Back since Google PowerMeter was first announced I had been excited to try it out. Initially PowerMeter was only available from Utility providers that had partnered with Google. Unfortunately the energy provider we use in our California office was not one of these and we started to consider switching just so that we could take PowerMeter for a spin. Then Google announced that the PowerMeter service would become available to those who use select energy monitoring devices, the first being the TED 5000. Great, I ordered one of these immediately, but too quickly to even read the small print which says that the TED 5000 will only work with 2-phase power supplies. Inevitably, when I checked ours I found it is a 3-phase system and thus incompatible. Of course, all of this only served to increase my anticipation.
So, when UK company AlertMe was announced as the second device partner, I finally got my chance to try out the elusive service. AlertMe’s energy monitoring gadget is designed to monitor in real-time how much electricity you are using. The system comes in two parts, the first being the ‘Meter Reader and Transmitter’. This consists of a clip that attaches around your main electricity line. Not an electrical connection though, it simply sits outside the wire’s shielding. The clip is connected to a transmitter which will send the meter readings wirelessly to the second part of the system, the ‘Nano Hub’. This gadget will receive these meter readings and via an ethernet cable will send your energy data over the web for you to access 24/7 from anywhere.
In addition to allowing you access to Google PowerMeter, AlertMe also provide their own dashboard to view your data, which is very functional. Below you can see the initial snapshot view of whats going on. You can see clearly your current electricity draw and a calculation of what it has cost you so far for the day. Your personal cost per KWHr and currency is fully customizable. The history feature is also quite detailed, you can view a graph of energy use for anywhere from one day to an entire year. It can also be downloaded as a spreadsheet (csv). Data is updated every 5 minutes so you can get a very detailed break down of your energy usage habits. For example, you can clearly see peaks in the graph when your heating kicks in or when you put the kettle on for your morning cup of coffee.
Setting up the system to interface with Google PowerMeter is straightforward, it just requires you to link your google account to your AlertMe data. Once this is set up, your data will be sent to Google every 15 minutes or so and will be viewable as a gadget on your iGoogle homepage. The current version of PowerMeter is rather basic and centers around a simple graph view of your energy use. It’s viewable by day, week or month as you can see in the snapshot. The darker green line in each column represents the energy level that your usage never fell below. Google calls this your ‘Always on’ usage and they emphasize this as it is a very good place for people to start reducing their energy use. It represents all those gadget chargers that we leave plugged in continually, unnecessary usage for devices in standby mode and lights that are never switched off, to name just a few sources. It’s a key target because a great deal of this is completely wasteful.
The other key feature Google PowerMeter includes is a comparison to your energy usage history (AlertMe does this also). Its a great tool for charting your progress and a constant reminder of the need to improve your energy efficiency and cut out waste. It’s interesting to note that originally in place of this Google had a feature that would allow you to see how your energy use compares to others. However, they removed this tool as it simply wasn’t accurate and relevant enough. It’s possible that they will re-enable this feature when they have more user data to compare your usage to, because without personalization comparing energy use is meaningless. You can’t compare data from someone who lives in a sub-zero climate with someone who lives somewhere warmer as they have very different energy needs. They revealed earlier this week that they only have “a few thousand users” currently, but that is sure to grow now that they have device partners like AlertMe and TED.
Overall the AlertMe system has been fantastic for me. The setup was a breeze in comparison to other systems such as our DIY efforts or the TED 5000, where you actually have to make electrical connections. Admittedly this provides greater functionality as it can also measure outgoing electricity if, for example, you operate solar panels which will send excess electricity on to the grid. However, I think many users who don’t have this requirement will take heart from the simplicity of the AlertMe’s system. It’s was easy for me to set it up but if you have any doubts at all I suggest you get a qualified electrician. Unfortunately, the AlertMe system is only currently available in the UK but a company spokesman said they are working on a US version and hope to have it before 2010 is out.