I originally posted this in MyPage and was disappointed at the lack of response.  I was prodded to re-post here and perhaps it will stir a discussion.

I would call myself an advanced amateur at hardware/software solutions for home energy management. I experiment with various ways to remotely monitor sensors and I am particularly interested in ways to make it affordable and meaningful to track energy usage, down to the appliance level, within a residential environment.

My current system uses three power sensors and one temperature sensor (solar powered), all wireless using the zigbee protocol. They are polled by a low power gateway device (with an open source embedded Linux OS) that sends the sensor readings to a data logger web service where the information can be charted and analysed. Cost of parts, $250.

I plan to expand the system to include indoor quality of air sensors, SMS alerts, and the ability to control the sensor devices and appliances from a secured centrally web portal.

Others are doing this, but most track whole house and are relatively expensive and are better suited to commercial buildings or high end residential homes.

We'll see how this goes...

Thoughts?

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What type of readings would you want for indoor air quality? Simple temperature is cheap, but more complex readings will generally get more expensive. The SMS alerts and remote control over a web portal may make things difficult to do at a low price. Depending on the system you are working with.

To me it sounds as if you are describing the eMonitor. This device isn't what I would call affordable, but it does offer a lot of perks. It comes in at around $700 and has a monthly fee. But it allows you to monitor individual circuits, not just the whole house, it also allows you to set up SMS alerts as well. I don't think it currently has the ability to remotely control but I hear it is equipped for that use. You should check it out.

I wish I could be of more help! The company I work for focuses on homes, but most of our efforts are directed at larger corporate users or users with utility bills of $5000 a month or more. For them our CEMO system is perfect because it can pick up any sensors or data gathering devices, has SMS, phone, or email alerts, allows remote control and has a Network Operation Center of engineers constantly monitoring facilities. Not something most home owners could afford but something that comes in handy for corporate users, I understand how important having these features is.

I believe I saw the company Energy Circle join, maybe they would like to chime in about the eMonitor since I believe they sell it on their website.
Chris,
Have you looked at the following whole home energy monitors?
http://www.currentcost.net/monitor.html
http://www.theenergydetective.com/
The first one can be purchased for about $90 @ Trutech tools. This one can add up to nine individual channels for appliances or other big loads. I have it for my home using two transmitters & three clamps to monitor whole house use and the output of my solar PV system.
David,
I have heard of the Current Cost meters from the Pachube.com site. It's more open and flexible as an API for charting and tracking your data. I like it better than the Google Power Meter. They also have triggers and mechanisms to control remote devices. This is the same device that Silas' company is selling. Do you mean they have CT sets and up to 9 of those can be tracked by the table-top device? I see they'll have a plug load device sometime in 2011. That's encouraging if they keep the cost down.

I've also studied the TED 1000/5000 but it's also a whole house system that I recall starts at about $200.

Thanks for your feedback.
Silas,

I have built a sensor that uses an MQ 6 propane gas sensor. I also have similar gas sensors that can detect natural gas, carbon monoxide, and a generic one that senses smoke and flammable gas. These cost about $5 each. I also have a particulate sensor for small dust particles but it costs about $30. The one I built also has an xBee/Zigbee radio to transmit the data from the sensor to the gateway device. The gateway device (to which I re-flashed with an open source embedded linux, openWRT, and added the python interpreter) then polls the various devices and sends the data to a data logger web service.

I already built a web service based data logger and I also use the free Pachube.com data logger service. So every 5 minutes my gateway sends out an average of the readings to 3 locations:

1. to a local excel file which I can download and use for testing the accuracy of the transmission to the data logger service
2. to my own simple web service API (hosted on my personal web server) - keeps the data forever for long term analysis
3. to the Pachube.com data logger web service API.

The pachube.com site has built in charting but they only keep data for one month on the the free service. Pachube also has SMS alerts and I'm going to build that feature into my own software. Not actually very hard.

I never knew how much eMonitor costs, but at $700, that's too much for a residential system.

It's good that companies are tracking and lowering their energy usage, but we need to get these systems into the millions of homes that could use them to lower their bills.
Chris,
Once you have completed your unit do you have any plans of making is accessible to the public or selling it? From your posts it seems that you would rather enjoy a website called hackaday. They have some great articles on there about creating DIY energy management systems.
@Chris--I like where you're headed with this, especially the ambient sensors and future potential for gas, propane and, I hope, heating oil. There are a couple of efforts, Plotwatt being the primary one, aimed at the space between the single whole house electricity number and the eMonitor approach that captures every individual circuit. I do agree with you that control functionality is another of the next big advancements, and we're excited to see that coming.

I'm in complete agreement with the need to get prices down as much as possible so these devices can be ubiquitous. Dan Reicher at Google has challenged me to come up with a $50 whole house device that would display via Google PowerMeter but we're not hardware makers, so I'm hoping someone else will take up that charge. CT --> WIFI --> PowerMeter should be quite doable. Having said that, there's a broad market for these devices and our sales would counter the statement that eMonitor is too expensive for residential.

We test these devices in the homes of Energy Circle staff and customers and do our best to maintain reviews on all of them--those that pass the test and those that don't. We've analyzed pretty much all the products mentioned so far in this thread, and several others in our Energy Monitoring Reviews Summary.

I can't quite tell if you're headed for commercialization, Chris, but if so we should discuss.

