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Energy Monitoring and Control – Web Application Concept

by Nic Darling on December 30, 2008 · 19 comments

in Design,home automation

The conversation on my original post on energy monitoring and controls has been fantastic. Great ideas have been presented and examples that approximate my wishful thinking have been shared. Thank you to all of you who added your input.

After looking through all the links and concepts shared in the comments of the last post, I still think there is room for someone to develop a more intuitive, comprehensive and affordable solution. Most of what actually exists right now is either designed for highly complex commercial applications or falls far short of the whole vision for this system. There are residential home automation solutions and energy monitoring options, but as far as I have seen, nobody has integrated the two smoothly. So, we are going to dream a little more.

I imagine a system in which each point of power use (ideally), or each collection of points (if each is impossible) is provided with a watt meter and a wireless switch. These switches and meters would be capable of communicating with a web based software application which could, in turn, be controlled by cell phone applications and desktop widgets. The main application, in my fevered imagination, would be a dashboard based web interface that looks something like this . . .

Rough concept for web app dashboard

Keep in mind, this is just a very rough concept. Ignore the logo and the content and just imagine how nice it would be to bring something like this up on your computer. You could quickly view energy usage of your entire home, compare it to past usage and check the status of various sources of use. Now imagine you want to change the state of various outlets, lights and appliances . . .

Rough concept for control interface.

The control interface would allow you to operate the wireless switches on individual fixtures, groups, zones or the entire house. Lights might have dimming capabilities or presets. One could easily exclude important “always on” systems from the whole-house or whole-zone off functions. With the integrated watt meters, the user could also easily see how much energy each item was using and the total energy use based on each on/off setting. This would be a great means of educating the user and sure way to increase savings through awareness.

Setup would obviously be a challenging component of this system. The user would have to assign each source a name and then place it in groups or zones for easy control. Each outlet, light and appliance would need to be setup in order for the system to function properly. It will be a bit of a pain in the neck, but in the end, I think the process could be instructive.

This will also probably be the most challenging interface design element. It will be difficult to make such a setup both versatile and intuitive. I imagine something along the lines of  . . .

Very rough concept for settings interface

Users would be able to name each input and assign that input to a zone and group. Each name would be entirely custom and easily changed, so that if the user moves their toaster, for example, it is easy to change the assigned outlet’s name and function. Zones and groups could then be used to simplify controls either via suggested parameters or the user’s own whim. The above is obviously somewhat simplified, but I think the concept is there.

I know, in some ways, this thinking is reinventing the wheel. Much of what I am talking about already exists and some of it is already very well designed. However, at times reinvention is an easier task than combining different systems and concepts to create what you want. I think, to create a fully integrated, easy to use system, it will have to be built from scratch.

So, we ask again, is this feasible? Has it been done already? What key components am I missing? And, most importantly, who wants to build this thing for me?

Comments are open.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris Kluis December 30, 2008 at 12:46 pm


There are several energy monitoring systems to the following two:

There was this concept which is exactly what you were looking for:

Unfortunately the best way to do what you want right now is via home automation which allows you to turn specific zones or items off. There are some that offer smartphone support like:

Hope this helps.

2 Mark Schoneveld December 30, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Love, love, love this idea! Wow! I think it could be obsessive, but wouldn’t it be fun?

3 tlynch December 30, 2008 at 2:09 pm

I am not sure how useful, or practical it is to monitor every appliance in your house. I think monitoring the wattage on each circuit breaker and on the key appliances or outlets would be more than adequate. All unaccounted for usage would just be listed as “Misc.” under the usage for a given breaker. I would imagine that each of these meters would cost $20+, and thats a lot of dough to keep track of a single lamp in the living room.

For new construction, devices could be placed throughout the house that measure usage to a given area. For example, one device could be used to measure all electrical usage on the back wall of the living room. The device would be placed on the electrical wire leading to that area.

Also, you keep suggesting that the system be wireless, but I do not see why that should be a requirement.

The requirement might include:

- Works on existing electrical systems
- No new wiring in walls.
- Reliable / manually overridable
- Low energy usage
- Secure
- Affordable

In doing so I think that you are overlooking UPB, which would realisticly allow you to develop such a system in a six months, as 90% of the work would be the software, as almost all the hardware already exists, and as Lavardera said in the other thread, creating a UPB Watt Meter would be fairly straight forward.

4 lawless December 30, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Seems like there would be enough existing products to build something piece-meal that would be really close.

Unless you have some computer programmer friends that like to code for beer, you’re not gonna be able to touch that price with custom-code/debugging. ($1400 roughly for controllers and remote interface)

Like the Google Analytics interface :D

5 lawless December 30, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Just read the initial post, seems some of that was already mentioned, sorry.

While it’s still in the whiteboard stage, plan on running it on a Mac mini and then just incorporate a whole-house media server into the mini as well:

You could run the whole house on a very small energy use platform by using the Mac mini.

6 JR Moreau December 31, 2008 at 11:12 am

This is absolutely feasible. My employer has a dashboard similar to this for media analysis. Anything that you are able to get a data steam from and process can be converted into a data dashboard. The bells and whistles (charts and graphs) are almost arbitrary. Feel free to email me or reach out for more info.


7 Nic Darling December 31, 2008 at 11:56 am

During my time with my last start up venture I actually had a hand in designing and building a similar dashboard based website for monitoring data backup software. As JRM says, if you have the data, the presentation of that data isn’t difficult. (And yes, lawless. I will shamelessly rip off good design)

tlynch – I agree, monitoring each and every outlet is overkill. However, in my dreamworld the monitoring device might be integrated with the switch (wireless or not). So, specific groups of lights and outlets would be operated and monitored by their own device. Basically this would give you a watt meter everywhere you would have a switch.

