OneThing33: speeding up feedback increases sustainability

Meter, meter, on my house, who’s the thriftiest of them all?

The ubiquitous commercial electric power meter that resides on the side of American homes

For years once a month, a stranger opened the gate alongside my house and walked into my side yard.  He was there about three minutes and then left. It’s been going on for years, and there’s little I could do to stop it. Finally, it stopped on its own, when local power company Portland General Electric installed digital meters that could send information without the intrusion.

As it was before, it is still the same – where the meter is and how it works is convenient for the company and not for me.  It’s billing device, similar to a cabbie’s meter.

The feedback about my energy use comes to me once a month.  I’ve used the electricity and there’s nothing I can do to fix a month’s worth of use.  If I make an adjustment, I still have to wait a month for the feedback to really know.  Of course, I could walk outside, note my daily rate use, but there’s still some math I’d have to do.  It’d be like asking a driver to calculate his speed by only giving him distance traveled.

Or imagine your car outfitted with a gas gauge in the same way: you had to get out of your car, walk around to the side, read three dials, consult a notebook to get the previous reading, and then calculate the difference. Crazy.

The Electric Detective - click me for details

What you need is something like a speedometer that instantaneously measures the rate of electricity your home draws from the grid.

We need a usage meter that’s convenient for homeowners – immediate, easy to read information detailing electricity use within a home. Suppose that each light switch and each appliance included a small LED that generated a universally understood metric about use, similar to what we all universally understand about Miles Per Gallon, say, Watts Per Day (WPD).  Turn on a light, start the dryer, open the fridge door, and you can immediately read your home’s WPD. They’re out there, but the technology is still clunky.

If the United States, and energy utilities around the country, were serious about reducing electricity use, such a device would have far more impact than vast “high efficiency” power generators, especially since 90% of US electricity comes from coal, natural gas, and nuclear generation.

A wily engineer could do rather well inventing this thing.

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