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Wishful Thinking – Energy Monitoring and Controls

by Nic Darling on December 19, 2008 · 23 comments

in Design,home automation

I wish there were an easier way from idea to product. Of course, if there were I would have a house full of cool but unnecessary gadgetry (bacon toaster, geothermal beer dispenser, rocket recliner). I suppose the work involved in bringing an idea to fruition forces you to question the viability and necessity of the concept. So, here is something to “work on” by which I mean something to discuss in the comments.

We plan to include an energy monitor with all of our houses. This will allow the homeowner to monitor energy usage and will take advantage of the Prius Effect to help reduce energy consumption. Basically, it seems, if a person can see what each action is costing energy-wise, they will adjust their behavior. Transparency can be a beautiful thing.

The TED system which is pictured also includes an application for additional monitoring and data crunching. It basically offers a dashboard on your computer which tracks usage and presents the data in a variety of useful ways. There are major problems with it of course, the biggest of which is the fact that it only works on Windows at the moment, but more on that later.

The second major system we are considering introducing into our homes is a wireless switch system. Conceptually this is based on what the people at Verve are doing. Basically, wireless switches control lights and outlets. These switches can be assigned to as many fixtures as desired, meaning the integration of a whole house off switch that excludes necessary appliances or “always on” outlets becomes relatively simple. It also means that there is potential to control the lights through an alternate wireless signaling source (in addition to switches), and that leads us to my idea wish.

What I would like is a system which integrates energy modeling and wireless switch technology to allow energy usage to be viewed and controlled from a central location. I picture a web application which receives the energy monitoring data and the electricity control information. It presents this information side by side so that energy usage can be matched with the current state of lights, outlets and appliances. One will quickly get an idea of specific energy usage and of losses to phantom power. This system could make use of the house’s wireless network to turn outlets and lights on and off. It would be a great way to test various usage loads and lends itself to broader applications.

The web application format could also allow you to access the system and make changes remotely. For example, I can imagine an iPhone app that ties in to this system. One could see the current state of lights and outlets and make changes while away from home. For instance, you are out having a pint and you think to yourself, “Did I leave the lights on in the bedroom.” You pull out your phone, bring up your house application and see that you did. With just the swipe of a finger you turn the offending lights off. Or, maybe you glance at the app and notice your energy use is much higher than it should be with no one home. Checking your outlet activity, you see the stereo outlet is on. With one swipe you kill power to the device and save enough money for a second pint.

This could eventually be applied to a variety of wirelessly enabled switches accessing everything from window shades to security systems. You could adjust your thermostat, check air quality sensors and potential even unlock or lock your doors all from your phone.

Does this exist already? I know the components are all there, but has anyone put them together? If not, is it an idea worth pursuing? Is it useful? Profitable? And lastly, who wants to build it for me?

Comment time, GO!

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Energy Monitoring and Control - Web Application Concept | 100K House Blog
December 30, 2008 at 12:20 pm
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March 2, 2009 at 12:32 pm

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brandon December 19, 2008 at 6:42 pm

I really like the two systems you mentioned and I really really like your idea to make it even better.

To make your idea work you would have to make a combination of the TED software and the Verve system. It would need to transmit/receive data to/from a server so that the system could be accessed via the internet. Creating the software side of this would be the “easier” part, having it interface with the hardware is where I get completely useless (sorry, I’m no engineer).

Basically if you can get the system to work via the internet your iPhone app concept is only a short step away.

I think this is seriously a very awesome idea.

2 Colin December 19, 2008 at 7:24 pm

The systems are sweet, the extra idea is sweet, even the iPhone graphic is sweet. Get who you can on this ASAP.

3 mj December 19, 2008 at 11:37 pm

went ahead and compiled some links for your consideration.

trying to do it all (incl home theater, security) (nokia)

various off the shelf solutions

control only

monitoring only

in cooperation with utilities
( )

interesting similar tech:

what else could be implemented?
motion-sensors that only turn on lights when a room is in use and off when not.
remote thermostat control / thermostat that uses less energy for climate control when no one is up or around.

interface questions come up too. you want to use the iphone but whats on the backend serving up the data/control?

excellent work, excited to see where this goes.

4 Chris Morgan December 20, 2008 at 12:51 am

Excellent idea! I’d like to see all-in-one lock-up shut-off alarm-set beeper feature similar to locking your car.

