What’s the next generation of energy monitoring? Many, including yours truly, have postulated that home energy management has to become automated—so it’s “set it and forget it”—where the energy monitoring system works behind the scenes in conjunction with a home control system to save you energy automatically. The only time you’re notified about something is if you need to be.
That said, this next generation of energy monitoring—could be a dog. More precisely, it could be what’s called EcoDog.
EcoDog is an energy monitoring system that monitors both in-house electricity consumption and the electricity production of a photovoltaic (PV) solar system—and pairs both with analytics that take into account the weather, passing clouds or shadows on a solar array, geographical location and other data to provide you with the financial impact your solar system is having on you. It also takes into account the rate structures from utilities so it can predict your energy usage and generate what it calls “GridSmart” messages, such as, “If you do your laundry at this time on Saturday you’ll save this amount of money.”
That’s pretty sophisticated, for a dog. In fact, the EcoDog system is named the Fido Home Energy Watchdog.
Small Changes, Big Effects
“Our system can detect small changes in performance that shouldn’t be there,” says EcoDog CEO and developer Ron Pitt. “We measure at hundreds of a watt second at 50 samples per cycle. It’s extraordinarily minute, and that allows us to make some really interesting determinations. But we don’t bug people with a lot of details. We only give them actionable information.”
You don’t need a solar array to use EcoDog. Many clients are using them only as electricity monitors, says Pitt. In fact, Pitt developed EcoDog primarily for that function, even though his previous job concerned solar system inverters, which are used to convert the DC current from a solar array into AC for household usage.
“I saw a solution on the demand side,” says Pitt. “I came from energy management space to inverters, and I looked at it with a different eye. Every ounce of energy in the solar business is geared toward generating another watt-hour. Yet making a small dent in the demand side [of in-home electricity consumption] will have more of an effect on the production side.”
In other words, save more energy inside the home, and you don’t need to produce as much energy outside.
A Powerline Solution
EcoDog is now being installed primarily by solar dealers and electricians. Many solar dealers see the value, because according to Pitt, the only way to know if a solar system and the inverter are working properly is to measure the AC output from the inverter—or the amount of electricity produced for the house. On their tiny displays, inverters show how much the solar panels have produced, but a good monitoring system can tell if all that energy is being converted to AC and going to a home’s power outlets.
EcoDog measures electricity consumption at the circuit level, using current transformers (CTs) that clamp loosely around the wires coming from each circuit breaker. Pitt says EcoDog can be scaled to an infinite number of CTs, though the most his company has done is 168.
A small processor is mounted near the circuit breaker panel to receive the signals, and that is transmitted over a home’s electrical powerline and converter box to a computer via USB. But why powerline? Pitt says wireless signals near electrical panels are problematic because they are often subject to electrical interference.
EcoDog uses Echelon’s powerline technology, and Pitt says the signal is encrypted.
For now, there is no connectivity to EcoDog via iPhone, Andriod-based phones or other smart phones, though Pitt won’t rule it out in the future.
EcoDog systems are priced at under $1,000 for 16 circuits, with no subscription, and are “inverter agnostic,” says the company. Systems are currently available in Calif., Ore., Wash., Nev., Ariz., Hawaii, Texas, Fla., N.J., Pa., Ohio, Neb., and Iowa.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates