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Family Energy Monitoring

I try to get my family to make lifestyle changes to reduce our maximum electricity use, but it’s tough. It may help if they can see how much is being used. What are my options to accomplish this?—Ronald K.

Some minor lifestyle changes can have a surprising impact on the amount of energy your home consumes. This is not only a matter of saving money on utility bills. It is also important for your family’s future. As our lives and our homes become more dependent on electricity, conserving energy from all sources is a wise move.

Another key reason to reduce electricity consumption is controlling peak demand. It’s like rush hour for the power grid—the time of day when people come home, switch on lights, and crank up the air conditioner.

If you want to always have power available, your electric cooperative has to have enough generating capacity to meet peak demand. Using less electricity can eliminate or delay the need to build additional expensive power plants.

A good first step is to educate your family about which devices use the most electricity. Generally, that’s any appliance or device that creates heat, which is essentially wasted energy. You might consider labeling some of these devices with a red sticker to remind everyone.

Home energy sentinels
If you have an electric meter with a visible spinning wheel, switch on appliances while your family members watch the meter. It may create a lasting impression when they see how much the wheel speeds up when you switch on a hair dryer or the clothes dryer.

As a next step, a number of new energy-management devices are available to help monitor and control the electricity used in your home.

One example is the Power Monitor by Black & Decker. This is a two-piece system: a wireless sensor attaches to the electric meter outside, and a small digital display is kept inside to relay the meter reading. Electric rates can be programmed in to accurately calculate the real-time cost.

Another, more expensive, example is TED (The Energy Detective) by Energy Inc., which senses electricity use from current transformers on the circuit breaker panel. The TED 5000 model can be monitored from a personal computer or even a mobile phone.


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Smart meters make sense
Electric meters used to lower peak demand may come into widespread use in the future. Through a voluntary program, the utility can be allowed remote access to switch off a water heater or lower the thermostat when system-wide electricity use is at its peak. The utility typically compensates the homeowner by providing free maintenance of the appliance, or it may adjust electric rates.

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