Wattvision: The Initial Setup Experience

This is the second in a series of guest posts by Ted Borer, PE, the energy plant manager for Princeton University. He is actively involved in campus and community energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction efforts. He has over 25 years of experience in the energy industry, is a registered professional engineer, and holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Mechanical Engineering as well as the CEM, CEP, and LEEDAP Certifications. He has published numerous magazine articles, technical papers, and a book chapter on topics relating to energy and cogeneration. 

My initial experience with the Wattvision system has been really enjoyable. This device has a very simple web order form. I opted to have it “pre-programmed” by entering a few pieces of information from the nameplate of our wireless router into the order form. It arrived a couple days after the order was placed with no expedited shipping costs or extra fees.

I could have had my ten year old hook it up – if he was tall enough to reach the electric meter. Here are the steps it took:

  • Strap the sensor onto our electric meter with one flat-blade screwdriver.
  • Adjust the location of the sensor on the meter with a thumb screw and verify the LEDs are flashing in synch with the dial rotation (no tools)
  • Plug the sensor wire into the transmitter
  • Plug in the power supply to a wall outlet
  • Plug the power supply into the transmitter
  • Watch as the LEDs light up and indicate power, connection to the router, and connection to the Wattvision servers.
  • It worked. There was no fussing, programming, or troubleshooting at all!
  • Note: The wireless router needs to be on at all times, but the computer and other peripherals can be shut down completely.
  • Found www.wattvision.com on my Android phone and can now see our house power use from anywhere!

The whole “installation” took less than fifteen minutes between arrival and full functionality – including playing with the sensor on the desk just for fun to see it work (sensing dark and light) before installation on the meter. Note: The Wattvision system did not come with an instruction manual or installation CD. Amazingly, it doesn’t need one! It is truly a “plug & play” device.

Let’s step back for a moment. What do I want to do with this thing? What am I expecting of it?

Ideally, I’m hoping to learn and answer questions:

  1. How much electric power are we using at our house?
  2. Which things do we operate that demand all that power?
  3. What costs a lot to operate?
  4. What devices or behaviors could we modify to reduce our power use?
  5. What changes would be cost-effective without causing us great inconvenience? I’m sure there are things that we could do that we wouldn’t want to or that would be too expensive for us. We have no interest in sitting at home in a cold, dark, silent house. We just want to learn where we are wasting energy and find ways to reduce that.
  6. When we make changes, I want to verify that the changes had the anticipated result in power and money savings.
  7. I expect to have some fun playing with this new gadget.

My first insight was pretty basic: WOW! Are we really using 4000 watts this evening?!! Steadily? That can’t be right. I thought we turned off most of the stuff in rooms where no one is. Where’s it all going? For context, it’s January, the coldest month of the year. We have an electric heat pump providing about half the heat for our house and an extremely efficient fireplace providing the rest. But we also have a fairly tight house and think we’re pretty good about energy use.

After letting the Wattvision run a while and switching on and off some lights to see that it responded accurately, I looked at the “current consumption rate” graph for the previous hour. This is a green line graph with time in a blue field on the x-axis. I noted brief upward spikes about every half hour. What’s that? Perhaps it’s the well pump coming on to maintain water pressure in the system?

One thing that appears critical to get the most out of this tool is to observe the data and then super-impose whatever I know about what is happening at the time.

Check the “history” graph below. There is a blue line showing consumption rate in watts every fifteen seconds. It’s easy to right-click on the blue time axis and to use the mouse wheel to expand and contract the time range.

It looks like we were only using about 500 watts between midnight and 2:30 am. Then power use jumped up. Here’s my guess at what happened: The bread machine was set on a timer to have bread ready for us at 6:30 AM. It takes about four hours to cook. So it should have started automatically at 2:30. The only problem is that the bread was finished at 6:30 and power use continued at a relatively steady 4kW even after that. Was it also the heat pump that increased power demand?

So what’s happening in the graph above? It looks like the electric dryer ran from mid-morning until 11:47 AM, then shut off. The dryer heating element must use about 5500 watts. I can verify that by checking the nameplate or owner’s manual. Let’s do some easy math. Say the dryer averages 5kW for an hour of operation. Then one clothes-drying cycle costs:

(5 kilowatts)  x  (one hour)  x   ($0.19/kilowatt-hour)  =  $0.95 to dry a load of clothes.

That might be off a little, but it seems about right.

The heat pump must be off or on “low” during the end of this time period. 890 watts of stuff is running. The small spike about 12:18 AM was probably the microwave heating lunch.

