9 Visual Feedback Energy Management Products

Green Architect

It's been very well documented that visual feedback is enough to help consumers decrease their energy use by as much as 15%. By understanding their own energy use, people can make better decisions regarding consumption, saving money and reducing demands on the energy grid during peak periods. So wouldn't it be great if we could control and view our resource consumption, anywhere at anytime, even with our smart phones?People put so much work and money into their green homes, it only makes sense to provide residents with the tools to track how well their house is performing, and even control it when they're away from home. There are a variety of products, currently on or coming soon, that give people the option to monitor and track their resource consumption and stop worrying about 'vampire energy' because they can turn everything off with one flick of the switch.

Basic Monitoring
On the most basic level, monitoring provides users with visual feedback to see how much gas, water and electricity they're consuming. Some monitors can even incorporate power production for homes have have wind or solar power. Just through visual feedback people can reduce their resource consumption, and users can insure that their home is performing as green as they anticipated. Systems can be super straightforward and easy to use, while others can be more advanced, viewed on the internet or even used in a social networking context.

  • BlueLine Power Cost Monitor: The BlueLine Power Cost Monitor wirelessly transmits electrical usage from the electric meter to a portable LCD display located anywhere in a house. The LCD screen displays current and total electricity usage in dollars and cents and kilowatt-hours and is very easy to use.
  • Environ Smart Thermostat: Environ is a 'smart' thermostat that allows owners to simultaneously manage their solar system along with their heating and cooling system in a single web-based platform. Owners can set or adjust their home temperature at anytime and from anywhere, using the web, a smart phone, or directly with the thermostat device.
  • Building Dashboard: One of the best monitoring programs we've seen, The Building Dashboard allows users to compare and monitor electricity consumption, solar electricity production, geothermal, wind, rainwater reuse, greywater reuse and more in real time on the web. The program has the option to set up budgets, examine breakdowns by area or use, identify periods of high consumption and even check weather forecasts. There is even a social networking component to post updates to a personal profile page, join in real-time energy reduction competitions and create community-wide comparisons. Building Dashboard is used at high profile green homes such as HGTV Green Home and Michelle Kaufmann's Smart Home.
  • Microsoft Hohm: Microsoft's monitoring program, Hohm, is a web-based system that either uses user-inputted information, connects with energy monitoring devices such as the BlueLine, or connects to the utility company. Based on this information, Hohm serves as place for users to monitor and understand their energy use and receive recommendations on how to conserve energy and save money.
  • The Energy Detective: The Energy Detective (TED) tracks your home energy usage and displays it on a central monitor. The device tells you how much exactly you are saving and the costs per hour, day and month, and can also project how much you are spending. TED can also connect to your computer for even more data analysis.

Basic Control
For years homeowners have wished for a simple flick of a switch to power on and off their gadgets and power suckers — energy control systems can do just that.

  • GreenSwitch: At this point, GreenSwitch is purely a control system. The system works be selecting key outlets, lights and thermostats to be controlled via a master switch, making it extremely simple to use. GreenSwitch currently offers a master switch, thermostat, wall switch, outlet, and remote/programmer. The GreenSwitch system is wireless so components can be retrofitted and the system can be upgraded as new products are unveiled. The system can be modified in the future as your needs and lifestyle changes. The upside is this is one of the least expensive systems on the market, but the downside is there is no monitoring or sleak interface to use.
  • BrightSpark: This system is very similar to GreenSwitch, however there are less component options, but a better user interface. There are two options: a DIY installation kit or a more permanent new construction kit. The DIY system includes a touchscreen thermostat, a power strip and three wall outlets; all of which communicate through WiFi. The system enables you to control your home's energy consumption from your computer or iPhone — all you need to do is plug your appliances into the programmable outlets and quickly see savings on your electricity bill.

Advanced Monitoring & Control
By bringing both control and monitoring together in one system, homeowners can have complete management and knowledge of their home's energy use. When they see that something is off with their electricity use, they can immediately take control of the situation by turning off lights or adjusting the thermostat. Some systems can take this one step further by tying into the grid's peak periods and adjusting power use accordingly. Many of these systems are reliant on 'smart' components, such as Insteon, X10, Lutron and ZigBee, that transmit power information to a main computer. They then use an interface program where users actually see and control, and many even have iPhone apps to use on the go.

  • LifeWare: LifeWare is a system that can give users feedback to optimize their energy use. The program features electric, gas, water and HVAC consumption monitoring with lighting, appliance and equipment control. The system gives feedback and on-demand notification and can be used with a remote control, on the internet, a television or with a smartphone.
  • Embedded Automation: Embedded Automation, makes mControl, which allows users to control all aspects of their home remotely, from a computer or with a mobile phone. The system interacts between devices (such as Insteon, X10, Lutron, etc) and an interface. mControl also has their own interface, which is not very sleek looking, but would function similarly to Lifeware and could be custom designed or upgraded to a better interface as companies make them available.

(Image: Lucid Design Group)

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