 with comment from a Microsoft representative.
Google last year introduced PowerMeter, a Web-based application for tracking home energy use. The idea is that by viewing daily and historical data, people will find ways to curb energy use. For example, running a pool pump fewer hours a day or at off-peak times can cut bills significantly.
Google is making PowerMeter available through utilities that are installing two-way smart meters in their smart-grid programs. But it is also making the software available through other devices that can gather energy usage data in real time. The first energy display that PowerMeter works with is called The Energy Detective, which can read data by attaching a sensor onto wires in a circuit box. It's recommended that people get an electrician to do the installation, or do it themselves if they are comfortable removing a circuit box cover, the company says.
One of the challenges in widespread use of energy management tools is getting information from meters and putting it into a usable form. U.K. company AlertMe is developing a system where appliances plugged into smart plugs can transmit data to a central hub, which is the cube-shaped device. The hub makes information available on the Internet, allowing people to control thermostats via a Web portal or smartphone. It's part of a home security system where consumers pay a monthly fee.
Generally speaking, there are single-purpose energy management devices and those that can do energy management along with something else. Control4 early next year plans to offer an energy management console through utilities that will monitor energy usage and also analyze data to provide recommendations on how to program home appliances to be more efficient. The company, which does home area networks for video and music, could offer additional services, such as access to weather and traffic reports through the display.
Opower is focused on home energy efficiency, but company executives believe that more attention should be paid to people than devices. It collects and analyzes utility customers' bills and provides customized reports and recommendations on how to shave consumption. One of the key features is giving people access to a portal where they can see how their energy usage compares to neighbors. These reports and recommendations drive small cuts in individual household energy, but over millions of people the impact is significant. A 2 percent cut in energy use in half the homes of the U.S. would be an equivalent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to the entire output of solar and wind power right now, according to Opower CEO Dan Yates.
Start-up Grounded Power is trying to incorporate social psychology to motivate energy consumers to save. People can see how their energy usage compares to people in their region and they can set individual goals using Grounded Power's software. It's testing the system with a few utilities in Massachusetts where utility employees can communicate with customers on how to shave energy based on their data.
Smart plugs are another way of managing home energy without smart meters. Carbon management software company Zerofootprint built a prototype of a smart plug system that can transmit data wirelessly to a hub in the home. From there, the data can be transferred over a home Internet gateway and accessed via a Web browser. The company is looking for utilities or other companies to offer its TalkingPlug devices to customers. Not only does it present detailed energy data, but it also allows a person to program lighting and appliances. The company estimates the cost of these smart plugs is about $50 but says that price could go down if they were to be made at large scale.
A wireless thermostat connected to heating and air conditioning systems in a home could provide many of the benefits of home energy monitoring displays. EcoFactor, a Silicon Valley start-up, has built a software service where it can gather energy information from a home over the Internet through a thermostat. By analyzing data, it can give consumers advice on how to cut energy use and help utilities scale back energy demand during peak times.