And anyone else interested in knowing more, or seeing an online demo of any of the interfaces, just send me an email.
Silas, Peter,

Yes I track lots of DIY sites and Twitter feeds. I used Google Reader to track dozens of blogs, too. I read Hackaday, Instructibles, MakezZine, Adafruit, MightyOhm and on and on... I go to the Maker Faire every year, and I'm interested in the HackerSpace movement. There is so much "organized" and shared creativity out there. It's amazing.

I am moving forward with my interest in melding my skills and experience in software development with the skills I had many years ago when I worked in the engineering department at Dolby Labs where I helped develop recording studio components.

The availability of open source hardware microcontroller platforms like the Arduino, wireless devices like the xbee, inexpensive sensors, and web services makes for an easy entry into this world of remote monitoring. It's all part of what people are calling "the internet of things". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_Things

I'm sure I'm not telling you all anything new, but I find it fascinating and fun and I've only really been working on this for about 6 months. My area of interest is in remote monitoring of all kinds but with a focus on home energy management. We just need to keep working on making a system that is affordable for all, efficient to operate, with simple usability, and able to outlive and evolve with the infrastructure.

I have the dream of going commercial, but there's still a lot of work to do.

The things I get frustrated with are in situations where there's a beautiful system, but it costs too damn much. An example is the system by Lucid Designs. I first saw their system associated with the David Brower Center: http://www.browercenter.org/building Here's the dashboard page: http://buildingdashboard.com/clients/brower/

I discovered that that the system costs $10,000 for the equivalent of a whole house monitor for commercial buildings and $7,500 for a residential system. Beautiful Flash charts but sadly way too expensive (and the electricity usage page still not finished after about a year).

The other cynical setup I found was that for TXU Energy in the Dallas area. They have what sounds like a great deal (and I suppose it is) where customers get a break for a programmable thermostat (they say it's something like $400 deal that you pay $150 - something like that). It's a Zigbee based system (uses a digi gateway); uses a thermostat organized by Comverge, and Digi (Zigbee), and some other players who actually built the thermostat. (http://ir.comverge.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=317438) The benefit to the client is they can manage the programmable thermostat from the web. The benefit to the power company is that they can access the thermostat and turn the AC off (for 30 minutes at a time) when they are in a peak load situation. However, there was no actual connection to know how much power was saved by the client; no tracking of energy vs temperature. How pathetic is that. So customer get to pay to allow the power company to turn off their AC on hot days. Ack! Don't get me started. ;)

I do track your feed on Energy Circle, Peter. Thanks for all your shared knowledge.

I think the $50 challenge is a good one. [CT --> WIFI --> PowerMeter] I'll be working on that one. Question is, is that the cost of the system or the final sale price? I think the CTs cost about $10?, $2 for a microcontroller, a wifi gateway can be had for about $30. Hmmm.
Chris,
That isn't a bad system at the David Brower Center, it is very similar to the system my company sells...except our electricity portion works and the information is update more frequently, the information for the Center isn't displayed in a very clear format, I am not sure how much time has passed between readings, definitely not real-time information.

We offer customizable dashboards and can monitor pretty much anything you can meter, so that would include individual circuits, not just the whole building. The prices they are selling at are steep! Especially if they aren't offering any other services. My company offers a Network Operation Center to monitor your buildings performance and send you reports, alerts, alarms... etc 24/7. http://www.forwardenergysolutions.com/ I am imagining their $10,000 system also comes with some sort of monthly or yearly fee as well. Our system is priced right so that commercial users can easily afford, and so could the high end residential, although out Envi is generally more suited for residential customers. $7500 is almost impossible for a residential customer unless they are Bill Gates!

Sounds like you have the same complaint I have with the "Smart Grid". I suppose the client may see some sort of savings when the power company turns off the AC, but how much of those savings are consumed when the AC comes back on and catches back up, running for 20 minutes straight? I don't like them having that type of control over my house. I have worked with clients who put all their faith in a remote center to control their AC unit. The unit broke and the remote center couldn't be reached and they were stuck in 100 degree heat for a week or more.

Keep us updated on your system Chris, it looks very interesting.
Chris:

I can understand your concern and frustration over what is available to homeowners for managing their appliance energy. I also commend you on your inventing solutions. The home energy management market is gaining momentum and prices for entire home systems are dropping. Look at early 1QTR 2011 for more availability of low cost home monitors that are ZigBee based or mesh based. Let me know how you're doing in your efforts. Bill Melendez, bmelendez@hemstech.com
Chris--sounds like we have similar views on the smart meter trojan horse, but let's not go there in this thread.

Regarding the $50 challenge from Dan Reicher at Google: keep in mind this was his eventual goal. The numbers I've seen are quite similar to yours on component costs. Clearly it will take a bunch of volume to get the WIFI down from $30-35.

Still, I think a $99 dollar version of that configuration would get Google's support and, based on our experience, would sell like hotcakes.
Metering is going to be classical music of this new energy era.I too have started a micro processor data logging(LAN only)but as I add more sensor's the question always comes up.OK but what is it that I'm referencing this against?Weather from the airport 20 mi. away or the exact conditions surrounding the house?What is the criteria of local weather conditions,Temp and humidity?yea but what about solar exposure?and then again wind?I have installed ground coupled geoHP,propane tankless,a timed temp domestic recirc system,and conciderable air sealing and insulation upgrades.Individually if I added all the ADVERTIZED energy savings from each improvements my house should be paying me money to stay here.But instead I just surf the net for the newest web blog about others how do this stuff.Best of luck,keep us posted on progress.Bill N

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