5 Kevin D December 20, 2008 at 1:48 pm

When you take this concept further, you start learning about the coming “Smart Grid”.

Basically, it will charge consumers a more accurate price for electricity through home automation-type electric meters. The consumer in a low-energy all-electric home using smart electricity will pay much less per BTU and kwh.

For example, a kwh on a hot summer afternoon actually costs the utility 5x to 10x more than a kwh provided that night at 3am.

6 Ryan December 22, 2008 at 11:12 am

Similar concept being developed here in Canada by a research team from the University of Waterloo, Ryerson Universtiy and Simon Frasier University. The North House is an entry in the 2009 Solar Decathalon in Washington DC. Home page is still being developed but the second link is a small book describing the proposal.

7 Nic Darling December 22, 2008 at 11:18 am

I want to just take a second to say I love the community that’s building here. I toss out a half formed idea and get great information in response. I even got an email from an iPhone developer interested in the concept. So . . . thank you.

Judging from MJs links (still making my way through them), this is something plenty of people are thinking about, but there is some difficulty bringing all the pieces together smoothly. I think, if we can get our home production model going, we might be in a good spot to be part of the development of an integrated system. We will have a consistent home which should allow us to provide a good platform for testing this sort of thing.

I am going to send the idea to a couple of hardware folks I know and see if there is something in it. If you know anyone specific I should talk to, please let me know.

8 Nic Darling December 22, 2008 at 11:36 am

Kevin – The “Smart Grid” idea seems so logical doesn’t it? Hard to believe it isn’t the norm. Thanks for the link.

Ryan – Sounds like an interesting project. I am curious how much of what I’m seeing in the PDF is still just conceptual. Really interesting.

9 lavardera December 22, 2008 at 11:42 am

This kind of home automation has been offered for a long time with X10 system components and control software – they relied on transmitting control commands over the power wiring. The next generation of this standard appears to be clled Insteon and integrates wireless communication along with the power wiring. Wikipedia overview:

The control software offered for the Mac is called Indigo, and I believe the offer iPhone integration. I’ve not read enough about it to know what the features are or if it can integrate the energy monitoring features you would like to have.

Indigo’s website:

Indigo at vendor

10 Sam Wittchen December 22, 2008 at 12:02 pm

Nic – PECO is also working on a “smart grid” system. I haven’t seen anything published on their website yet, but I had a lively conversation with a guy who’s working on it for PECO. I think the plan is to unveil the system to help folks mitigate the inevitable increase in energy costs when the PA energy rate caps come off.

I would think that the ideal system/app for the house would tie the house data into the smart grid rate tables and draw a real-time picture of what your energy usage is costing you. Then you’ll really know if you have the money for that extra pint.

11 Asa December 22, 2008 at 12:10 pm

You might also want to check out

It’s just a design concept, not a real product, but they integrate a lot of the same ideas you’re discussing here.

12 Bruce December 22, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Just a thought on the motion-sensor idea a few posts up: I don’t know if this exists already, but it seems that the best way to automate lights to only be on when there is a human present would be some interaction between motion and infrared sensors so a person sitting at a computer for two hours wouldn’t have to be constantly waving their arms to get the lights to go back on. I suppose this could be complicated a bit by various heating systems.

13 chad December 22, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Great input from out commenters here. Keep it up!

14 Matthew Jastremski December 23, 2008 at 12:43 am

(i’m MJ above)
Bruce: I imagine the best solution would be to implement the motion sensitive lights in places where you transit or are always moving. A hallway could have a delay that turns off after 30 seconds of no motion, whereas a kitchen for instance would turn off after 3 minutes, as you’re usually moving around while cooking, getting food, etc. For when you’re in a room that you may not move a lot, maybe there is one light that is motion sensitive to illuminate the whole room, but after you settle in, it dims down to some simple spot-lighting. None of this is really “out there” technically, it just requires a level of thoughtfulness in design.

15 Ryan December 24, 2008 at 1:06 pm


Currently the project exists in a design development state. However, if the final goal of the solar decathalon is an exhibition of the built/resolved designs so anything you see in the pdf will be a working prototype within the next year.

16 tlynch December 24, 2008 at 1:16 pm

Universal powerline bus (or UPB) is an industry emerging standard for communication among devices used for home automation. It uses power line wiring for signaling and control.

There are many UPB products out there that enable home automation, but I have been unable to find any Watt Meters that use the UPB Protocol.