This is pretty cool! More to come! Buy a wattvision sensor for your house at wattvision.com.

Why we should've named our company "A1 Wattvision" :)

Many users discover Wattvision because of our compatibility with Google PowerMeter.  Set up your Wattvision system, and with a few clicks on your account page, you can opt-in to send your data to Google PowerMeter -- Google's foray into the energy monitoring space.

We're honored to work with Google, and our beta users have enjoyed Google PowerMeter support since February of last year. We just recently exited beta and got listed on PowerMeter's website.  Here's a screenshot:

We can only guess at how many more customers would come our way if our company name were "A1 Wattvision" instead of "Wattvision."  Though a "W" as our first letter puts us as a slight disadvantage with respect to the quick-clicking web-user, we hope the quality, ease of use, and care we put in to our product design will help Wattvision bubble to the top of the list in people's minds. ;) Happy Friday!

Catching the Power Company's Mistakes

Some of our customers have used Wattvision to uncover errors made by their power company.  In the case of Mr. Chang, he found more than one.  Mr. Chang recently installed solar panels, but he didn’t see a big difference in his electricity bill.  Were his solar panels actually working?  Was his system wired correctly?  He purchased Wattvision to see what was going on.

After he set up the system, Mr. Chang emailed us and wrote, “I’m trying to figure out if I’ve installed the [Wattvision] device correctly or if my meter is not configured correctly.”

We confirmed that Wattvision was set up correctly (it’s quite straightforward) so he spent some time gathering data about his energy use from Wattvision.

He decided to set up an experiment -- he’d turn everything off and leave home on a perfect day for solar energy. His solar panels would produce power and send it back to the grid.  The Wattvision sensor, connected to his power company's electricity meter, should show that no power came from the PowerCo to his house.  On a sunny day last March, he left home for the entire day and made sure everything was off.  What did he discover when he came home?

He drew the following conclusions, taken directly from the presentation he sent to his power company (PowerCo):

  1. Solar panels produce energy that is being fed back into the grid; however, this is causing the meter to go forward, not backward.
  2. During the interconnection process, PowerCo engineers claimed that the meter was already performing net-metering (required for solar panels) because the device itself was capable of such a mode. Though the meter is capable of net-metering, it is not configured as such.
  3. Not only is the meter running forward, PowerCo has confused the meters in front of the house. Meter A is connected to #UPPER and Meter B is connected to #LOWER. 
  4. Customer found that meter moved forward 13 kwh despite energy being outputted into the grid for almost 8 hours.

After Mr. Chang sent the power company a slide deck with these conclusions and supporting data, they jumped to action, set up a brand new net-meter, and refunded Mr. Chang for the power he had produced to date.

Mr. Chang says it best: 

“Wattvision was able to provide me with definitive results showing that not only was my previous meter not net-capable (PowerCo had insisted that it was) the meter that PowerCo thought was ours was in fact our separately metered basement apartment. Your device's data was able to provide us with high fidelity data to show this.” 

Has your Wattvision system helped keep your power company honest? Let us know in the comments. :)

Buy an easy to install wattvision system for your house, at wattvision.com.

On Sustainable Thinking

This is the first in a series of guest posts by Ted Borer, PE, the energy plant manager for Princeton University. He is actively involved in campus and community energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction efforts. He has over 25 years of experience in the energy industry, is a registered professional engineer, and holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Mechanical Engineering as well as the CEM, CEP, and LEEDAP Certifications. He has published numerous magazine articles, technical papers, and a book chapter on topics relating to energy and cogeneration. 

What is sustainability? It’s not an object or an action. Ignoring basic grammar, sustainability is not so much a noun or a verb as it is an adjective or better, an adverb. 

A widely used definition was expressed by the Brundtland Commission of the UN in 1987: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” More poetically, the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy states: “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

But, what does this mean to the average person? 

Thinking and acting sustainably suggests an approach to whatever we do, not so much what we should do.  Acting sustainably doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feed, or dress, or house, or transport, or entertain ourselves, it simply means that we should do these things with consideration for their larger impact. 

The concept of sustainability suggests questions like: Would it matter if I did [this] a lot or for a very long time? Could [this] be done indefinitely? Would it matter if a vast number of people did what I’m doing? In many, if not most cases, there are lots of ways to do whatever we want to do. Acting sustainably calls on our creativity and suggests we consider ways to do whatever we want to do that have the least negative impact and use the fewest resources.

To travel three blocks away we could: walk, bicycle, drive a car, or hire someone to come and transport us. These each take different amounts of time and resources. If we were traveling to have coffee with a neighbor, walking or cycling might be the best balance of time, energy, and pleasure. If we were going to buy a half-gallon of ice cream, cycling or driving might be better choices. If we were going to move a piano, hiring a truck might be best. For all three types of trips we could drive a big truck, but it is only necessary for one. Thinking sustainably suggests we select lower-impact means to do whatever we’re doing. We benefit in many ways since the lower-impact choices offer more health benefits, have less environmental impact, and cost us less money!

What does sustainable thinking suggest about the use of resources? It doesn’t say not to use resources. But it suggests that if we do, we should use the least and get the most out of them that we can. If we’re going to buy a child three new shirts, we could order and have them each shipped to us at different times in different packages and throw away the boxes and packaging and throw away the shirts once they were worn out. Or we could buy more durable shirts, buy three at once so they are packaged and transported together, wear them until they were out-grown, and then pass them on to another child. The box they were shipped in could be re-used to store or ship something else. Once the box was no longer useful, it could be burned in a fireplace for heat, composted, or recycled into paper again.

Sustainable thinking suggests we should ask: “Where is the waste and how can I take advantage of it?” We want to use any "waste stream" for the highest value possible, use as little additional energy as possible, and co-mingle waste streams as little as possible. Another familiar example might be how we should handle kitchen scraps.  Sustainable thinking suggests the following order of priorities:

1. Waste less food. “Reduce.”

2. Feed it to animals on your own property. “Re-use.”

3. Compost it yourself. “Recycle.”

4. Add it to the town's composting system. “Recycle.”

5. Do not grind it up and send it down the drain.

We can use Wattvision to measure our total energy use and observe patterns of energy use. Then by looking for what is happening at times of high use, we can consider what is necessary vs. what is being wasted. When turning off un-necessary lights and appliances we can immediately observe both our energy and financial savings via Wattvision. Consider questions such as these:

  • Sitting at dinner, are there still lights on elsewhere in the house? 
  • If everyone is watching TV, is the computer on too?
  • If we run the oven on “self-cleaning” mode, how much power does that use and what does it cost compared to scrubbing it? Would it make more sense to run the self-cleaning feature at night during the winter heating season, or when we’re running the air conditioner on a hot afternoon?
  • What takes more energy, heating a quart of water in the microwave, or on the stove top?
  • Does the hot water heater need to be turned on during a week-long vacation?
  • Many of the following consume “phantom power” even when they are turned off: TV, Wii, Computer, DVD player, printer, scanner, phone charger, power tool charger, camera charger. Can the power be disconnected when not in use? An inexpensive power strip could be used to do this easily.

With simple measuring tools, sustainable thinking, and our own creativity there is much that we can do to reduce our costs and environmental impact.

Buy an easy to install wattvision system for your house, at wattvision.com.

The Tale of the Mystery Load: What Happens After Setting Up Wattvision

Our users have installed wattvision sensors at their homes around North America, and all have shared in the eye-opening experience of seeing that initial live view of their home's energy use. Most of the time, users are surprised by what they find.

Case in point: Rhonda, from Matthews, North Carolina, who kindly let us share her story here.

A few days after setting up wattvision, Rhonda pointed out that she was seeing regular spikes in her graph.  She suspected interference or some other error with the wattvision system.  Here's the screenshot she sent us, with the comment, "It is not due to my actual use of energy."


We had never seen a spike like this before, so we were initially surprised.  Wattvision is hardened against interference, and none of our existing users reported anything like this.  But we couldn't rule it out.  At the same time, we felt the regularity and behavior of the spike -- about 6 kilowatts, and about a minute long every 62 minutes or so, indicated that it was an actual load running at Rhonda's house. Some enormous, mysterious, 6-kilowatt load, approximately every hour for a minute.  What was it?

To determine whether it was interference, you first need to know something about wattvision.  In Rhonda's case, wattvision picks up an infrared pulse from her digital electricity meter every 1-watthour of use. If electromagnetic interference were producing this 6kw spike in her energy use, it would show up, even if the pulse from her meter were temporarily blocked.  If the spike did not appear on the graph, we'd know that our system was good, and that the mysterious spike was actually being produced by the meter, implying an actual load.

While we devised this test, Rhonda had come up with a test of her own. She realized that the only load in her house that could possibly be so large was her hot tub.  So she decided to cut the breaker to her hot tub as an additional experiment.

