Posts Tagged ‘Energy Consumption’

The TalkingPlug by Zerofootprint

November 14th, 2011


Zerofootprint provides the software for this genius device called  the TalkingPlug. Currently still in development, this plug could be groundbreaking in terms of what it could do for helping consumers and commercial activities reduce energy consumption. Any electricity consuming appliance plugged into the TalkingPlug can be monitored and controlled via a computer. From a consumer perspective it means that window air conditioners can be managed from afar via computer so they don’t need to be cooling your home while you’re away but you can turn it on an hour before you get home from your smart phone. You also can see exactly how much electricity that unit is using. This plug can be especially useful in identifying old and inefficient appliances. By plugging in refrigerators, stoves, etc., you’ll get an idea of how much energy each unit consumes. You will also have the ability to compare it to what an average similar appliance uses and whether yours is out of date, or not performing to where it should be, via the Zerofootprint website. This kind of information allows you to decide the most cost-effective you can make to lower your electricity bills.

Now imagine this system applied to fast food chains or other commercial applications. Because the TalkingPlug is connected to the internet, a company could see how its appliances are performing. For example a vending machine supplier could have all its vending machines across a city/country/continent  monitored and discover which ones are performing well, which ones are broken and which ones are using too much electricity. By being able to quickly identify which machines aren’t working properly, they can be fixed or replaced much faster than if machines are just left to monthly or quarterly visits from the technician.

The TalkingPlug isn’t on the market yet, but keep a look out for it sometime within the next year or so.

Cutting your electricity Use: Observing your Family’s Behaviour

August 10th, 2011

Think back to the ’80s, before the existence of iPods, home computers, electric telephones, home theatres, gaming stations (all right, there was Nintendo). Although our appliances consumed a lot more electricity per unit than the ones we use now, we used a lot less electricity per household because there wasn’t as much electronic stuff. How many of us actually think about how we’re increasing our plug load when we buy a new electronic gadget?

So, now that you know how much electricity you’re using and where you’re using it (from my previous two articles), you can probably identify some of your home’s major electronic consumers. But there’s another piece of the puzzle that many people don’t even consider, which is human behaviour. You can have all the efficient lighting in the world, a programmable thermostat for your heat, Energy Star rated auto shut-off power bars, but if you’re not using the equipment properly, they’re not giving you the benefits you bought them for in the first place.

In addition to the obvious things like turning off TVs, printers, and computers when you leave a room, there are other less obvious behaviour items to check for, such as:

  • Programmable Thermostats. Do you know how to program your programmable thermostat and have you done so? If you haven’t, pull out the instruction book and do it. You can save significantly on your air conditioning bill by raising the temperature by 3-4 degrees while you’re out at work or away on weekends. Did you also know that when you set your home’s temperature to cooler for when you return to your home at the end of the day, your thermostat triggers the “recovery” mode early enough in the cycle so that by the time you’re home the house has reached the desired temperature setting? In other words, don’t worry about setting it for a cooler temperature half an hour before you get home, the thermostat takes care of the temperature difference well in advance. If you’re really comfortable with your programmable thermostat and you’re away on weekends, either turn it off, or set the temperature a few degrees higher for the weekends. While you won’t notice, you’ll be happier with your electricity bill.
  • Extra and/or Older Electronics not in use. As I mentioned earlier, we have a lot more devices plugged into our homes than we did 20 years ago. So many, in fact that it probably doesn’t even occur to you what kind of plug load you’re adding when you buy a new electronic device. Now, with a critical eye go through each room in your house and look at the electronics that are a constant drain on electricity and don’t even get used. Do you have a digital clock running in a guest room you never go into? An old VCR plugged in you haven’t used in years (and may even still be flashing 12?), how many phones are cordless? Can you switch a few that are rarely used over to the old and quaint corded models? It’s a good idea to have at least one of these phones in use in the event of a power outage if you still have a land line.
  • Appliances. The extra 25-year-old fridge or freezer you’ve been using for as a drinks fridge or extra food sucks up a lot of extra money, so much money that you might be better off getting rid of it and investing in a more efficient second fridge or freezer or trying to make do without. If your washer and dryer are older than 15 years, you might want to consider buying new Energy Star rated ones. They save on water and electricity and dry your clothes faster. Are there appliances like the coffee maker, microwave, etc. that you don’t need them plugged in when not in use? Do you use the timer on your coffeemaker? Does the microwave need to be plugged in all the time? Look for savings to be had which involve nothing more than unplugging appliances not in use. This is particularly true for smaller appliances that have LCD clocks/displays.
  • Chargers. Unplug all chargers, cellphone or otherwise, when not in use. This is an easy step to talk about, but apparently a difficult one to achieve. The amount of power that’s wasted is estimated to be between 10-15% of your overall electricity bill. An easy action to think about doing, probably more difficult to achieve until you’ve developed the habit.
  • Shutdown/Turn off. Turn off devices, lights, computer, printers, etc., when not in use. How do we get our kids to remember to do this? If anyone has some suggestions, I’d love to know. I’m fortunate that I work from home because our electricity bill would be significantly higher if I left the house before my teenagers. Lights stay on all over the house after they’ve left for school in the morning (and yes, cellphone chargers also stay plugged in too). I’ve told them a thousand times to turn off lights when they leave a room, but since there are no consequences for leaving them on, they ignore me. Maybe I’ve got to start handing them an electric bill at the end of each month to get their attention.
  • Do exterior doors stay open during extreme weather so you feel like your father yelling “stop heating the neighbourhood!” Make sure your family closes doors to keep your home’s temperature constant. Also, keep doors to unused rooms closed and vents blocked to make cooling and heating more efficient.

