UPDATE 4 15 2011:
This is a graph that represents the amount of electricity my family used from September 20o9 until March 2010 vs the amount used one year later after installing the TED smart meter.
It represents an average reduction of 44% over a 6 month period totaling 2112 kWh saved. At an average cost of $0.10/kWh that is $211 dollars. The smart meter costs $240.
I did it, I purchased a smart meter. I recently spent $240 on a device that monitors the electricity we use in our home. Several people have pointed out that we could have saved our money and purchased a Kill O Watt device for considerably less. This is true. We actually have a Kill O Watt which reads the electrical usage of individual appliances so as to give us a better idea of how we're using electricity in our home. It does not however help us understand the electrical usage of 220v appliances or our home heating and air conditioning system. So, after considering it for quite some time I made the purchase and I'm glad I did.
First the technical aspects of the device and it's installation. It was easy. My brother-in-law is an electrician so I invited him to help but in retrospect I could have done it myself in about 15 minutes. Still it felt comforting to have some helping who is familiar with electrons. Two clamps were installed in the electrical panel. A cord was plugged into a wall socket and my computer. And lastly a display monitor was plugged into an additional outlet.
The result is real time reporting of just how many watts we are using. It also calculates the amount of money being spent in real time on electricity and projects monthly usage and cost. It is suppose to keep up with 5 appliances using the most electricty but either the software sucks or I suck at figuring it out. Regardless it's one thing to know your clothes dryer uses a lot of energy. It's quite another thing to watch your household usage spike from 300 watts to 5300 watts when you start the dryer. This is where the device has proved most useful.
I have certainly become more aware of what is using electricity in my house at any given moment. I can't help but glance at the monitor as I walk past an wonder, "What is pulling an extra 300 watts?" It has made my wife just as curious. A few stories and then back to her experience.
When we first installed the smart meter we turned off everything. With no appliances running we were at 75 watts. ? We figured out the computer/printer/speakers were pulling 50 watts even when they were turned off. We refashioned the surge protector so that we could easily turn it off when the computer was not in use. This means 50 less watts being used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Now our base load was 25 watts. This powers digital clocks and the display of the smart meter itself. When the chest freezer is running that adds an additional 200 watts. When the refrigerator is running that adds about 100 watts. This means if nothing else is on our electrical usage shouldn't be more than 325 watts. We can check before leaving the house or going to bed and know in an instant if anything is running that needs to be turned off.
The other day I looked before leaving and saw 525 watts. I was confused because I thought all appliances and lights were was off. A quick investigation found that someone left on the attic lights- two 100 watt bulbs burning away that might have stayed on for who knows how long until someone noticed the switch or ventured back into the attic.
Also we identified appliances we will not be using or will use sparingly in the future. Those upright lights we were using to make certain rooms brighter? Yeah we'll be using stronger compact florescent bulbs in the overhead fixtures in stead of the uprights lights after seeing how much juice those suckers use.
The overall process has made my wife more conscious of the amount of electricity being used at any given time. Again it's one thing to know acedemically that drying clothes with electricity uses energy wastefully. It's another to see just how much energy is actually in use in real time. it makes hanging clothes on the line seems like that much smarter of an idea.
The software provided by the system lets you see the historic hourly usage during any given month. This will help us to better understand our habits and change them. It will also help by giving us monthly goals. The plan is to decrease usage during any given month based on that same month one year ago. Our electrical provider does give us monthly meter readings on which our bill is based but the information is confusing because of the time lag and our new smart meter works in real time with fairly accurate monthly predictions. It's a much better tool for helping to create changes in usage and behavior.
Lastly our smart meter has helped my family realize that a Photovoltaic system for generating electricity is in fact a reasonable investment. Before we understood our electrical usage we thought we need a large system capable of providing quantities of electricity to power our needs. In reality though we are using 350 watts or less 90% of the time. Four 85 watt panels and a plug in invert will cost us less than $2000 to install and will meet most of our electical needs. When the dryer is on we will be pulling from the grid and when it's not we're likely to be putting electricity back in. No huge system is really necessary.
Mostly though the installation of this smart meter has helped my family to identify just how much electricity we use, which of our behaviors are most in need of adjustment and has turned energy conservation in to a real and tangible change.