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Green Building News

More Power-Monitoring to the People!

KILL A WATT MONITOR GETS TWEET-A-WATT TREATMENT. The interior of a Kill a Watt power-outlet monitoring device with Tweet-a-Watt hardware installed. The added hardware includes a WiFi transmitter that automatically sends power-usage data to the user's Twitter account. Tweet-a-Watt modification kits, priced at $90, are offered by Adafruit Industries, which specializes in open-source hardware designed for do-it-yourself installation.
Image Credit: Adafruit Industries

Major companies are backing strategies that will allow consumers easy access to detailed information about their energy use

To the extent that telecommunications gadgets and related software applications have become ubiquitous, it seems inevitable that consumers will soon be able to monitor and control energy use in the home by punching a few keys on a cellphone or computer keyboard.

The hardware and software to do the monitoring already exist. What’s needed is a way to deliver the information, in an easily accessible and useful form, to consumers.

Competition is already heating up in this area.

In February, for example, online search giant Google unveiled a prototype of its PowerMeter application which, through a secure connection, would allow each household to view in real time detailed energy-usage data for virtually every appliance and circuit in the home.

Among the keys to fully implementing PowerMeter software, the company says, will be widespread installation of “smart meters” in homes (40 million of the devices, in fact, are scheduled to be installed as part of the government’s stimulus program) and cooperation from regulators and utilities in making usage data available to a third party like Google.

Will Verizon’s Fios get into the act?

Last week Verizon Communications confirmed it might offer an energy-usage monitoring service via a Wi-Fi connection to its Fios routers, which are installed in the homes of consumers who subscribe to the super-high-speed broadband service. Once it’s linked to a smart meter, the Fios router could become yet another source of near-real-time energy monitoring.

Verizon has not yet committed to offering the service, which, like PowerMeter, would provide usage data in enough detail to allow consumers to adjust their usage patterns in ways that will reduce their electric bills. But it is exploring the idea. By most estimates, supplying customers with detailed usage information would allow them to reduce their power bills by about 10%.

The Twitter factor

Speaking of real-time information feeds, the social messaging utility Twitter has also come into play in the energy usage realm thanks to a kit that allows consumers to modify a widely available power monitor – the Kill a Watt, a $20 device that tracks usage on the outlet it is plugged into – so that the data is fed wirelessly, and continuously, into the user’s Twitter account.

The modification hardware, called Tweet-a-Watt, is available from Adafruit Industries, a supplier of do-it-yourself electronics kits, for $90. Early in March, the device placed second in the 2009 Greener Gadgets Design Competition held by green-tech blog forum Inhabitat.

Jesse Berst, an analyst at GlobalSmartEnergy and founding editor of Smart Grid News, told CNET last week that while utilities may be slow to develop a system for delivering real-time usage data to consumers, telecommunications firms and gadget makers are likely to move quickly and aggressively to reach consumers who want energy-management services.

“There will be a huge collision in the home, but it won’t just be utilities and telcos. Many others are converging there as well,” he said.


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