Monitor your family’s behaviour patterns over a few days, make notes about any glaring issues you see. If there are easy fixes to make such as unplugging appliances that are never in use, do it, but don’t worry about making changes now, the next article is about creating and implementing an action plan. — Paying you to conserve electricity

June 10th, 2011

Is it too good to be true? A website that pays you to save electricity? I thought so until I received my first statement where I had racked up $0.42 in Lowfoot credits in less than two weeks. Granted, $0.42 isn’t going let me retire any time soon, but it certainly gives me the motivation to do more. was started by Philip Playfair and Steve Hammond. Both had already worked within the utility industry before when they’d founded and eventually sold a company called Advanced Utility Systems. I contacted Phil to ask him about the company’s unique approach to helping people conserve electricity. I have to admit that paying people to save electricity is definitely a unique approach to conserving — and probably even more motivating than just seeing a lower Hydro bill every two months. So I had to ask Phil — “How are you able to fund our albeit small payouts every month?” He told me that they fund it through general revenue from advertising, but that eventually they will be looking for companies to sponsor each month’s pay out.

Believe it or not, the model isn’t new. Recyclebank in the US does something very similar: Working with municipalities across the US, the company encourages people to recycle by giving them points that go towards savings and discount coupons towards new products. The points are sponsored by companies such as Proctor and Gamble and Unilever.

How Lowfoot works: Create an account, and give permission to access your electricity account. Currently Lowfoot is able to access information from a growing list of utility companies in Ontario. Eventually its services will be available across North America.

Once you’ve created an account and have given Lowfoot access to your utility account, it will show your usage history, calculate your current average daily use, and set a target for you to achieve, usually 10% below your current use.

What I really like about this program is that you get daily emails telling you whether you’ve achieved your target for the previous day or not. What that means is that you don’t have to wait for two months (in the case of Toronto Hydro) to find out how you’re doing.

Daily emails are far more motivating to get you to do more to cut your consumption and bi-monthly hydro bills. But what’s really interesting is that you can see how many LFCs (Lowfoot credits) you’ve earned through conservation. In addition, even if you don’t save during off-peak hours, you can earn credits when you conserve during peak use. So, if you can reprogram your central air conditioner, or go without during the day, you’ll earn more credits during this time.

It makes sense. As the Lowfoot website explains:

The ultimate goal of Lowfoot is to have our community generate enough capacity to significantly—and permanently—reduce the demand on your local grid. This means that utilities will save money on infrastructure, can avoid building new power plants, and won’t have to fire up old, dirty plants when demand exceeds supply. There’s significant value in that.

Every step of the way, Lowfoot shares a portion of our revenue with our membership, to reward you for lowering your usage—and to keep you earning!

