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I'm considering a smart thermostat for my step-dad as a birthday gift. Here are some characteristics of the home:

  • 3000 sq ft living with two people
  • climate is arid with highs into the 100s (deg F) in the summer, winter nights dropping as low as 20 deg F
  • they already use double pane windows, not sure they have ever re-done insulation
  • they've already upgraded all of their bulbs to LEDs
  • they run a server for a small business in a closet near the kitchen and have two additional computers in the house that are usually idling. My Mom uses one of these computers to work from home.
  • they have two refrigerators - one in the garage and one in the kitchen.

I know Nest labs has a popular residential smart thermostat for $250, that comes with a nice user friendly iPad app.

They are PG&E customers and I know oPower has some iPad apps that are pretty nice for looking at your energy usage statistics. PG&E also provides smart meters for their customers. Applications that interface with these smart meters may be more useful if they also include electricity loads, especially with some granularity.

I think these little gadgets can have some zip that might appeal to some that aren't traditionally as engaged with sustainability issues. This sort of gift would probably be taken more graciously than evangelizing to them and telling them to reduce to one refrigerator.

However, what kind of useful insight can I expect from a smart thermostat or meter application beyond the obvious - switch to LEDs and reduce to one refrigerator? Do those insights justify the cost of the device - in terms of economic and environmental savings from reduced energy consumption?

  • Can you clarify whether you're asking about a smart thermostat, or a full-house smart electricity meter? – Nate May 8 '13 at 6:08
  • I originally meant thermostat. That was a typo referring to the Nest labs thermostat as a 'meter' ;). However, i changed the question to include both technologies. I'm just looking for the best tool to analyze home energy use. – Eric H. May 8 '13 at 6:35
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    I suspect this will be better separated into one question about smart thermostats, and a separate question about smart meters / (physical/virtual) in-home energy-use displays, as they will have very different, barely overlapping answers. – EnergyNumbers May 8 '13 at 7:55
  • I agree, there are two totally different questions. – Zach Dwiel May 8 '13 at 13:16
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    Given that you already have an answer relating to the smart meter question here, please could you remove the references to smart thermostats, heating, insulation, and post those in a new question? – EnergyNumbers May 9 '13 at 14:51
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A Smart Meter that is compatible with PlotWatt will be able to tell your step-dad exactly how much each appliance in the house is using. Even without PlotWatt, a smart meter like the TED 5000 can be interesting for a few exercises:

  • try to turn everything in the house off and see how much energy is still being consumed. As you turn things off, check and see how much your kw rate changes by. You can find some surprises with this exercise.
  • keep an eye on it throughout the day and note how much energy you are using and what causes unusual spikes. With instant feedback, it is easy to play the use less energy game. You can also get a sense of which appliances really effect energy consumption.

Disclaimer: I am an employee of PlotWatt.com

  • That's super impressive if it's accurate. So it looks like PlotWatt breaks things down a few steps further to dryer, refrigeration, EV, HVAC and other. For individual plug loads, you still have to get those individual plug meters. Any plans to get any more granular? Do you have mobile apps? And how do you know if a thermostat is compatible with PlotWatt? – Eric H. May 7 '13 at 22:03
  • One thing to note, is that I saw mention of "smart meter" in the body of the question, not noticing the title of the post, which is "smart thermostat." My answer is only applicable to smart meters, not smart thermostats. If you really meant smart thermostat, I can delete my answer. – Zach Dwiel May 8 '13 at 1:35
  • We have plans to be more granular, but not down to tiny loads because this tiny are by definition not large opportunities for energy savings. Where we are planning on going is to failure detection and alarms. For example: your refrigerator needs cleaning, your HVAC unit is cycling too frequently, you might want to have someone come check it out, or we noticed your fishtank heater started running non-stop last night, is the thermostat bad? (this has actually happened and we actually did save the fish's lives!) - we already do this for Commercial customers, just not residential users yet. – Zach Dwiel May 8 '13 at 1:42
  • PlotWatt supported smart meters include Ted 5000, Wattvision, Current Cost, Blueline and eGauge. – Zach Dwiel May 8 '13 at 1:44
  • I did mean smart thermostat, however, I'd leave your answer up. I might actually change the question to include smart metering technologies as well. – Eric H. May 8 '13 at 6:29

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