Monitor and Control each outlet in your house!

Monitor/Control each circuit in your home!

Monitor/Control each circuit in your home!

In our Energy Tools for Newbies, Part 2 post we looked at several different types of energy monitors including the plug-in device monitor, whole-home moment of use, and whole home internet enabled data-logging monitors.  And then there was one more type that was on the wish list.  The grand-daddy of all home energy monitors.  A monitor that could measure each circuit in your home, record the electricity that each circuit used, control that circuit, and provide real-time alerts on any abnormal activity (sparks, surges, lighting, consumption).  Thanks to Computerized Electricity Systems (C.E.S.) the whole home circuit level monitor is now a reality.

I first mentioned C.E.S. in my list of energy monitoring companies, but it was very brief.  Of all the different companies and methods of monitoring energy that the list mentioned, C.E.S. is by far the most advanced, in-depth, and most thorough solution that aligns the consumers desire to effectively control their energy consumption with the utilities smart grid needs.  Click on this video to get an overview of their energy management system and why you could benefit from having it installed in your home (system prices range from $600-$3000 depending on the options, and its all field upgradable so you don’t need to buy the ultimate system day one but rather grow with your needs).

The idea is very simple: Replace the conventional electricity panel in your home or business (that is the same type of one that was installed with the world's first light switch) with an actual energy management system made for the 21st century.  You know that century right?  The century when society realized that electricity didn't just magically appear from the power lines entering our homes, it was made in large parts by power plants that operated out of harmony with their natural surroundings.  In the 21st century, people realized they need the knowledge and tools to actively monitor and manage their electricity consumption.  While switching off light switches and properly programming thermostats was all that was required to conserve energy in the 20th century; the 21st century demands those same energy saving tips still be employed, and then some a lot more.

And thus the need for an electricity panel that actually helps us save energy, not just distribute it.  The company highlights the three main features that their product exhibits:

  • Scalable full real time monitoring and control of individual breakers / appliances (through a web-interface)
  • flexible demand response (by breaker)
  • alternative energy monitoring (net-metering) and utilization

I was able to see a product demo last night by their CEO of U.S. operations Shlomo Nimrodi, and I was very impressed.  The company was founded in Israel (a resource starved country) and has been working on their product for over 5 years.  Shlomo told me they received U.L. approval in March of this year and have been having good traction with their early installations and demos for some of the biggest players in the Smart Grid revolution.  I was happy to see the rich set of reporting features built into the product and the ability of the system to send those reports to you at a frequency you set.  The product works as either a stand-alone unit in a single home or business, or as part of a Utility program networked with all the other homes in the Utility's service area and fully controlled through a web interface.  The main competitor for C.E.S. for the attention of Utilities will be the smart-meter.

But the C.E.S. solution so much more attractive than a simple smart-meter because it can a) monitor individual circuits, not just the whole home and b) actually control those circuits! And still provide the utility anything they need for their billing and time of use applications.

A smart-meter by itself is basically just a tool for the utility to charge more during different hours of the day ("Time of Use").  Electricity is more expensive during hours of higher demand, so the utility would love to charge consumers a higher rate during these hours.  The problem is that currently most meters on our houses (non smart-meters) are fairly "dumb" in that they can only calculate how much total electricity is used, not when it is used.  In addition to helping consumers get a grip on how much energy they use, a smart-meter handles the important job of helping the utility charge you more when electricity is more expensive for them to produce.  But the C.E.S. system allows precise monitoring coupled with control, which gives homeowners all the power they need to see where they are using energy and put a stop to it.

Much like I can monitor and control my home's thermostat with the Ecobee smart thermostat, if I had the C.E.S. system installed I could do the same thing for all the electricity outlets in my house for each individual breaker! So in a few years, when we are all charged tiered rates for the price of electricity, we can program our C.E.S. systems to automatically turn up our thermostats or let the temperature in our electric hot water heater cool off a little bit when the price of electricity rises in the middle of a hot summer day.  Likewise, when electricity prices fall at night, we can program the C.E.S. system to turn on the breakers controlling dishwasher or load of laundry and take advantage of the cheap cost of electricity for the energy intensive users.

And if that weren't enough, the system can also tie-in alternative energy sources and easily manage that electricity with the electricity purchased from the grid.  The system will even automatically switch loads to the cheaper energy source before it will consume any energy from the grid.

The U.S. still has a long way to go before a culture of conservation is ingrained in the majority of electricity users, but solutions like the one from Computerized Electricity Systems sure make me think that  energy conservation efforts are going to meet much less resistance and much more success in the years to come.

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I don't understand the idea of having a system like this turn on or off appliances at night, as suggested here. Doesn't seem like there are many appliances where one could practically use an automated system to switch them on/off. Specifically - laundry. Who is going to get up in the night to transfer the freshly washed garments into the dryer? Who is going to check that the garments are dry and get the garments out of the dryer, check that they are dry or restart the dryer. (Yes I know there are dryers with dry sensors - but haven't heard of any that work, or that will get the clothes out and flatten them out/fold them so they won't wrinkle.) Seems like the sort of concepts suggested by people who don't actually do the laundry? No aspersions being cast, I have seen this idea suggested elsewhere - and just don't see how it would be practical, for laundry or anything else. Now if a system like this shut off the television during certain times, I could see how that might be beneficial, but that just requires a bit of will-power.
At first glance that seems neat ... but just flipping breakers only really works for dumb devices like light bulbs. Take your example of loading the dishwasher and having the panel turn on the breaker to it during the night. I'm not at all sure that my dishwasher would start itself when power appeared ... so I need a smart(er) dishwasher too. It does no favors to the local grid either. What if this were widely deployed in a neighborhood and all the home owners picked "2am" to start their dishwashers? In a smart grid you want coordination to avoid sudden spikes. Finally, for me, the spouse factor would come into play: 2am; spouse is woken by dishwasher starting, pokes me in the ribs: "Honey, what's that noise downstairs?"
Tony, your right about the spouse factor! Unless your spouse is on board meddling with your homes settings and appliances can turn into quite the domestic battle. I told my wife that since we have a web enabled thermostat i'm going to make sure she's not wasting too much energy when I go out of town on business. She didn't think that was as funny as I did. But the real power of the CES system is more in the fact that it can monitor each individual circuit. The control of the circuit is just a secondary function. Monitoring is like the brain and control is like the hand. The brain is where all the important things happen.
Tony, excellent points, especially the first. Rather than speculating about whether you can delay the start of major appliances by controlling the circuit, I tested mine. Here are the results: Dishwasher (4 year old Bosch) - no Washing machine (20 year old Maytag) - yes Dryer (20 year old Maytag) - no Refrigerator (4 year old Fisher & Paykel) - yes So it's not as bad as it might have been, at least in my house. But your general point is right: we may have to upgrade appliances in order to control them in this way. By the way, I tried the delayed start in two ways: (1) turn off circuit, push power button on, turn on circuit; (2) push power button on, turn off circuit, turn on circuit. They gave the same results. David

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