Home Energy Monitors, that is, devices that display a home’s energy consumption have been touted as Silicon Valley’s contribution to the national energy conservation effort. A Home Energy Monitor (or HEM) constantly informs the occupants of their home’s electricity and gas consumption, along with conversions to monthly costs and comparisons with previous periods. Some models can (or will) communicate with heating and air conditioning systems. These devices will enable consumers to more carefully manage energy consumption and quickly identify energy wasteful practices. A better-informed consumer, the theory goes, will take more actions to reduce energy use. This scenario is consistent with our belief that if we deliver energy information to the consumer they will act upon it.

Unfortunately an article in this issue suggests that HEMs don’t automatically save energy (see “The Net Impact of Home Energy Feedback Devices,” p. 20). In fact, the energy savings were, as the authors succinctly concluded “not statistically different from zero”. Furthermore, the participants in the study were highly motivated and actually paid to get the meters. If these consumers don’t save energy then what can we expect from the larger population? This evaluation is not alone: a soon-to-be-released report reviewing a large number of studies found similar results. Other evaluations in Europe and Japan also observed little or no energy savings from HEMs.

HEMs suffer from a variety of drawbacks, ranging from clunky user interfaces to voracious appetites for batteries. At least one cynic has called the HEMs “a technology in search of a problem” because monitoring a home’s energy use appears to be a wonderful application of advances in local networks and low-cost processing. HEMs today are also dropped into a lonely, inhospitable world where few other devices communicate with the same protocols (if they are able to communicate at all).

One underlying problem is that energy consumption events occur relatively slowly and rarely require the bandwidth of a webcam or audio stream. Put another way, watching home energy use on a display or on the Web is boring. Most people lose interest pretty quickly. The high attrition rates found in the Oregon study demonstrate this phenomenon.

Meanwhile, we haven’t exploited the information flows that are already in place, such as monthly energy bills. An experimental project in Gainesville, Florida, demonstrates how disclosure of monthly energy information can encourage friendly competition among neighbors. And, beyond competition, people can learn that their neighbors enjoy lifestyles similar to their own but with dramatically less electricity, natural gas and water. This is a first step towards reducing energy use.

In spite of the negative results so far, I still support the development and installation of HEMs. The technology is so cheap that a HEM can pay for itself even if it saves only a few percent of energy use. A HEM may pay for itself by alerting users to high peak electrical use where utilities charge extra for it. A HEM can also serve as a useful diagnostic tool (and data logger for a high school science project). In the long run, the HEM will become less lonely when appliances are able to communicate and provide information that consumers actually find useful. All of this calls for much stronger pressure on manufacturers toward harmonization of communications protocols and greatly improved user interfaces.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves, consumers aren’t going to check the displays of their HEMs like they visit their Facebook pages, and HEMs are going to save, at best, a tiny amount of home energy.

 

- Alan Meier

Views: 39

Tags: energy, monitors

Comment

You need to be a member of Home Energy Pros to add comments!

Join Home Energy Pros

Featured Forum Discussions

BPI Anaylist and installers

Started by Larry R Waters in BPI. Last reply by Quinn Korzeniecki on Friday. 1 Reply

What causes a temperature plane in a home

Started by Energy Wise Solutions in HVAC. Last reply by Brad Cook on Thursday. 6 Replies

Velocity Pressure Testing

Started by Horace Douglas Hunt, Jr. in General Forum. Last reply by Horace Douglas Hunt, Jr. Apr 15. 2 Replies

Videos

  • Add Videos
  • View All

Latest Activity

Crosbey Archery posted a blog post
9 hours ago
Chris Woods added a discussion to the group Energy Auditing Equipment for Sale, Trade or to Purchase
Thumbnail

Minneapolis Blower Door Fan and Door frame $990 OBO

I have a used Minneapolis blower door fan (fan only, no controls or panel) and the blower door…See More
Friday
Profile IconManuela L Heyn and Paul Nagel joined Home Energy Pros
Friday
Bill Spohn replied to Eric Sperline's discussion Wanted: Energy Auditing Equipment for sale in the group Energy Auditing Equipment for Sale, Trade or to Purchase
"If you choose to buy new, give TruTech at call at 1-888-224-3437 option 1"
Friday
Home Energy Magazine's blog post was featured

The Legends of Home Performance

A project long in the making, we're happy to finally reveal some of our Legends of Home Performance…See More
Friday
Quinn Korzeniecki replied to Larry R Waters's discussion BPI Anaylist
"Hi Larry, We're glad you're reaching out to hire some BPI folks! You can also submit…"
Friday
Larry R Waters posted a discussion

BPI Anaylist

Industry leader in the north bay area California. Looking for experienced professionals and future…See More
Friday
Larry R Waters joined Diane Chojnowski's group
Thumbnail

Job Board

This group is for posting jobs related to all aspects of the home performance industry including…See More
Friday

Home Energy Pros

Welcome to Home Energy Pros – the unique digital community by and for those who work in the home energy performance arena.

Home Energy Pros was founded by the developers of Home Energy Saver Pro (supported by the U.S. Department of Energy) and brought to you in partnership with Home Energy magazine.  Home Energy Pros is sponsored by the Better Buildings Residential Network. Please honor our Guidelines

© 2017   Created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service