Take Control of Your Energy Consumption

By: Paul W. Roberts

Energy use of a typical U.S. home. Chart Source: Energystar.gov.

Awareness and Action

In our efforts to move towards a more sustainable society, how do we affect the day-to-day habits of individuals to make a difference? Invoke the “double A” principle – increased awareness leads to increased action.

While debates rage about which energy inputs should fuel the future of our great consumption engine, we should also explore innovative ways that we can do more with less. I’m not suggesting suffering or dramatic life style changes, but shifting our focus to tighter buildings, enlightened buying decisions, and the wise use of the things we have. Where do we start?


Top Tips

  • Start at the Top – Monitor the Home

Your home is an enclosure that architects and energy auditors refer to as the “building envelope.” The amount of energy required to keep your envelope comfortable is dependent on the quality of its seal. You have meters that keep track of how much energy you consume. Whether they are old analog spinners or new, real-time, smart meters, their job is the same; they measure the total energy used by your home. Knowing how much energy your residence consumes at this top-level is the first step towards formulating a plan of action.

Moving that information from a monthly bill to a more real-time interface can increase awareness and timely action from consumers. One company who helps facilitate the awareness/action model is Opower. Opower has partnered with 50 utility companies across the U.S. to provide consumers with feedback on how their total energy consumption compares with their neighbors. Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm also provide consumption data in real-time to homeowners where they have partnered with utility companies to date.

Some people, however, will want to know more than “I burned 100 kWh yesterday and 120 kWh today.” Taking a whole house inventory is the next step to knowing where to make necessary adjustments.

  • Bottom up – Monitor the Things in the Home

For some time now there have been plug-level energy monitors such as Watts Up?, Kill A Watt, and Belkin Conserve, that collect consumption data on the things in your home. Some monitors just have a display, some have a display and memory, and some have a cable connection (USB) to upload consumption data to your computer. There are newer products, such as the PICOwatt and Modlet, that use wireless methods to monitor consumption and optionally control connected devices. This is a dynamic area where new solutions continue to emerge.

Some of the “big things we have, like our cars, TV’s, major appliances and comfort systems (heating and air conditioning), tend to consume relatively large amounts of energy.  Someday, all of those items are likely to have built in monitors and/or controllers. Today, many utility company web sites, and the web app MyEnergyThings.com, can help you estimate energy use of these items. Some items, like your fridge, are plugged in and running all the time. Thus, energy consumption is based mostly on the efficiency of your brand and model. On other items, like your cars, dishwashers, and clothes washers & dryers, energy consumption depends on how much you use them.

A lot of “little things can add up as well. Your home has electrical outlets with small appliances, gadgets and chargers plugged in all the time. While any one thing might consume very little, you might be amazed at how many little things you have, and how they add up to a large chunk of energy (and large chunk of change).

  • Take action.

Now that you know where your energy is going, you have the information you need to make immediate changes to the way you purchase and use the things in your home. Hiring a professional home energy auditor can also help you determine the specific steps that you can take to make the bigger changes to your home’s overall “building envelope.”


Bio: Paul W. Roberts is the founder and CEO of EnergyThings, provider of the web app MyEnergyThings.com.

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