Home energy monitors give customers control over electricity use

Image of Rainforest Automation in-home display device

Customer shares experience with real-time devices that monitor electricity use

Marcelo Lang loves watching sports on his plasma television. The picture is fantastic all the time, he says, but especially for watching the fast action of hockey games on the bright white ice.

What he doesn't love is how much energy it uses, something he's become acutely aware of since purchasing a home energy monitor. Lang found that every time he turned on the game, he could see how much energy he was using, and how much it was costing, in real-time — and the results surprised him.

Lang had always been conservation-minded, especially since coming to Canada from his native Brazil. When he came to Canada, he says that he saw a lot of effort on recycling and water conservation, but was surprised that people seemed less concerned about wasting electricity.

He thinks that might have been because of visibility and insight: "If your toilet was running, you would know that it's wasting water and you would try to fix it, but you couldn't see energy being wasted," he says.

Lang had already made some conservation adjustments to his home, such as installing programmable thermostats in two bedrooms with electric baseboard heaters. And he regularly logs in to his online account and uses the data to check his hourly electricity use, and to see how his electricity use compares to homes nearby — one of his favourite features.

But when home energy monitors became available, Lang jumped at the chance to get access to his electricity information in real-time. He purchased two monitors. One he places in a prominent spot (such as the kitchen) so that the whole family can keep an eye on electricity use. The other he uses himself, because he can pair it with his mobile phone.

Energy monitors found opportunities for hidden savings

There were a few surprises, he says of what he learned as he first began using the Rainforest EMU™ energy display and the Rainforest EAGLE™ energy gateway. It wasn't just his television that was using more power than he expected.

He figured that his electronics might be using a fair amount of electricity. Along with the plasma television, his family has two other TVs and three PVRs, two computers that are always on, and mobile phones charging "constantly", according to Lang. But the monitors showed another culprit for some surprising electricity use.

"We've had fans going since July, and they run all the time. And it turns out they use more power than all my electronics combined," he says.

Some items didn't use as much power as he expected. Notably the two computers; he says that they're newer models with good energy management tools built in, so even though they're never unplugged, the overall electricity use isn't bad. The same didn't hold true for his television; that plasma television is fairly new, but it was using a lot of power.

Traffic light approach makes it easy to see electricity use

When asked about his favourite feature of the two energy monitors, Lang was quick to highlight the EMU™'s easy-to-use, 'traffic light' system. The LED lights glow red, yellow and green depending on how much electricity you're using . When the light turns red, Lang knows he should take a look around and see what's been left on or plugged in.

You won't hit the green light all the time, he says, but it's great to have a visual reminder to turn things off.

"When my daughter was leaving the kitchen this morning, there were five lights left on. I had her check the device and turn the lights off, then check the device again." The kids are starting to change their habits with the device there to remind them, he says. "I'm finding fewer lights left on for no reason."

Energy savings results starting to show

Lang is now starting to use his home energy monitors along with the electricity data that he sees online and enjoys using both to achieve the most complete picture of his energy consumption possible.

And he's found ways to make his appliances more efficient as well.

"When I first got the devices, I checked all my appliances. When you get a monitor, you should test different cycles and options for your appliances. There may be different cycles or features that use more (or less) power."

It's early days yet, but Lang says he expects that the conservation behaviours in his household will grow as his family gets used to checking to see how much electricity they're using. And as more customers start using monitors, he thinks that we'll start to see savings across the province. As he sees it, it just makes sense to conserve whenever we can.

"It's like leaving the water on the whole time that you're brushing your teeth," he says. "You can just turn it on when you need it. We need to do the same thing with our power."