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Monitor your Electricity Usage with TED – the Energy Detective

February 2nd, 2010 · 2 Comments

Electricity prices are only heading in one direction — up.  You may have already taken some steps to try to get your electric bill back under control.  Maybe you’ve replaced your old incandescent light bulbs with new CFL bulbs.  imageCFL bulbs make it easy to see their potential savings because they tell you right on the package how many watts they use compared to your old bulbs.  But some of the bigger electricity users in your house can’t be measured so easily.

Look at your clothes dryer, for example.  How much electricity does it use?  Sure, you may know how much it was supposed to cost you each year when you bought it ten years ago, but how much is it using now?  How about your water heater?  Would it pay to replace it with a newer, more efficient model?  How about your central air conditioner?  Is it better to keep your house at a constant temperature while you’re at work or is it better to let it warm up and then cool it back down when you get home?

You get a bill each month that shows how much electricity you used but that’s not really enough information to tell you what to blame for that check that you have to write. Now there’s a way to see how much those appliances are costing you.  Its name is TED (“The Energy Detective”).  Let’s check it out.

Introducing TED

imageThe TED 5000 is a whole-house electricity monitoring system made by Energy, Inc.  It’s not considered a so-called “smart meter” because it doesn’t replace your current electric meter and it doesn’t send any usage data back to the utility company.  It does, however, give you what is arguably the most important benefit of a smart meter — detailed information about your electricity usage.  The idea behind providing this information is that consumers will conserve more energy if they are provided with more detailed data about their electricity usage, just as drivers with real-time mileage displays in their cars will often use less gas if they can see how their driving style affects their current mileage.

TED5000-Cveryfinal[1] There are 3 basic components to the TED 5000:

1) the MTU, which sits inside of your breaker box and monitors the amount of power being used by the entire house each second .  The MTU is connected to two CT’s (“Current Transformers”) which loop around your two incoming 120V lines

2) the Gateway, which can sit almost anywhere in your house, receives the usage data from the MTU, and provides a web-based front-end to that data

3) the optional display device, which also receives usage data and can display all types of information on its small LCD screen.

Installing TED

Installing TED certainly is not as complicated as installing a smart meter but may still be a bit overwhelming to someone who is not comfortable working around their house’s breaker box.  If you are one of those users you can always get an electrician to help you out.  If you are a bit more adventurous and have at least a basic understanding of how electricity flows through your house then the installation of TED is pretty straight-forward.

The MTU

The MTU unit needs to be installed at the breaker box.  The MTU’s purpose is to be able to monitor the usage coming through each of the 110 volt lines which make up the typical 220 volt residential service.  You’ll have first to cut power to the house by throwing the “main” and then take the cover off the panel.  Once the cover is off you’ll need to position the 2 CT’s around the two 110 lines that come into the breaker box.  There are also 3 other wires which need to be connected inside of the box: one to a breaker on the first phase, one to a breaker on the second phase, and one to the neutral bar.  You can do this by adding two new breakers to the box (one on each phase) or, if you already have a breaker that spans the two phases (like for a dryer, for instance) you can just piggy-back the first two wires on top of that.  Before you put the cover back onto the breaker box it’s probably a good idea to write down the 6-digit number found on the back of the MTU — you’ll need it later on.  Flip the power back on and take a look at the MTU.  If it’s hooked up properly you’ll see a light flashing every 1 or 2 seconds.  Turn off the power again, put the cover back on the box, and flip the power back on.

The Gateway

The second component which needs to be installed is the Gateway.  The Gateway needs to be plugged into a wall outlet and it needs to be hooked up to your computer’s router (or into a network connected to a router).

TED5000-Cveryfinal[1]While it is possible to hook the Gateway up directly to a computer it’s much easier to configure if it’s able to use a router (the Gateway will get its IP address and subnet from the router’s DHCP).  After you plug the Gateway in it should start to receive telemetry from the MTU through its power cord and you should see its light to start to blink.

Configuring TED

Now that we have the MTU and the gateway installed and on our home network it’s time to configure TED.  We do that through TED’s web-based interface.  This is where we tell TED what that 6-digit number on the back of our MTU is (and, if you have one, what the code for your display device is) in order to pair it to the gateway.  The configuration screens also walk you through basic settings like your time zone and zip code (used to grab that day’s weather forecast).

This is also where we tell TED about how we’re billed for electricity usage.  TED’s capable of understanding all types of billing from simple flat-rate charges to tiered usage charges.  You’ll need to have a copy of your electric bill so that you can tell TED the details.   TED  can handle a wide variety of billing mechanisms – it can even handle installations where there are solar panel systems which are pumping “extra” electricity back into the grid.

Using TED

Now that we’ve installed and configured TED it’s time to see what type of information it’s providing.  The MTU in the breaker box sends out information every 2 or 3 seconds across your home’s wiring to the gateway.   The gateway processes this information and stores in its internal memory and also forwards some of the data to the optional display device using the ZigBee wireless protocol.

Following TED’s Footprints

You access the data which has been loaded into the gateway through the Footprints software.  image The Footprints software isn’t installed on your PC, though – it’s accessed through the web server which is running on the gateway.  The only thing you have to do to see your data is to point a browser towards your gateway (by default the gateway can be found at http://ted5000).

Footprints gives you all types of data from real-time electricity usage and voltage graphs to estimates of what your current month’s electricity bill is going to be.  You can even see how many pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) you’re electricity usage has generated.

Knowledge is Power – but how much power?

Earlier on we’d talked about that old clothes dryer and how it would be nice to find out how much electricity it’s really using.   With TED running we can just turn on the dryer and take a look at Footprints to find out.  If you have the optional display device (or a laptop) you can even watch the result while you’re standing there in the laundry room.

Profiling is not always bad

image One of the niftier features of TED is the ability to create “Profiles”.  Profiles are a way to drill down into the huge amount of data that TED’s collected and find out some specific details – like exactly how much that dryer has cost to run over the last month.

To set up that profile you basically tell TED “I’m turning on the dryer now” and TED will see how much more electricity is suddenly being used.  For instance, let’s say that when you turned on the dryer the electricity usage suddenly jumped up 300 watts.  From that point on whenever TED sees the power usage go up by 300 watts it assumes that the dryer was turned on and when it drops down by 300 watts again it assumes that the dryer was turned off.  At the end of the month you can find out how often the dryer was running, how much electricity is used and, therefore, how much it cost you to run the dryer for a month.

Of course, that means that if you turn on that 300 watt floodlight out on your deck TED will think that you turned on the dryer.  All in all, though, TED’s profiles work pretty well and are a great way to be able to watch the usage of specific things in your house.

Google your usage

powermeter-gadget[1] What if you want to check out your house’s electricity usage when you’re not at home?  You can always perform some networking voodoo to allow you to access the TED gateway through your router’s port-forwarding settings.  Assuming that you don’t want to go through that hassle, though, TED’s got you covered.  TED can upload its data into a Google widget so that you can access your usage data through Google’s Powermeter.  You can’t see the same level of detail through the Powermeter widget as you can with the Footprints software but it’s a really easy way to see a summary view of your electricity usage from anywhere on the web.

So That’s TED

That, in a nutshell, is TED.  TED sits in your breaker box, watches the amount of power that flows past, uploads that data to the gateway, and gives you a bunch of ways to see the data that it’s collected.   Not only does it help you to see how much power your’re using, it lets you monitor the power usage of devices which you wouldn’t otherwise be able to monitor.

If you’d like to play around with TED a bit you can try out the demo at Energy’s website.

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