I think everyone is probably right about the hardware. As long as there is a single communication protocol, the existing hardware will work. I still think there is room for improvement on the software side, something that integrates the monitoring and control.

I like the idea of being able to run the house on a Mac mini. It seems likely that most houses will have a central server eventually. Of course, you run into more power use concerns there.

8 Goran December 31, 2008 at 11:57 am

I couldn’t find anything as well integrated as what you proposed. Prices for home automation are ready to drop as volume goes up. You can buy standalone wireless switches for your food disposal for under $20.

Now is a good time for someone to take advantage of it by adding value via a software package, as you propose.

Here are some links you’ve probably already seen:

Here’s a nice summary article on the sector by “HowStuffWorks”.

A site dedicated to devices certified for the ZigBee home network:

A site dedicated to Z wave home network devices:

Something I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, but not really in the class of devices you’re looking for. The iControl Networks for home temperature control.

9 Goran December 31, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Oh, and a web site dedicate to broad band home news, including 2004 articles on Bill Gates’ 100K home automation system:

And an old article on HomeGenie (see bottom of page)

10 goran December 31, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Having you seen the Tendril Vantage software (under the ZigBee link, above)? According to this article,

their wireless smart outlet costs $30 in department stores. They’ve sold 50K devices this year, and plan to sell 500K devices next year.

I’m looking for details on their Vantage software, but it looks like it does some of what you want.

11 Dan January 1, 2009 at 5:33 am

Have a look at this Open Source project,

If it can’t do all that you want it may be a good framework to build upon and the developers could be interested in your ideas.

12 Grant January 3, 2009 at 12:06 am

I believe it was your blog where I read a desire to control your house from an iPhone… At any rate, in the Jan./Feb 2009 issue of Electronic House Magazine, they have an article on iPhone applications that let you control your home automation system and avoid the cost of additional control pads.

Some of the iPhone software is even being given away for free to home systems installers. Others are charging $199. Still a bargain if you own an iPhone and don’t want to buy extra control pads! I’m hoping they will port the software for my new BlackBerry Storm as well.

13 Josh January 6, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Check this article out, looks like they are starting to involve the iphone in some systems control applications.

14 Grant January 7, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I was just at the Sustainable Home website and saw this relevant article that I thought I’d click over here and share:

It appears that Advanced Telemetry’s EcoView may be getting close to what you are wanting to do. [Note the previous article has more "functional" information than their website.]

I hope you figure out how to do energy monitoring and control affordably before I build my house so that I can copy your ideas . In the mean time I look forward to monitoring your research.

15 Grant January 7, 2009 at 9:02 pm

well let’s try to give the addies again:

16 Kevin D January 22, 2009 at 7:42 pm

It appears that all the above stuff is for the end user to install and use.

It turns out that the utility is keenly interested in your usage patterns and even would like to help you manage it to their benefit. Of course, if they can help you manage your power use in a way that saves them money, then the consumer should benefit.

But the good news is that they will implement this at no cost to consumers with the advent of the Smart Grid. The Smart Grid is on Obama’s top five list.

With intelligent load management, zero energy homes can have smaller, less expensive photovoltaic systems, and no new coal power plants will need to be built.

17 Grant January 23, 2009 at 12:37 am

The winter 2008 Innovative Home magazine has an article regarding Casa Bella Verde and its “sponsors.” This is a LARGE 7,500 sf house, but they are building it for LEED certification, and they are incorporating Home Automation from AMX. The Home Automation system will control the lighting, security, HVAC, etc. Design Avenues of Richardson, Texas is developing a software system to tie all the green house features into the home automation system which they call “Green Haven.”

Considering these vendors were willing to “sponsor” Casa Bella Verde, perhaps they’d also be willing to work with the 100K project team to show their capabilities at the smaller scale and on the other side of the country…


18 Nic Darling January 23, 2009 at 10:50 am

Kevin – I am hoping for the Smart Grid to show up, but I’m not banking on it. Even if it does start taking effect I am pretty sure that PA and Peco will be among the last to adopt.

Grant – Thanks for the info. I really need to start pursuing sponsorships more actively. The “wait for them” strategy has been ineffective.

19 Peter L April 6, 2009 at 5:07 pm

I would echo the opinion expressed by other posters that “wireless” is perhaps a misguided sentiment. Using the existing power lines to transmit data seems the way to go.

Other posters cited new wiz-bang devices from various startups.

Since no one else did, I’ll add “X-10″ to the mix; it has been around since 1975, and there are a number of competing manufacturers that produce products conformant to that standard.

BTW, I don’t get the appeal of “iPhone” or whatever remote control of lights, etc. It seems like if you have to manually remember to turn off lights when you are halfway across town, one is not being very energy efficient to begin with. A good system ought to automatically turn off anything that is not needed (and most certainly once you left the house). If the iPhone is intended for use within the house, have we become such a sedentary society that simply walking over to a light switch is too much of a burden? :)

On my wishlist, I would like to see power monitoring systems that don’t require so much power to operate. I have a TED with the Footprint options, and I detest that I would have to keep a huge PC powered 24/7 just to collect a tiny amount of data. They couldn’t design it to be more power inefficient; for example, it accesses the hard drive every second so that the PC is always operating in its max power mode. ugh What truly offends me are these “green” show houses that have massive flat panel plasma/LCD TVs that show current power consumption… the display being a huge power hog that operates 24/7 just in case someone happens to be looking at it.

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