As the company grows and shows that its members consistently conserve electricity, particularly during peak times, the company anticipates being able to sell those carbon credits on an open market and share the wealth with its members. As the website points out:

It’s all about numbers and consistency. If you reduce your consumption by 10 kilowatt hours a day, you’ll save a few dollars on your electricity bill.

But if you and 10,000 other Lowfoot members do the same thing at the same time, you are generating just as much power as 100 small windmills!

Now imagine 10 million people doing the same thing. That’s a huge amount of power—but it all starts with you.

For those of us interested in tracking our conservation efforts and seeing whether our efforts are effective, signing up for Lowfoot is a no-brainer. You get daily emails telling you how you’re doing, and you make money every time you hit your conservation target or below.

This website, along with an energy monitoring device (such as the Kill A Watt or Power Cost Monitor), can help you take real steps towards energy conservation.

For more information, or to sign up for Lowfoot, visit the website.

Thanks for the information Phil!

The Power Cost Monitor — Measuring Your Electricity Consumption Every 30 Seconds

June 6th, 2011

I’m developing a series of articles to help homeowners reduce their power consumption in a step by step way. The outline for the series was a piece of cake. Filling in the specifics, however, has been a bit more of a challenge than I first thought. Truthfully, I’m still stuck on the second article: “Identifying the Electricity Consumers in Your Home.” The title for the second article also changes all the time, so don’t go looking for it when it’s finally published.

The thing is, assessing your plug load, particularly around lighting, is relatively easy. You look up at the ceiling, figure out how many bulbs are on, what their wattage is, estimate the number of hours they’re on during a 24 hour period and you’ve figured out your lighting load. But the rest is a little trickier. While I was doing my lighting consumption for my house, I discovered that lighting accounts for 20% of my overall electricity consumption. That means 80% is unaccounted for. Using my trusty Kill A Watt, I can get to the gaming stations, the lamps, clocks, TVs, and phones. But what about the appliances whose plugs I can’t reach? Or the built-ins that hide the plugs and make it difficult to access?

Power Cost Monitor

Power Cost Monitor WiFi

Enter the Power Cost Monitor. This is another electricity monitoring device that allows you to measure electricity consumption for any electrical device in your home, including your central air conditioner, oven, dryer, and any hard to reach electronic or appliance where you can’t access the plug. The Power Cost Monitor sounded intriguing so I contacted Peter Porteous, CEO of Blue Line Innovations, the company that makes the Power Cost Monitor, to find out how it works.

The device consists of two parts — the first part you hook up to your electricity meter. The monitoring unit is compatible with 90% of all electric meters in North America.

The second part is a handheld device that reads changes in electricity consumption when appliances are turned on (“baseline” vs. with appliance on). It will tell you in dollars or kilowatt hours, how much electricity the appliance is using. When I spoke with Peter he mentioned three things about it:

  1. The monitor reports changes in electricity consumption at 30 second intervals. This is the outside amount of time their customers are willing to accept.  Reporting periods longer than 30 seconds lose their relevance because so much can happen in 30 seconds. A few lights can get switched on, someone can turn on the stove, start watching a movie or start a load of laundry, and you don’t know which action has caused the increase in power use.
  2. Now the Power Cost monitor can hook up to your computer using WiFi so you can see your readings in chart form and track your consumption over time.
  3. Kids love to use it because they point it at a device, like a dishwasher, start pushing buttons on the dishwasher like “power scrub” or “heat dry” and watch the numbers on the monitor climb. Then they’ll do the same with the washing machine, adding “hot water” or “second spin” and see the same thing. They learn how behaviour and choices affect the amount of electricity we consume.

You can see how receiving your electric bill once every two months isn’t giving you nearly enough information for you to act on. Having information fed to you every 30 seconds helps you identify how much electricity devices in your home are using, and suddenly you the information you need to start doing something about it.

Discovering what your base load is, that is, what’s using power even when everything is off, can help you take concrete steps towards lowering your consumption. Peter told me that when he first used his monitor, his baseline electricity consumption was 1.1kw/hour. Now, after identifying behaviour patterns, phantom powers and appliances that were using a lot of electricity, he’s been able to reduce his baseline load to 300 watts/hour.

