PowerCost Monitor should cut electricity costs

14 Apr

The PowerCost Monitor display shows how much power you are consuming, along with peak consumption in the last 24 hours, outside temperature, and other information. (Geoff Meeker photo)

April 14, 2008

By Geoff Meeker 

When you rip open your electric bill, especially during the winter, do you have that nagging feeling that you could be paying less?

I do. I think about turning back the heat and wearing sweaters, flicking off more lights, switching to energy efficient bulbs, using less hot water, and so on.

Then, realizing that such change requires a sustained effort from the whole family – including teenage boys – I walk away and forget about it. It’s just too much to contemplate all at once.

Now there is a device that can put you firmly in the driver’s seat, when it comes to reducing power consumption. The company’s founder describes it as a “speedometer for energy consumption.”

The PowerCost Monitor is an electronic device that tells you how much energy your household is burning at any given moment. The idea is that, by seeing – in real time –  the effect your hair dryer, stove, bar fridge, curling iron, hot water heater, and other appliances have on energy consumption, you are more inclined to reduce consumption. According to the manufacturer, householders in pilot studies saved up to 15 per cent on their power bills using the PowerCost Monitor.

I installed the unit at my home last week to see if I could get similar results.

The device has two parts: a sensor that attaches to the power meter on the outside of your house, and the indoor display unit.

Installation of the sensor was surprisingly simple. If you can attach a vent hose to the back of a dryer, you can install this too – it’s secured by a strap that tightens with a screw. You just line up the little sensor arm with the spinning wheel inside the power meter.

Both devices are switched on to make sure they are communicating. Then you go indoors to program the display unit. You set the date and time, then enter the rate you pay per kilowatt-hour (as shown on your power bill). And that’s it.

Not only does the device work, it works! In other words, it functions as described, giving precise, real-time feedback on your power usage. But it works on another level, by raising awareness of energy consumption (and electricity costs).

Immediately, you start switching various appliances and devices on and off, attaching a dollar-cost value to each. Is the blow dryer really worth that, or should you drip dry? Can we use less hot water? And who would have guessed that the electric kettle sucks more power than a stove element?

Suddenly, I was looking for the source of unexplained spikes in power usage, and found myself walking through the house, checking – and rethinking – thermostat settings.

I haven’t explained the device to my boys yet, but suspect they will be impressed by it. I can see it becoming a preoccupation for them (“Dad! You left a light on!”) but that’s fine, as long as they spend less time in the shower.

I won’t know actual savings until after a power bill or two, and the real test will come next winter, but I have a good feeling about this.

The PowerCost Monitor is coming on strong across North America, and has been deployed by about 20 electric utilities in Canada and the United States (including the purchase of 30,000 units by Hydro One in Ontario). It has been featured on NBC, CNN, FOX News, ABC, and CBC, and in Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Canadian Living, The Globe and Mail, and other publications.

The device is well designed, solidly built and works like a charm (it even has a thermometer for outside temperature). The instructions are easy to follow, and the packaging materials and design are first-rate.

I say all this because the PowerCost Monitor was conceived and developed right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, by Blue Line Innovations, and is still headquartered here. I didn’t mention that off the top because it wasn’t necessary. This is a world class product, and doesn’t need to push the “local” angle to merit your business.

But the fact that it’s a local company is definitely a bonus.

The device is reasonably priced, at $149, and should pay for itself many times over, through reduced power consumption. You can buy online at http://www.bluelineinnovations.com.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.


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