Chances are, you can only answer that question once a month, when your electricity bill arrives. And if the numbers have gone up, you’ll probably tell yourself you need to cut back. But chances also are that you won’t think about it again. At least until the next bill comes.
But what if you could see, at a glance, exactly how much power is being consumed in your home at any given moment? What if you could see, in simple dollars and cents, what your energy use costs? Would that change your behavior? Would that motivate you to take immediate action to save electricity… and save money?
Those are the questions behind the “Hawaii Energy Study,” which aims to make energy consumption and conservation more accessible and actionable. Part of a larger federally funded program to achieve “Long-Lasting Greenhouse Gas Reductions for Marginalized Communities,” the study will install whole-house energy monitors in 300 homes on Oahu (and another 100 homes on Molokai for a related project).
The TED (The Energy Detective) monitors are small, simple, portable LCD displays that show a basic set of power use statistics: real-time use, recent use, month-to-date, voltage, and a monthly cost projection. It receives data from a monitor installed at your home’s circuit breaker box, transmitted via powerline networking.
And there’s an optional piece that can put your TED data online, so you can look up your energy usage via the web (such as through Google Powermeter).
Kanu Hawaii is taking the lead in the first phase of the study, which involves installing 50 energy monitors this month (and setting the groundwork for another 300 or so in the fall). Other partners in the program include the Blue Planet Foundation, Kupu Hawaii, and Hawaii Energy.
My brother, Eathan, joined Kanu Hawaii as its Energy Project Coordinator in May. So not surprisingly, he found some guinea pigs within the family. This past weekend, I got my first look at the TED monitor at our dad’s house in Aina Haina:
And while the monitor has been in place for only a couple of weeks, it’s obvious to me that real-time power monitors are an effective way to promote energy conservation.
Simply put, the more immediate the feedback, the more urgent the call to action. My step-mother is already telling stories about checking the monitor, then scouring the house for forgotten or unattended appliances and gadgets. She knows what the voltage looks like when the dryer is running, or when the air conditioner is on, and she’s more conscientious about limiting their use. And she’s already set her own target daily energy limits, striving on a daily basis to keep that final monthly cost down.
I was enthralled, simply as a gadget geek and a data hound. Of course, it’s also easy to see environmental and economic implications this relatively simple system could have on a family, neighborhood, regional or even national level. I already know my family isn’t the most responsible power consumer, so I signed up to join the study. You can, too.
But even without the official study, it may be worthwhile to look into picking up your own TED. It’s hard not to try harder to save energy when the numbers are right in front of you, every day.