Knowledge is Power for Power Conservation

TED - The Energy DetectiveHow much electricity do you use?

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.

Google Powermeter on iPhoneAnd 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.

9 Responses

  1. Eric Nakagawa says:

    While living in downtown Honolulu, I would often travel for large parts of the month — sometimes multiple months spent away. I’d always leave everything off except an energy star refrigerator. When I would return my electric bills would be nearly identical as months I spent working entirely out of the apartment. Even fluctuations in gas price couldn’t explain the steady price trend. Armed with only anecdotal evidence of my usage patterns, a travel itinerary, HECO’s “estimated” monthly usage billing process, and no real way to get a proper adjustment I’d often feel taken advantage of as a consumer.

    Technology like this brings needed accountability and transparency to the power companies and their subscribers. A large disruption in the billing process matched a nearly free “replacement” for the metermaids hopefully makes for lower prices, a demand curve that adjusts to True real time demand. This will also make consumers more aware of how their lifestyle translates to actual financial and environmental impact — much as choosing to drive to town when traffic is light, consumers will bake a cake/ham/cookies when demand drops.

    Such an exciting time I hope it inspires people to be more conscious of their energy use while also giving us a glimpse of life in the future.

    Thanks for talking about this subject. Am looking forward to some charts and graphs Ryan!

  2. Ryan Namba says:

    Thanks for the great write-up, Ryan! Glad to hear it’s already sparking some conversation within the family. Assuming the old saw that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” is true, we’re seeing this as a necessary (though perhaps not entirely sufficient) step for energy conservation. And ditto Eric above: I’d love to see some charts and graphs down the road, too ;)

    Thanks for “loaning” Eathan to us, too! He’s a great addition to the team.

  3. Kaimana Pine says:

    Awesome! Mahalo nui for participating, Ryan. Looking forward to your progress and thoughts. These tools for measuring our life metrics are gaining popularity, I hope it moves us to a heightened state of awareness and positive movement.

  4. Great article, Ryan. I hope this technology will be adopted by all.

  5. Jeff McNeill says:

    I’m sorry but this is not the most significant bit in terms of energy, its costs and ramifications, but just another gadget. Airplane and car use are much, much larger factors. I think Al Gore did a disservice to everyone in communicating that every little bit of conservation helps and we can help save the planet this way. We are focused on pennies on the ground while hundred dollar bills are flying in the air.

  6. Aloha Tony says:

    Awesome! I can see this being a really useful tool in the effort to manage electricity consumption. Before you can reduce waste, you need to know exactly how much waste you’re generating.

  7. Michael says:

    I would like to get an TED energy detection device. We live in Florida and I keep talking to my wife about energy waste and how much clean energy we could be utilizing if we were smart about it. Very interesting blog!

  8. CD says:

    Ridiculous! Produce more made in China junk, polluting the air with totally unregulated smoke stacks, wasting electricity in the process, to tell people they should turn off lights and appliances when not in use.

  1. March 27, 2015

    […] free in its #hitimers project last year. Another solution? Home energy monitors, which they were testing back in 2011. Switching to CFL or LED lightbulbs? They’ve worked on that, […]

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