As interest in reducing energy consumption has grown, so have the technologies to assist in such endeavors. However, a recent study by Harris Interactive regarding U.S. consumer habits and interests in becoming more energy efficient noted that many of them have not progressed much past simple conservation efforts such as turning off appliances when not in use or replacing incandescent bulbs with more efficient ones.
What could assist in pushing individuals to pursue more aggressive reductions, according to the survey, is the ability to monitor their consumption and better determine what behavior is required to make an impact on the energy consumed. Two different options were presented: smart metering via a utility company, or a computerized dashboard for the homeowner to control. The majority of respondents preferred the ability to control such technology themselves — perhaps with good reason.
Smart meters are tapped directly into the grid to help manage utility bills by monitoring usage and connecting with smart appliances to operate during off-peak hours at a lesser price. As opposed to the older analog system that has been used in homes for the better part of a century, smart meters provide two-way communication between your home and your utility company. This communication can also help with service response when the need arises.
Dan Dean, a design engineer with Greenland Energy Dynamics, suggests that the computerized home energy-use “dashboard” is the better approach.
“I think the design of a smart meter is inferior,” he states. “A smart meter does two things: One, it takes into account something called a power factor. There are a lot of losses in transmitting power from its point of origin to where it is used. The power company tries to offset these losses by penalizing for power factor. [If you measure] below a 0.94 power factor, which all homes do, you’re going to pay premium on electricity. It will show you’re consuming more electricity than you actually are.”
“Two,” Dean continues, “there are two legs of an analog meter that measure how much power you’re using based on the measurements between both legs — a true representation without losses. [But smart meters] measure current a little differently. Each leg goes to half the products in the house. One leg may power the bedrooms and hallways; the other may power the kitchen, living room, dining and den. On an analog meter, it looks at total consumption in an hour. On a smart meter, it looks at each leg independently. If one is higher, it doubles the highest leg — not the sum of two legs.”
Because each leg operates a little differently — namely, you’re more likely to use more electricity in your kitchen and living room, which host most of your daily activities, than you are in your bedroom, which is primarily used for sleeping — the math gets a little tricky and may not reflect your true usage.
“It’s slippery to try to double unbalanced legs,” Dean states.
An in-house dashboard, however, is connected directly to your appliances and puts you in the driver’s seat with real-time viewing of what you’re consuming each day. This can help you rectify consumption issues by changing your daily behavior and/or uncovering phantom usage from different electronic devices. Because of the advances in technology over the past decade, the price point for such systems has come down as well because devices such as smartphones and tablets, which have the ability to serve as system command centers, have become more commonplace — making conservation efforts more affordable than you might think.
Just make sure you know what your system will accomplish.