Early Report: The Wattvision Energy Monitor is Simple, and Works

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By Tom Harrison - February 3rd, 2010

Update: Now available through the Energy Circle Store!

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.

Wattvision electrical meter sensor

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.

Wattvision Screenshot

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."

 

Wattvision Interface

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.


Comments

I notice an error in the chart. At the bottom, it gives your "savings" as negative numbers. Either the label needs to change to something like "difference between other wattvision users" or the "savings" numbers must be positive when you are saving money. Savings vs. other wattvision users $-4.32 $-1.68 $-1.15 Posted by Anonymous on Feb 4, 2010 12:42pm

 You're right -- that looks a little like a double negative.

But you should check out the WattVision site and see -- or you can see through a mobile phone for the few of us foolish enough to make our data public.  While there may be some minor usability problems, I think they have done a good job, and do a few things differently than the others.  For example, you can compare usage.  And a little thing, on the mobile phone display, at least, after the graph updates, it calculates how much more or less electricity is used.  I always wondered what the two 50W halogen bulbs in the range hood used, and whatdya know, I turn off the lights, and WattVision reports "Increase of 108 Watts" (so they got there terminology right in this case :-).

Posted by Tom Harrison on Feb 4, 2010 1:34pm
I look forward to the day you can try out our live power monitoring system, Gridspy. Like WattVision, it is a sensor in your house that uploads data to a dashboard on the web. We measure the power directly by clipping sensors directly onto cables in your breaker box, like the TED5000. I'm also really into the 1 second update rates that this approach lets us have. One thing that Wattvision has nailed is an extremely low price. They keep it simple. If you want to measure individual circuits, industrial loads or buildings without an accessible power meter, talk to us. Posted by Tom Leys on Feb 4, 2010 3:12pm

If you want to measure individual circuits, industrial loads or buildings without an accessible power meter, talk to us.

Posted by outnow on Nov 10, 2014 5:50am
I am thrilled to see any advancements in this area, but I think we are going about energy monitoring all wrong. It is not very useful to monitor your home's overall usage - we need to monitor each socket. We need to understand which appliances are using too much energy - then we could actually do something about it. For example, we would understand that devices turned off but left plugged in suck a lot of power anyway. There are devices on the market that monitor outlets, but I think they're going about it all wrong. Here's my opinion piece about it - I hope it can inspire a new generation of simple cheap outlet monitors. cheers - http://www.thinksketchdesign.com/2009/02/11/design/green-design-design/t... Posted by ThinkSketchDesign on Feb 4, 2010 8:38pm

@Tom Leys -- we'll be in touch. We think that there are many different opportunities for energy management. While we're focusing on residential at Energy Circle, commercial and industrial users account for a significant share of energy use.

@ThinkSketchDesigns -- I checked out your page -- it's an interesting idea having the energy monitoring and networking built in to the receptacle cover. One issue I see with this design is that it only applies to things you plug into a receptacle (so doesn't get things like the dishwasher or ceiling lights, etc.) I think the comparison with the Kill-a-watt may not be apt -- Kill-a-watt is great for doing spot measurements - it's how I realized that my stereo system was drawing close to 300W because I had inadvertently switched on two additional buttons that did nothing!

How granular the data needs to be is an interesting emerging question. We're going to be selling a product soon called eMonitor which will monitor individual circuits separately. I think it will be very interesting to learn how valuable it is to have visibility into such detail. I am pretty convinced that the "resolution" of data is important; how quickly after you turn something one (or something turns itself on, like the fridge) do you see the impact?

Anyway, all of us here at Energy Circle think energy monitoring is a pretty remarkable thing -- many people don't see how it's useful, or see that it's not usually just a one-time thing, or that no one cares.  We're happy to see all different shapes, sizes, uses and types of monitors come on the market -- energy monitors are all good in one way or other.

Tom

Posted by Tom Harrison on Feb 5, 2010 10:35am
Interesting story as for me. It would be great to read more concerning this theme. Thanx for sharing that info. Posted by PhillDoc on Feb 11, 2010 10:27am
I really like the fact that it is real-time, and can be monitored via smartphone. Mobile technology is where it is all at, and this kind of functionality is bound to prove popular. Here is South Africa the bulk of our meters are of the spinning disc variety, is there an indication when there will be a means of interfacing available? Posted by Sheila @ Swiftheat on Aug 24, 2010 7:44am

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.

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