Plug In and Save

Individual action is always worthwhile, even while we keep our eyes on the prize of national and international action.  Energy efficiency upgrades in particular can be very profitable (see “20 steps to a greener home” and “The first five steps to a greener home are not what the NYT’s Green Home column says“).  Energy monitors such as the one below allow users to monitor the energy usage of a single appliance or an entire house, as explained in this CAP post.

energy monitor

How much energy does it take to keep that old refrigerator running? Probably more than when you bought it, and an energy monitor will tell you just how much.

There are two basic types of energy monitors:  Those for a single appliance and those that measure your entire home’s energy use. The best way to figure out which option works best for you is to decide what level of energy monitoring you want to achieve, how much you want to spend, and how much you want to save.

Single appliance monitors cost about $25 to $75 and calculate the usage of a single device, which is plugged directly into the monitor. Most monitors will tell you how much energy is used during a given period while displaying the current usage. Measuring usage over a 24-hour period or longer is the best way to determine your appliance’s efficiency as many of them cycle on and off throughout the day.

These monitors are useful for keeping track of how your appliances are holding up. You can measure your refrigerator’s energy usage at the beginning and end of a season to see if it its efficiency has changed. If it’s draining more power than it did in the past, it may need a tune up.

Whole house monitors are a bit more expensive at about $100 to $200, but they are a useful way to get a wider look at how much energy you are using and how much that usage is costing you. You can enter your utility rates for peak and off-peak usage into most monitors to calculate just how much you can save by, for example, setting a timer to start your laundry or run the dishwasher during the day or in the middle of the night.

House monitors work best for measuring usage that is distributed throughout the entire house, such as central heating or cooling. It also helps you determine the savings of lifestyle changes that affect more than one appliance.

You probably won’t be using your monitor every day, so try sharing it with friends and family. It’s a great way to get people interested in green living and lets them see for themselves how much money they can save by turning back the thermostat a few degrees.

You can also broadcast your usage to the world using Tweet-a-watt, a modified energy monitor that broadcasts your energy using Wi-Fi. It automatically uploads domestic energy use to your Twitter account, which you can then use to share or compete with friends. Now you can use the same technology to tell your friends what you’re reading on the web to brag about just how green your new OLED television is.

17 Responses to Plug In and Save

  1. Wait… on the screen.. how much is Point 25 cents?

    Is it one quarter of a cent? Or is that One Quarter of a dollar ?

  2. Anna Haynes says:

    Just a plug for (“developed with a simple mission in mind: to help Americans make their homes more energy efficient”)
    …among other resources it has a forum, and someone to answer questions.

  3. Omega Centauri says:

    I’m horrified by the absolute math/units ignorance shown by the pictured device. KW per hour is NOT a measue of power, or energy, taken literally it the a rate of change in usage of power. The entire team that designed and marketed this device should be s@#$ canned!

  4. ClaudeB says:

    Richard Pauli: Yep. 2.5 mills as it was called back then in the sixties. That was the marginal price of 1 kWh of electricity from the Churchill Falls hydro station in Labrador.

  5. ClaudeB. Thanks so much. It would be interesting to meter my household.

    But more interesting perhaps to meter other displays… such as a typical Vegas marquee sign… it must be many dollars per hour. Or perhaps stadium lights at a night game. Or streetlights in a city (why don’t streetlights have motion switches on them?)

    Somehow I recall that a drive-in movie would have 200amps of 220v just for the projectors.

    Or how much power does a cup of Starbucks coffee require? I am certain that Starbucks knows precisely.

    It is not such a bad idea to know the cost of the juice for the big users too. Why should such a meter be restricted to just homes?

  6. Omega Centauri says:

    There have been affordable devices for years. I have a kill-a-watt meter, which I found for $20 on the internet. Unlike the one shown here, mine was built by people who knew what they were trying to measure. Whole house measurements can be made by reading your utility meter and doing a little bit of arithmetic. Some appliances aren’t easily measurable, since the plug may not be accessible.

  7. KJ says:

    “Individual action is always worthwhile” when it saves the individual money irrespective of any broader societal goals like climate stabilization. However, many individuals take actions like installing solar power or buying a hybrid vehicle, not because they expect to make money, but because they want to reduce their individual carbon footprint and do their part to support sustainable industries.

    One little-understood characteristic of cap-and-trade is that it can nullify the environmental impact of individual action, and thereby diminish the incentive for such action. I explained this issue on Romm’s blog recently. (“In cap-and-trade’s relentless drive to ‘reduce costs at any cost’ any action you take to reduce your emissions will just allow someone else to increase their emissions, and all you will be doing is subsidizing polluters.”) This is not just an issue for “altruistic” individual action; it is also an issue for individual, corporate, and industry action motivated by regulatory incentives.