For a dealer near you, see the Power Cost Monitor website.

Alternatives to Your Dryer

May 20th, 2011

I’m in the middle of developing a series of posts on a step by step way to decrease your home’s electricity consumption. In order to write it I’ve used my home as a guinea pig and I’ve been discovering where we use our most electricity and when. While I haven’t figured out where it all goes, the one place I’ve targeted is our dryer. Sure it’s only four years old, but it’s on (it seems) all the time. That’s probably an exaggeration, but not much. With the number of sports our family of five plays (baseball, soccer, cycling, tennis, golf, hockey, basketball, the gym…), we go through PILES and PILES of laundry!

The dryer, in any household, is one of the biggest energy consumers. If you only use it once in awhile, then it’s not such an energy hog. In our family’s case, we use it constantly. And here’s another thing: there’s no such thing as an Energy Star Rated dryer!

What to do? To decrease the amount of drying I do there are a couple of options I can take:

1. Wash less. Sports clothes aside, my kids have a terrible habit of throwing all clothes in the laundry basket — including things that they’ve only tried on because it’s easier to throw it in a basket than fold it and put it away. While I make a habit of going through their baskets and pulling out clean clothes, sometimes, once they’re mixed in with the stinky, smelly ones, it’s too late!

2. Line dry more often. I have a drying rack already, and it gets used to capacity, but now that Toronto has done away with the “clothes line ban” — yes, you are now free to dry your clothes in public again — I can set up a clothes line for those sunny days. I have the perfect place for this unobtrusive retractable clothesline from Home Hardware. Don’t forget about coupons available for clothesline and umbrella clothes lines available through Ontario utility providers such as Toronto Hydro.

Nature's Dryer

3. Drying racks as art. I have a confession to make — I think the old-fashioned umbrella drying racks are ugly. An eye-sore. Uninspiring. Sure they’re convenient and practical and energy saving — but they’re not nice to look at. Artist, Debra Jones, created “Nature’s Dryer”, which is, on the other hand, nice to look at and blends in with the scenery when there’s no laundry on it. I contacted Debra about her dryer because I wanted to know a bit more, and here is what she wrote in response:

How long does it take to order?

Debra: [O]ur tree is available for pre-orders and it would take a minimum of a month (we need a minimum quantity of 20 to place an order and hold the price at $995.00CAD).

If it goes outside do you “plant” it? If inside, is it in a stand?

Debra: Both outdoor and indoor versions have the same base and a ‘trunk’ which is open in the centre. The outdoor tree is secured to the ground by placing the ‘trunk’ and ‘roots’ over a galvanized, stabilizing pole which has been cemented into the ground (similar to one you would install for an old umbrella style clothes dryer), then the branches and top are attached.

Nature's Dryer with Laundry

What sort of base does it have?

Debra: The difference when installing the indoor version is that the 4 large ‘roots’ have pre-drilled holes to accommodate  3”-4” screws that secure the tree onto a 2 layer wood base.

What is it made out of?

Debra:Nature’s Dryer is made of mild steel tubing (we source recycled tubing whenever possible) which is powder coated (the same finish used on bicycles and hydro boxes).

What is its drying capacity?

Debra: The outdoor version of Nature’s Dryer will accept at least a full load of laundry, for example 8-12 pair of jeans,  16-20 shirts/blouses/t-shirts (on hangers to also reduce ironing) or a full set of sheets and pillowcases. The ‘branches’ allow for the use of hangers, clothes pegs or items can be draped over or placed through the ‘tendrils’ to further maximize capacity.

4. Construct your own outdoor clothesline dryer. If you’re the handy type this is a great weekend project. A few years ago Martha Stewart Magazine had a great “weekend project” on constructing your own clothes drying structure — and what I really liked about it was that the different alternatives they presented were nice to look at. Like Debra’s “Nature’s Dryer” they were classy drying structures that looked like they belonged in the garden and also presented a secondary use of being able to dry your clothes on them. I never got around to constructing one and have since lost track of the issue it was in, but I still remember liking the models. If anybody out there knows which Martha Stewart issue this article was in, I’d really appreciate your feedback!

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