Mar 032011

Last month, I wrote about the EcoDog home power monitoring system, which lets you see how much electricity your house is pulling, circuit by circuit.

Apart from being fun for energy geeks like me who have an insatiable appetite for data, the device lets you discover patterns in your power consumption you might never have known about and that are burning up your money. Soon afterwards, I got a call from EcoDog’s competitor Powerhouse Dynamics. I had mentioned its eMonitor system in passing, but hadn’t fully appreciated its differences from EcoDog’s system.

Both devices came out about a year ago and provide more detail about where you’re using electricity than a whole-house monitor such as The Energy Detective (TED) does. You or your electrician install it by opening your electrical service panel, clamping a little magnetic coil around each circuit wire, and attaching the coils to an interface box. eMonitor has two crucial differences from both EcoDog and TED. First, the interface box plugs directly into the home computer network—it doesn’t have an intermediate step of sending data over your electrical wiring, which, in my experience, can be flaky.

Second, the eMonitor interface sends the data to an outside server rather than to your own PC. That server does all the calculations and record-keeping, and you visit a web page to view the data. Thus the system works on Windows, Macs, Linux boxes, iPhones, whatever. The interface buffers 24 hours of data (soon to be 14 days, in a coming update) in case your Internet connection or the company’s web server goes down. The company has a demo page you can visit to see a sample data display. The server does entail a monthly fee, but the system itself is a bit cheaper than EcoDog’s, so the total price works out to be comparable.

The same question that I had for the EcoDog comes up: Is the system really worth it for most people? Tim Durant, the company’s vice-president of business development, says they did a customer survey last November and half the respondents reported saving up to 20 percent on their electric bill. An eighth reported saving more than 20 percent. For those people, the system might indeed pay for itself. Obviously, it also depends on how high your electric bill is, although I suspect that people who have high bills are paying mostly for air-conditioning or heating, and an energy monitor isn’t going to help much with that.

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