Early Report: The Wattvision Energy Monitor is Simple, and Works
I have spent months installing, testing, evaluating and understanding just about every real time energy monitor we can get our hands on. It all started when I bought a BlueLine PowerCost monitor in 2008. Suddenly seeing something that had always been opaque to me was an eye-opener. Now, I not only "get" the benefits of home energy monitoring, I can't get enough. I use TED 5000 and, until yesterday, the PowerCost Meter to monitor my house. And in the Energy Circle house, the BlueLine, TED 1000, TED 5000 and eMonitor are tracking electricity in real time.
The current field of power monitors runs the gamut, from more complex approaches that aren't simple to install to others that are so simple that they can't reveal data in real time. So I'm nearly tingling to tell you my first impressions of the WattVision electricity monitor, a prototype that succeeds in its simplicity. It does what it claims. And it does it reliably.
Here's how it went:
I received my Wattvision—a prototype, mind you—yesterday. I set up "My House," and even pre-configured the wireless settings on their web site. Brilliant.
Today, when I installed the Wattvision, I had the sneaking suspicion that there had to be more to it. I plugged in the "brains" box, and in 10 seconds the WiFi light glowed. I installed the sensor on my electric meter in about 10 minutes. I pushed the wire inside the house, plugged it into the Wattvision box, and plugged it in to the wall. Then, I went upstairs to start troubleshooting.
Except I didn't need to.
It just worked.
And it is still working. Here's my house electricity use in real time. The Wattvision folks made me promise to say that the product is in "beta". Even so, this power monitor works because it is smartly designed, simple, and elegant. It has just four parts: a sensor that clamps on your meter, a telephone-style wire, a small box where all the brains are, and a power plug.
The box is where the magic happens, and there's some rather cool magic. It uses a regular wireless network connection and the simple phone wire that comes in from your meter. You can plug the Wattvision in anywhere. (That's theoretically true of TED, as well, as long as there's no noise on the circuit. But that rarely happens at my house.) I just found a plug, plugged it in, and it worked.
The sensor part is just a little electric eye you point into the LED port of your electric meter. (This is how the BlueLine monitor works, too.) Most, if not all, houses now have these digital meters. Not a smart meter, these are the kind utilities started installing years ago to save money on meter reading; most houses have them. If your meter looks like a spinning disk, you're out of luck—for now.
The way you see the Wattvision's readings is through your computer's web browser. There's no display that you can put in your kitchen or hallway ... yet. But if you have a smart phone, the Wattvision is available wherever you are. It's also fast, which is handy when you want to know how much power an individual electrically powered device uses.
My kids and I gathered around the iPhone. No special app required; the clever website is designed to work well on a small screen. We turned off a light in the kitchen. Several seconds later, the graph on the web page on my iPhone measured the change (even providing a report like "87 Watt reduction"). We waited a few more seconds and saw the graph rise—when the fridge cycled on. This instant gratification is one of features we like about the TED 5000. You can walk around the house, flipping switches, and see the results on its portable display. But with Wattwision, a smart phone does the job as well—better, in fact. Range and battery life aren't a problem, and the graph display is clear.
This display is over the Internet, so I can see it anywhere. If you're feeling frisky, you can even share your data with friends, or bare it all and put your house on public display! (My house now ranks second, thank you.) Is it Google PowerMeter compatible? Not yet. But I see no reason it won't eventually be approved (it's certainly not the mess that TED 5000 is proving to be). Wattvision has all the plumbing required to be a Google PowerMeter "device partner."
That said, I would change a few things. The Wattvision folks are great people and have been very responsive, so I'd anticipate these concerns will be addressed soon.
- Even if I didn't live in front of my computer, it's worth mentioning that Wattvision has no display. It's compatible with a new über display called Chumby, which costs more than $100. I think the display should be standard issue. Wattvision's response: "We're working on it".
- To hook it up, you need to feed a small wire from outside your house, somewhere in the vicinity of your meter, inside to where the Wattvision box will live. I was lucky. The phone company had drilled a hole in my house (long story), so I simply slipped the Wattvision wire through and promptly sealed it up so no air leaked in. If your house doesn't have a gaping hole in it, you could drill your own with a long drill bit, or run the wire through a nearby window. It's a solvable problem, but a nuisance nonetheless. (And don't forget the foam afterward to air seal around the hole.)
- My great hope is that the simple Wattvision platform could track not only electricity, but heating fuel, too. Last year in my house, while we were using a little more than 5800 kWh of electricity, we used 939 therms of natural gas. That's the equivalent of about 27,500 kWh—or 4.5 times as much energy—for heat, hot water, and cooking. Focusing on electricity is a good start, but it's a small part of the energy pie.
Bottom line: For a product described as "very early", I think the Wattvision is likely to be one of the most reliable and useful energy meters we have tested.