Rhonda tried both experiments.  She blocked the infrared pulse on her meter.  The spike did not appear on her graph -- interference was not an issue.  After cutting the breaker to her hot tub, the spike disappeared.  To Rhonda's surprise and our relief, the hot tub was the culprit -- it was in an "anti-freeze" mode, running every hour to keep the water just warm enough to avoid freezing.

What mystery loads have you discovered at your house? Tell us about them in the comments, or get a wattvision system for your house!


Energy Circle now offering Wattvision

Wattvision has struck a deal with EnergyCircle -- if you buy our product from EnergyCircle over the next few weeks you get $10 off and free shipping.  More details are at the energy circle blog.

Here's a quick excerpt from the post:

Wattvision's electricity monitor is now for sale-- we think it was worth the wait!  If you have been thinking about an energy monitor, but are looking for something simple, "electrician free", quick to install and with the ability to record your usage over time, Wattvision is for you.

We have been testing Wattvision since early last Winter, and watched a great product get better -- it has always "just worked", which isn't something we have found with most other power monitors we have tested, especially ones that connect to your network.  We have helped refine some details.

Michigan's First Net Zero House uses Wattvision

Matt and Kelly Grocoff are some of our very first wattvision beta users.  Check out this awesome net zero house they've been working on for the last several years -- it now gives back as much power as it consumes from the grid, so it's a "net zero" house.  They've documented their work at Greenovation.TV, and if you jump to about 2:00 in the video below, you can see their wattvision setup!

Wattvision Energy Sensor: Now shipping!

Exciting News! Wattvision is now shipping the Wattvision Energy Sensor for digital and analog meters.  We've graduated from our beta hardware to what you see in the photos above. Buy Now »

For the next two weeks, we're offering the complete wattvision system (Gateway + Sensor appropriate for your meter) for just $239 with free 2-3 day shipping in the United States.  Buy Now »

If you signed up for wattvision before October 1, 2010, you also get a $20 discount if you use the coupon code IMVISIONARY on checkout! Thanks for your patience!

If you were one of our 30 beta users who purchased our beta sensor hardware and worked with us to submit feedback and bugs, send back your prototype system and we'll send you the new one for free. It's our way of thanking you for your support!

The Gateway sits somewhere inside your house within Wi-Fi range, and is connected by a thin, 15-meter wire to the sensor on your meter.  It's powered by a 12-volt wall adapter, which means our system is battery-free.

Let's review some features:

  • Live Data.  Walk around your house, turn things on and off, and get a live view of your energy use, updated every 10 seconds.
  • Email alerts.  Set up an alert to notify you or your family when your energy use spikes.  You'll never be surprised by your energy bill again.
  • Easy Install.  Wattvision gathers data from your meter -- no need to open up your breaker box and risk dealing with high voltage wires and clamps.
  • Works with Google PowerMeter.  Once you set up your sensor, you can view your data live at wattvision.com.  If you so choose, you can opt-in to uploading your data to Google PowerMeter.
  • View data on Android, iOS, Chumby, and all modern browsers. Wattvision does not ship with a display, but we work on all the displays you already have.  Whether it's your iPhone, Android Device, or the Chumby, wattvision works.
  • See where you rank among other Wattvision users. If you opt-in, you can compare your house to other users on wattvision.  See where your home stands!
  • API Access.  Developers will love our web API -- there are no firewalls or DNS records to configure.  Our beta users have already integrated the API with their home automation systems -- turning things on and off as energy use fluctuates.
  • Made in the USA.  At present, the wattvision system is manufactured here in the USA -- let's get our green economy going!

Launching our production hardware marks a major milestone for the Wattvision team.  We'd like to thank our investors, supporters, and friends for helping make our goal of creating a simple, easy to set-up, Wi-Fi enabled energy monitoring system a reality! Buy Now »

Also, if this is the first time you're reading about wattvision, watch our overview demo video on YouTube or browse our site at http://www.wattvision.com.

Calling all TED users: get your TED data on Wattvision to compare and share!

In tandem with the API, we're excited to announce the Wattvision TED Connector software for Mac and Windows. If you have a TED device, you can get your data on wattvision and get all of wattvision's features, like email alerts, rankings, history, and everything else we're working on.

Essentially, we're making it easy for folks that have already invested in the TED device (and its installation) to still be able to participate in the wattvision community without forcing a purchase of wattvision hardware.  We think it's a win-win.  We also think most people that have the TED today are early adopters of new technology, so they'll be willing to set up a tiny app running in the background.

As a TED user, you just need a few bits of information to get your house on wattvision.  Once you download the software, you'll need your TED's IP Address, and your house ID and API Key from your house > settings page on Wattvision. That's it!