The latest monitors can help homeowners track their energy consumption in greater detail than before.
It’s the middle of a steaming hot summer afternoon. You’re at home, blasting the air conditioner, washing your clothes, and standing in front of the open freezer while the TV plays in the background.
You may not realize it, but you’re racking up kilowatts, increasing your utility bill, and adding to Earth’s pollutants.
In the past, consumers didn’t have the resources or education to know how to use energy efficiently. But thanks to big data, they now can reduce costs and help save the planet, all with the click of a button.
Home and commercial monitors are showing customers just how much energy they’re using at any time of the day.
Efergy, a power tracking company, sells monitors and hardware that connect to fuse boxes via a wireless signal. Users can see the energy usage on the monitor or their computer screens through a platform created by the company. The devices show customers the past 255 days’ worth of hourly energy consumption, usage trends and how those translate into dollars and cents.
“It makes you realize when you’re using too much electricity and see how you can reduce,” says Juan Gonzalez, president of Efergy USA.
Efergy’s system sends out an audio alert to let customers know when they’re reaching their maximum consumption target. That helps them save on their energy bills while preventing the electricity grid from being overloaded.
Scott Wiater, president of solar panel installation business Standard Solar, says the key to reducing utility bills is being aware of your habits.
“When people can see how much they’re using in real time they tend to focus on it and use less energy,” Wiater says. “If a customer gets solar in a smart home system, they can track what the solar power system is doing and track down whatever resolution they’re looking for.”
Big data enables alternative energy companies that monitor usage to see what’s happening on a broader scale and come up with solutions. For example, if a customer doesn’t know why his or her bill is hundreds of dollars every month, one of these companies can help them see where spending can be cut. The data collected by the companies also shows the customer’s peak hours and how they can avoid using energy at those times.
“When you put data in a larger context, which is big data, it allows them to help make more sense of that information and make it more actionable,” says Ali Kashani, a co-founder and the vice president of software development at Energy Aware, an energy monitoring business. “The only way we can detect all these things in our home is looking at many homes and developing an algorithm to determine the connection.”
At Efergy, one of the goals is to create products that are going to cut down on carbon emissions, which in turn helps utilities companies “reduce the power plants using the most pollutants and make them more efficient,” says Gonzalez.
EnerNOC, a company that collects energy and operational data for commercial, industrial and agricultural businesses, is also producing systems that cut energy usage. Clients not only save on energy bills every month but get a one-time incentive to pay for system upgrades.
Whenever the grid is under stress or prices are peaking, EnerNOC’s systems let utilities send remote signals to the businesses to reduce energy usage.
“We’ll use our technology to reduce the amount of load that customers have,” says Micah Remley, vice president of product strategy and technology.
This technology includes a small gateway device that collects and analyzes energy usage day and night. At any point, users can log on and see their energy data. They’ll also receive advanced notice about downtimes, grid instability or even power outages.
“At large commercial buildings we raise temperature settings and turn off extraneous lights and fountains and things that don’t need to be running,” says Remley. “At a retail space we turn off non-essential AC equipment and non-essential lighting when customers aren’t there. We turn off irrigation pumps. Instead of watering between 2 p.m. and 4 pm. on a hot summer afternoon when costs are highest, we automate and turn them on at a different time.”
Remley says that because of big data, energy is being saved in ways that weren’t possible in the past.
“These tools have allowed us to take all the data and really automate the processing of it to find energy savings and efficiency opportunities in places we never would have been able to,” he says. “Having servers run through algorithms has completely changed the game for us. Using the tools and analysis has allowed us to scale all of these energy insights that we’ve always had to thousands of buildings very rapidly.”