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[Image from Smart Home USA]

Want to get on the smart grid bandwagon without having to wait for the mature technology to be delivered by your utility? Here are some features you can add to your house now that will allow you to remotely control and schedule your energy use. If you can control the time and duration of your usage, you can get a better handle on your expenses and your carbon footprint.

Programmable thermostats are one of the best ways to control your energy usage. These devices allow you to turn your home’s heating plant on or off when you know you’ll be home and awake. I have used one for more than ten years and am amazed that more people don’t. Mine came as the result of an energy audit, paid for by the energy conservation surcharge on my utility bill. Newer thermostats have features that allow you to control them with a computer, but even the simpler, older ones like mine use a clock and allow you to set a schedule for heating by day and hour. Turning your house on before you wake up can at least make for a more pleasant trip to the kitchen first thing in the morning, if you’ve turned the heat down for the night.

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[Image from Home Power]

Home Power Magazine has a decent collection of low-tech solutions. While not exactly “smart,” you can go a long way by deploying these techniques before jumping into a more complex home energy-management project.

DIY Home Automation has a round-up of energy saving resources:

Home automation technology is becoming as synonymous with sustainability as it is with convenience. Incorporating smart home technology into a new or existing structure makes it easier to reduce energy consumption and the carbon footprint (your impact on the environment) a home or business creates. Why go green? Our actions over the last 50 years, such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, have led to increased greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide emissions and methane) which in turn cause global warming. Environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility, so do your part by making simple changes that not only help the earth, but will also save you money and add convenience to your home. With many new easy to install home automation products readily available, it’s now simpler than ever to automate your home and go green at the same time!

X10 can be a good starter system, but it does have some drawbacks. X10 is easy to set up. Basically, you just plug in a few modules and start using it to control lights and other devices in your home. It uses the wiring in your home as its communications network. When I used some X10 modules in a previous home, it didn’t work out very well, because of the trickle-charge killed off a number of compact fluorescent light bulbs. There are usually some good starter deals at X10.com which allow you to try it out for a small investment. You can control devices with remote control clickers, and also through computer-based modules.

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The Museum of Science and Industry has an exhibit of a model smart home. Their resources section provides some good leads and reads.

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The award-winning Tweet-a-Watt, from adafruit industries, helps you monitor and share your electricity usage via Twitter. There are a number of ways for you to store, monitor, distribute, and display your energy usage data. As the collection of electricity data grows, the project will be enriched by a community of dedicated volunteer and professional participants. [Editor’s note: Look for the full project details on building your own Tweet-a-Watt modules in MAKE, Volume 18.)

This project involved hacking a common Kill-a-Watt power meter to transmit data wirelessly usign an Xbee to my computer (Mac), and then upload the data to two different websites (Pachube.com & Google App Engine) to display graphically…

A much simpler and more useful alternative to plotting with Google is to use Pachube. Pachube allows you to upload your live data and share it with others. Likewise, you can use other people’s data feeds to control something locally or use many feeds to make composite plots, etc. The data is submitted using a fairly simple protocol called Extended Environments Markup Language (EEML) which you can learn about at Pachube.

 

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[Image from Agilewaves]

Brad suggests Agilewaves for monitoring electricity, and Lutron for lighting and shade control.

Set bedroom shades to open at precisely the moment you wish to rise — next best thing to a personal valet Custom shades and drapes can operate automatically, according to the time or day or light level, or with the press of a single button.

 

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[Image from Wired]

Looking into the future, Wired has a good feature on smart grids and their place in present and the future.

A smart grid requires smart electric meters that let households track and manage their power consumption in real time. The Obama administration wants 40 million homes to have technology like this installed within the next three years. But smart meters require smart consumers–or at least attentive ones–and most people don’t think about their energy use until it’s time to pay the bill or until the lights go out.

 

What are you using to control your energy usage? Is it more important to see it as a financial challenge or an environmental solution? Here in the States, we generally have flat-rate electric metering, but in other countries, time-of-day metering is more common. If you live in a place where you’re charged peak and off-peak rates, maybe you could share your experiences with that system.


Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of posts sponsored by GE. GE had nothing to do with the content of the article and no control over Make: Online editorial. -Gareth

GE imagination at work


Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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