Keep warm without losing your cool. New Energy-saving Apps are here!

10 Nov 2012

It seems like we can do just about anything from our smartphones these days, and monitoring home energy usage is one of them. Although we’ve been playing around with the concept for years, modern technology has gotten to the point where products are not only more intuitively designed, they’re also capable of learning on their own.

Some of the earlier concepts of real-time home energy use monitoring came in the form of Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm in 2009. While both programs were designed to use data from homeowners’ utility companies and display their energy usage in real-time, the platforms were underutilized and Google PowerMeter was discontinued in June 2011, followed by Microsoft Hohm in May 2012.

While the programs were somewhat ahead of their time in 2009, they also faced the problem that, as people caught on to the value of the platforms, other companies were already coming out with newer and more integrated energy use monitors that could not only be accessed from one’s computer, they could also be monitored (and even adjusted) from a smartphone.

Green Button Solutions

Today there are an incredible number of products that deal in some form or fashion with home energy monitoring and control, and new ones are coming out every day. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy recently held a contest challenging software developers to come up with the best new app that would make use of their Green Button program. Green Button (LINK: http://collaborate.nist.gov/twiki-sggrid/bin/view/SmartGrid/GreenButtonInitiative) was originally proposed in September 2011 as a way for utility customers to download their energy usage information in a simple, easy-to-understand format. Thousands applied and the winner of the $30,000 grand prize was an app called Leafully.

Leafully works by using trees to show your rate of emissions from your home energy consumption, as well as steps you can take to reduce your usage and save those trees. By using educational activities and integrating with the Green Button program, users can not only see how much energy they are consuming daily, they can learn how to fix it and watch their number of trees grow. There’s even a social aspect that allows you to connect through Facebook with other Leafully users to see how many trees you’ve saved as a group.

The Social Motivation to Save

Social motivators are another growing trend in energy use monitoring. This past April 2012, Facebook released a Social Energy app in conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the software company Opower, which uses social behavior to incite changes in energy consumption. By working with more than 16 major utility companies across the United States, Facebook members can sign up to have their home energy usage compared to that of friends who are also using the app. A small icon appears below the users’ names and shows how well they are doing compared to national trends and to their friends. It’s the subtle competitive aspect that Facebook is hoping will drive users to actively use less energy and move up in the rankings.

Saving Energy from Anywhere

A lot of homeowners, however, are already motivated not only by the environmental impact of saving energy, but also by the monetary savings.  Home Master is one app that can be used to control your home lights and curtains remotely, and Wi-Fi enabled thermostats allow homeowners to keep track of and adjust their home temperature from virtually anywhere with an internet connection.

Recently released in its second version, the Nest is a Wi-Fi enabled thermostat that’s easily programmable and learns about the home or office it’s mounted in over time. If your home is drafty, for example, the thermostat learns that it takes longer to heat up or cool to a certain temperature, so it automatically clicks on sooner to be at your preset temperature at the right time. The Nest can also be accessed via mobile app and Android tablet app so that you can change temperature settings wirelessly.

The iComfort from Lennox works in a similar way, but it also integrates your local five day weather forecast and makes real-time adjustments according to the outdoor temperature, as well as communicates with your heating and cooling systems to alert you to any maintenance needs.

But wireless monitoring of home energy usage doesn’t just stop at temperature control. Complete home monitoring systems are also available that can keep track of your entire home energy usage in real-time. Systems such as the eMonitor Energy Monitor and the Wattvision Power Monitor can be integrated with your meter and usage can be viewed in real-time from their mobile-friendly websites. By flipping on a light switch or turning on a television, you can see the usage numbers jump, or drop as you turn them off.

Other programs, such as GE’s Nucleus Energy Manager, accumulate accessible data for up to three years so you can view historical trends, utilizing smart grid technology to directly connect with other compatible appliances in your home. Instead of seeing a surge in power when you start the dishwasher, for example, the Nucleus would display the fact that the dishwasher was now consuming x amount of energy on your iPhone app. It also allows for remote temperature adjustment.

From simple social inspiration to knowing exactly what appliances are consuming what at any given time and being able to make adjustments remotely, technology is making it easier to control our home energy usage by the day. Now if they could only come up with an app that takes out the garbage and cooks dinner, we would be all set.

Chris Long is a Home Depot store associate in the Chicago suburbs.  Chris’ interests range from solar panels to home automation and home security.

Environmental News from Living Green Magazine – Where Green Is Read

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Leave a Reply