I think that a key to this system would be to sell a breaker box that would act as a central hub for the system. Each circuit breaker would also be a watt meter and the breaker box could work as a phase coupler to integrate the whole house.

If you named each Circuit in your house and each breaker had a watt meter, and the key appliances all had watt meters installed then you could easily generate a report like this (where total usage is measured at the breaker and individual usage is measured at each appliance, and misc would be everything unaccounted for) :

Circuit #1: Kitchen
Refridgerator ……………. x.x kw/h
Dishwasher ……………. x.x kw/h
Overhead Light………….. x.x kw/h
Misc ……………. x.x kw/h
Total: x.x kw/h

Circuit #2: 2nd Floor
Misc ……………. x.x kw/h
Total: x.x kw/h

Circuit #3: Utility Room
Washing Machine ………. x.x kw/h
Dryer ……………. x.x kw/h
Boiler ………….. x.x kw/h
Misc ……………. x.x kw/h
Total: x.x kw/h

17 lavardera December 24, 2008 at 3:18 pm

I’m thinking it would not be that hard to create an x10 or UPB watt meter, but is there a software package ready to receive the data and display it in a form that is useful to the homeowner.

18 David Burke January 7, 2009 at 12:45 pm


What an exciting project! I am one of the development engineers with Verve. We’re happy you have identified our system as a potential solution for your homes. Verve is truly a unique approach to lighting a home. Just some background for your readers:

Switch Technology:
1) Wireless, batteryless, energy-harvesting switches.
2) Switch Technology by EnOcean (
3) Lifetime guarantee

1) 10 channel controller, controls up to 10 light loads
2) each controller is also a dimmer
3) each controller can link up to 200 switches to any combination of light loads (even across other controllers)
4) 300W per channel, 1800W per controller
5) each controller is a wireless repeater (no wireless dead spots in your home)
6) “wiring” a 3-way switch is now as simple as sticking two switches on the wall and linking them to whatever light load you want. If you don’t like it, link them to something else. The whole process takes 30 seconds.
7) Controller uses the EnOcean radio protocol to communicate with switches and other sensors.

Occupancy Sensors:
1) Wireless, batteryless, energy harvesting
2) Stick an occupancy sensor to your wall/ceiling, link it to any light (or combination of lights) in the home, and walk away.
3) The OS turns off your lights when there is no one in the room

Lumen Sensor:
1) Wireless, batteryless, energy-harvesting
2) Stick it to your wall/ceiling, link it to any light or combination of lights and walk away.
3) when you dim those lights to your desired level, the light level detected by the lumen sensor is stored in the controller and your desired light level will be maintained throughout the day.
4) As outdoor light enters, the indoor lights will be dimmed, as outdoor light diminishes, indoor light will adjust to maintain your desired level.

The Verve system is ever-expanding and due to the EnOcean Enabled feature of the product, your idea, Nic, is no longer a fantasy. Installing a Verve lighting control system in your home will allow future expansion and features without re-wiring your home.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if there is anything we can do to help.


19 zac July 8, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Hi Nic,
What you’ve described is right up our alley. Take a look at our website (the OEM section in particular) and give us a call if you’re interested in working together:


20 Kris December 5, 2010 at 1:04 am

Love reading all these ideas.Could someone explain how the Smartgrid concept is the same or different than Time-of-Day (TOD) metering/pricing? We have had our house on a TOD system for about 5 years now. We pay less than 3 cents/kwh from 9pm to 9am and then a higher than normal rate from 9am to 9pm. We put our water heater, chest freezer, washing machine, and electric car charging outlets on an X10 system so they are automatically only live during the cheap rate period.

We are also experimenting with Arduino for doing customized temperature and pump monitoring for our radiant heating system for our current house. This will be the platform for our new house monitoring and operation of our solar water distribution system.

21 Zach Dwiel September 14, 2011 at 10:40 am

I find this post really interesting. For those of you who have a TED or other whole home monitor already, you might be interested in PlotWatt. At PlotWatt we can connect to your whole home monitor to get a live data feed and give you recommendations about how to save energy or send you a text when something goes wrong (unusually high energy usage). In the example in the post they say you may check your house usage while you are out and notice that it is high. With PlotWatt, you don’t have to constantly check, we’ll notify you.

We’ve actually saved (fish) lives already. One of our customers had a fish tank sensor go bad and the tank heater was constantly on. We noticed the abnormal behavior, notified the owner and they were able to replace the sensor before the fish got cooked!

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