If you are in New Zealand you know power costs vary - a lot. In winter, when we use most of the power for heating the cost goes up. Houses are not properly insulated, something that only recently New Zealands are paying attention to. Some houses use hot water cylinder, while others have new on demand gas heated hot water - a "pay as you go" approach.
Energy saving requires attack in multiple fronts - making sure the house is dry, improving insulation, installing energy efficient devices, but most importantly knowing where the energy is being used.
Local energy company Powershop launched last year to be an electricity marketplace. I was invited to join their "beta" early on, before their official launch and posted a Powershop review here on Geekzone. One cool stuff about Powershop was the ability to buy packs of electricity at different prices, depending on when you intended to use it. The longer you are with the service the easier to see when you will actually need these.
Forward a few months and after talking to them we had a smart meter installed here at home. The idea was to get a clearer view of how we use energy. But it didn't quite work that way. In old days the power company would send a meter reader around every second month to get the numbers. Which means that our power bill alternated actual readings and estimates. Sometimes the estimates were too low and we got some bill shock.
Powershop was a bit better in that respect as the user has the power to enter meter readings at any time through their website, making it easy to reduce this problem. But I wanted an automated process.
The smart meter was a step forward, automatically collecting the data and sending it to the meter company every day via mobile data. But Powershop only received a weekly aggregate of these readings. So that still wasn't good enough - not close enough to "live" to allow us to find what could be changed in our habits.
To fill this gap, Wellington-based company SmartNow is bringing to the country a range of Current Cost products, small devices that add some smart to your house. While you can have multiple of these devices around to track even individual appliance usage, we agreed to have the Current Cost EnviR installed here for testing.
Basically the Current Cost EnviR comes with a small radio-equipped clamp device that you just hang around the phase, by yor existing meter. Inside the house you power up the EnviR, and if all is ok they should start talking to each other. Position it where convenient and you have instant (five seconds delay) reading of your power usage.
Five seconds! Not one day later, not a week later, not every second month. Almost instant readings, allowing you to pinpoint extreme energy usage. The LCD shows current energy usage (in KWatts and Watts), temperature, usage in the last one and seven days, and approximate instant cost.
Now that's "live" reading. But it didn't stop there... You have the option to plug it via USB to a PC to monitor your usage, but I didn't go that way. Instead we had the Current Cost Bridge plugged into our EnviR, allowing it to connect to the Internet and upload this data every few minutes to the Current Cost website.
The Current Cost service is one of the few services outside the U.S. that is partnered with Google Powermeter, meaning it opened up a lots of new possibilities now.
First I don't have to keep my PC running to monitor my energy usage. The data is transferred up to the cloud with no intervention and available for me to look at in the Google Powermeter website, giving me visibility of energy usage per day, month, base energy and other information.
For example this is what I see on Powershop:
And this is what I see on Google Powemeter:
And this is a daily view on Google Powermeter:
Next I can share this information with friends, and compare power usage. We can swap tips on how to save energy, and I can even identify patterns of usage.
Knowing these patterns allows us to be smart about energy use and work on strategies to have our usage reduced here. For example, what are those spikes during the night? From what we have been looking around it seems to be the fridge. Can we turn the controls down a bit, keeping it "quieter"?
What those big spikes earlying the morning? The heaters coming up before we start the day. Do we need that or can we change the timers? What's our minimum usage? And if we change something how does it compare to the previous period?
I've seen lots of gadgets around here, but this is seriously one of the coolest use of technology around - one that empowers consumers to change their habits to reduce consumption, save energy - and money.
You can configure the EnviR with you unit cost and have an instant view of how much your energy is costing you right now. But knowing that unit prices change depending of season (or even in the Powershop case depending on supplier you chose) the display should really be an approximation, not a definitive number. Just be careful here, this is not a meter reading replacement. It may not be 100% accurate all the time, but it gives you a very good idea of your power usage.
SmartNow is currently testing these devices around New Zealand, including some distributed to power companies.
- Instant feedback on energy usage in the house
- Give consumers the power to know more about their energy usage
- Integration with Google Powermeter
- Test units still show "Euro" sign instead of "Dollar"