    A carbon tax would not undermine individual action because there would be no regulatory incentive to increase emissions up to a predetermined cap limit. I don’t favor legislative tax proposals like Stark/Larson/Inglis because they seem to be more concerned with extracting money from regulated industries than reducing emissions. But a regulatory approach that is more focused on reducing global emissions than reducing the global emission price would preserve the relevance of individual action.

    Waxman-Markey is a kind of ambiguous case, because while it employs cap-and-trade, it also imposes a price floor starting out at $10/ton and increasing at a 5% real annual rate. If allowances are selling at the floor price the system would operate as a fixed-price sale of allowances (aka “carbon tax”) and individual actions would result in additional emission reductions. But if the market price is above the floor, then individual actions that impact emissions within capped sectors will free up surplus allowances that would be used to increase emissions elsewhere.

    [JR: This isn’t “little-understood” — it’s just not terribly important. CAFE standards already vitiated the benefit of buying a Prius or other fuel-efficient car. So we shouldn’t have CAFE? A tax by itself can’t solve the problem, so the comparison is irrelevant.]

  8. KJ says:

    JR – Re “CAFE standards already vitiated the benefit of buying a Prius or other fuel-efficient car.”

    CAFE is a fuel economy standard, not an emission standard like California’s Pavley regulations. CARB plans to develop more stringent vehicle emission regulations (“Pavley 2”) under California’s AB 32 legislation, but W-M would nullify the environmental benefit (and hence the primary policy justification) for Pavley 2. This is a concern for CARB and several other public-interest groups — not just for Pavley 2 but also for other state and local GHG policies (not to mention individual and corporate actions). The Senate could make some legislative changes to at least partially fix the problem.

    [JR: Don’t follow you, I’m afraid. Yes, federal standards often trump state standards. Such is life when addressing national and global problems. And a cap-and-trade, like CAFE, tends to supersede individual action. You have, however, failed to consider the immense benefits of this approach when it comes to the electrification of the transportation system. And, again, a tax can’t possibly solve the problem at a national or global level.]

  9. Ed says:

    Gentlemen and gentlewomen,

    You seem to be a tallented, intellectually capable group of people here discussing climate change (and actions against it). But then please remember that the carbon emissions of the western lifestyle are 50% related to the food we eat and the products we buy. If we just focus for the next 40 years on greening up our direct energy consumption and forget about the little detail that 50% of our GHG emissions stem from product we buy and which have been imported, we would have achieved a 25% cut in emissions at best.

    Saving energy is best achieved by avoiding stuf you do not need in the first place. Who needs a new cellphone every 2 years? But we all buy them since the average life of a cellphone is 2 years. Who needs a new computer every 3 years? Yet we all buy them since the average life of a computer is 3 years (because the Windows du jour needs more “umpf” from your computer). Who needs a flat panel (they

  10. Ed says:

    suck since plasma isn’t burn proof and neither is LCD) so you’ll have to buy a new on every 3 years. A digital camera lasts 3 years untill it is replaced while I take pictures with an analog Nikon F being 40 years old. All this crap needs energy to be produced, distributed, used, scrapped and recycled (the sorry bit that is being recycled anyway).

    Our consumption society has replaced “NEED” with “GREED” which prevents us from being “GREEN”, no matter how much energy saving crap we buy! Pardon my French!


    Ed Kuipers

  11. Pat Richards says:

    Omega Centauri

    OK, technically the display should be showing KWH (killowatt hours, which is what the power company measures as your consumption and then bills you for on a per-KWH basis). But 99% of the people won’t know the technical difference and don’t need to. But I do prefer the Kill-A-Watt meter which does use the correct terminology and does not attempt to display cost (since cost varies from one power company to the next) but instead shows consumption purely in watts (the same unit of measurment stamped on all light bulbs. This allows you to see exactly how much a device uses on start-up, what it consumes when running “normally ” and what it is still sucking down when it is just sitting idle (supposedly).

    For the $20 to $30 price tag, the Kill-A-Watt meter is the real hero in the battle to get average people to realize just how much electricity they are using/wasting. People can afford that much for a meter, but most won’t pay much more, while all need to know what their household devices are using. After putting in CFL light bulbs, this is the next thing everyone should do… get a Kill-A-Watt meter and go on a voyage of discovery around your home. And no, I have no connection with the company that makes them. I just congratulate them for breaking the old boys price club and offering a truly low-cost yet accurate usage meter when everyone else was asking $80 to $400 for one.

  12. Peter Wood says:

    Joe, your post made me have an idea. Why not legislate so that after a certain year, any appliance manufactured (or possibly sold) in the US (or whichever country or state is covered by the legislation) has to display how much power it is using when in operation, if it uses more than a certain amount of energy per year.

    One other remark. There is a third type of energy monitor — tthe spinning wheel that you get in most electricity meters. By counting how many times it spins in a certain period of time (e.g. 60 seconds), it is not hard to work out how much power you are using. I was able to work out how much power most of the appliances in my home use, by doing this.

