Saving Energy Automatically

Back in the early 80’s, I wrote a term paper on integrated control systems for the home.  At the time, this was leading edge technology that promised the ability to program thermostats, security, lights and appliances, and control these devices remotely.  Since then, much of this has become an affordable reality.

Programmable thermostats are about as common as mobile phones these days.  There’s no sense heating and cooling your home to be comfortable when you’re not there, so if you have a reasonably predictable schedule, get one of these.  Laclede Gas will even pay about half the cost with their $25 rebate.  You can even set it to drop the temperature a few degrees while you’re under the covers at night, and have the house warmed up by the time your alarm goes off.

The interesting thing is that you’re now able to program your thermostat with your mobile phone.  There are a variety of options available in this space, but Wi-Fi enabled thermostats seem to make the most sense. The ecobee Smart Thermostat is an internet-enabled wireless device that can be programmed from your computer or smart phone.  This not only enables you to create a regular set of schedules, but you can also manage vacations and remotely override the program.  Planning to work late or come home early?  Out all day on Saturday and forgot to turn down the thermostat?  You can change the thermostat with your mobile phone.

You can also use your smart phone to monitor your energy use.  The Google PowerMeter was originally designed to work with smart meters provided by the utility, but now works with a variety of monitoring devices, including The Energy Detective and Current Cost.  A device reads your meter and transmits data to your web-connected computer, which is ultimately available on your phone.  You can see your daily, weekly or monthly usage, and compare your consumption to others or to your past usage.

Here’s the truth:  Most of us have no idea how much energy we’re consuming.  Much like our blissful ignorance about the cost of surgery or even a doctor’s visit, we don’t have much influence over what we don’t know.  Studies have shown that feedback on energy usage will reduce consumption.  In cars that provide this kind of feedback, drivers are more apt to use that feedback to optimize their mileage.  I can personally attest to this – I drive more conservatively in my hybrid vehicle (which has a MPG meter) than I do in our other car that doesn’t have the gauge.

If you’re not interested in real-time energy performance monitoring, consider buying a device like the Kill A Watt power monitor.  You simply plug an appliance into the meter, which plugs into an outlet.  You can then see how much energy the appliance uses over time.  We learned that our old de-humidifier actually used more power than the refrigerator, and found that the annual cost could easily justify a more energy-efficient replacement.  This is typically true of old refrigerators as well.  We measured how much our audio/video equipment was still using when “turned off” and how much the computer used when running 24/7.  A conscious commitment to conservation contributed to a 20 percent reduction in overall energy use from 2008 to 2009.

So while you may not be ready for an integrated control system for your home, you can take any number of steps to reduce your home energy consumption.  This will save money and be better for the planet!

This will be published in the Going Green section of the January 2011 issue of Spirit Seeker magazine.

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