  13. KJ says:

    JR – Re “You have, however, failed to consider the immense benefits of this approach [cap-and-trade] …” I actually did consider those benefits. Two problems: First, WM’s cap-and-trade system will create a marginal incentive of only around $0.25/gal for energy efficiency (aka fuel economy), which is the cheapest way to reduce emissions. (The incentive for fuel substitution, e.g. electrification, would be less due to the cost and GHG emissions of alternative fuel.) $0.25/gal is an order of magnitude less than the breakeven technology investment level, based on fuel savings alone. Second, the consumer would only see the $0.25/gal incentive at the fuel pump, after the consumer has bought their gas guzzler (whereas standards, feebates, or financing incentives would apply the price incentive directly to the vehicle price).

    Re “a tax can’t possibly solve the problem …,” I agree with you on that point.

    [JR: No realistic carbon price can drive up the price of fuel enough to change behavior — as I have blogged many times. Peak oil will do that, plus Obama’s big CAFE boost. I wasn’t talking about the incentive for electrification from the bill, I was talking about the carbon reductions.]

  14. KJ says:

    JR – Re “No realistic carbon price can drive up the price of fuel enough to change behavior;” on that point I also absolutely agree with you. That’s why the price incentive needs to be applied directly to vehicles, not just to fuels.

    Obama’s “big CAFE boost” will induce technology investments at less than half the economic breakeven level, just considering fuel savings at today’s prices. (Never mind energy security and environmental benefits.)

  15. Leif says:

    We must keep in mind that what W&M came up with is about as good as we could of hoped for at this time, considering the hair thin vote victory.
    Yes, we would all like a better bill but we are going to have to fight like hell to keep what we got.
    “The only battle worth fighting is the one that you lose and lose and lose and finally win.” (?)
    We HAVE come a long way.

  16. lizardo says:

    For many people the cost (on your bill) will be the same regardless of time of day. However, it will cost your utility more to ship you power during peak times, less during off-peak. {And will cost you a great deal more in future if peak demand rises enough that your utility gets the ok to build yet another power plant.)

    If you are able to sign up for time-of-use rates you may find it most helpful to put certain appliances on a timer I would think. When I looked into it in the mid-1980s only 0.2 percentage of customers had signed up or something really low. You could live without the AC during peak hours in summer, (5-6.45 pm) but maybe not heat on winter mornings. The old time of use rates we had here were such that the typical household would I think pay more, so it was not an attractive option.

    The pictured monitor appears to show pretty average rate of cost since it appears to be showing 25 cents for 2.34 kw demand per hour (that hour), = 10.68 cents per kwh (kilowatt hour). But it also appears you dial in your kwh rate.

    But as noted in the comments, you can do the math yourself by just finding out what the demand of a particular gizmo is, though in the case of a refrigerator, it is extremely useful to know what the overall use is because how often it cycles on can really vary and as noted in Joe’s post, could increase over time (increased electrical consumption, decreased efficiency/performance.)

    In a utility service area where utilities are still regulated, decreased customer demand through increased efficiency does have in impact on overall reduced emissions regardless of cap and trade and so on, because it affects whether or not utilities can build additional coal plants. For instance this is currently an issue being re-litigated at the utilities commission level regarding Duke Energy (dba Duke Power) and a huge coal plant (Cliffside) they got the ok to build near Charlotte NC.

    Duke claims it would shut down some smaller, older, dirtier coal plants, but the new coal plant is larger than all of them and so CO2 emissions would go up. The demand isn’t there to add coal capacity (besides the fact that gas would be less catastrophic.)

    Individual action also matters because it’s important to try things out yourself before suggesting them to other people and campaigning or lobbying for them to be standard. Back in the mid 1980s when I was able to devote more time to being an environmental activist, which is to say undesirable/polluting projects were being constantly proposed for or sited in my county, it was commonplace to have either company PR people or the people who they’d hypnotised accuse one of being a hypocrite because one was presumably using a lot of electricity but worrying about a nuclear plant, or generating a lot of hazardous waste but not wanting an incinerator next door.

    Most hilarious example: the man who said “the thing that gets me is all these people using their hair dryers and then going to an anti-nuclear protest.”
    Me: “Do those people look like they even own a hair dryer?”
    Him: “No, now you mention it.”

    As for big customers, if they are in a competitive situation they should have looked at their energy usage already. The worse offenders are school systems and local governments because they are run by elected boards who control the purse strings and are often people who really don’t have a clue, or worse, have an axe to grind.

    Wake County, North Carolina has all its public buildings controlled from some central entity (I was told in a freezing building last summer) and they were all set at 72 degrees in summer. So its worth going after those very large low hanging fruits in those sectors.

    Sorry this comment is way too long.

  17. dennis says:

    yea i know alot of this stuff works i need that plug and save device. it seems to be cheap enough. my other opinion is why are there credits being sold by al goor when there should only be tax incentives given to power companies. after all they produce a lot of ommissions. when they produce less ommisssions they get a tax break like the rest of us and theres should be mandatory. thx for listening