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Saturday, January 29, 2011

SAVE ENERGY At Home - Mobile Devices & Apps That Can Help

article, mobile, it update
Home energy consumption isn’t exactly a sexy topic. Still, it’s one of the most pertinent facing the nation where natural resources, money, pollution, and security are concerned. Take, for example, the $241 billion that Home Energy Saver (hes.lbl.gov), a Web site the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division created, claims that U.S. consumers spend annually on home energy. With improvements, though, the nearly one in five dollars spent nationally on home energy could be cut “by well over half,” HES claims. Overall, a typical U.S. family spends about $1,900 annually on home utility bills with a “large portion” of energy going wasted. Further, about 1.2 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions enter the atmosphere yearly as a “byproduct of making the energy to power U.S. homes,” HES states. Unfortunately, statistics elsewhere are as sobering. Fortunately, private and public groups are working to change the situation, including homeowners increasingly turning to hardware and software aimed at improving home energy efficiency. Among these tools are mobile devices, apps, online tools, cloudcomputing monitoring services, and more. The following details such tools.

Energy Trackers
Somewhat surprisingly, there are numerous home-energy-efficiency tools with Web and mobile device ties, with options essentially breaking down into free online calculators and similar tools or standalone mobile apps. There also are full-fledged automation solutions for the seriousminded ready to take onsite and remote control of such major energy bill contributors as lighting, heating and air conditioning, home-theater equipment, sprinklers, drapes, locks, and more.

Calculators. Search Google for “online home energy calculators” and you’ll find scads of easy-to-use free calculators that can help identify home-energy wasters and detail how to remedy the problem. Many calculators also calculate money you can save to the day, month, and year and how making improvements can ease your carbon footprint. For example, HES’ Energy Calculator, billed as the first Internet-based tool for calculating energy use in residential buildings, uses your location and other supplied information to estimate annual energy costs and savings you can realize through upgrades, and outlines how heating, cooling, hot water, appliances, and lighting individually factor in.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Calculators & Software section , meanwhile, contains numerous links to online calculators, including an insulation estimator from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and savings calculators from the DOE’s Energy Star program for appliances and consumer electronics. The Tennessee Valley Authority, meanwhile, provides its customers an online home energy audit (www.energyright.com) and offers a conservation kit containing two fluorescent light bulbs, hot water temperature gauge, light switch gaskets, and more.

Home-automation packages. Way up the price scale are packages that provide control over multiple, if not all, home components capable of being automated, including lighting, heating and air conditioning, computer equipment, drapes, and so on. A key aspect of these packages is the oversight and control provided through mobile devices. Ecobee’s wireless, Internet-enabled Smart Thermostat ($469; www.ecobee.com), for example, grants control via a private, secure Web portal interface from any Internet-connected system, as
www.clipsal.com) provideswell as via free iPhone and iPad apps. Elsewhere, Wiser Home Control’s system (pricing varies; control over lighting, heating and air conditioning, hometheater equipment, security systems, blinds, and so on via a Web browser or handhelds via Wi-Fi or 3G connections. Thus, if the temp suddenly plummets, you can turn your air conditioner down via your iPhone while you are sitting in your office.

Similarly, Control4’s system (pricing varies; www.control4.com) gives users wireless, secure control via Wi-Fi over home-theater equipment, garage doors, sprinkler systems, shades, thermostats (including zone or whole house control), lights, and more through a free Control4 Mobile Navigator app for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Control4 states that a standard three-bedroom house using its system can eliminate more than 850 pounds of CO2 emissions per year—the equivalent of not driving a car for a month. Android and BlackBerry app versions are reportedly coming.

Schlage’s LiNK system (prices for devices vary, but an $8.99 monthly subscription is required; link.schlage.com), meanwhile, uses Z-Wave technology along with its locks to enable control of locks, lighting, thermostat, and other Z-Wave enabled equipment from Web-connected computers and “most Web-enabled cell phones.” Further, you can use the system to remotely enable or disable related schedules. Elsewhere, Visible Energy’s (www.visiblenergy.com) upcoming UFO Power Center sports a “flying saucer” design with four integrated smart powerstrips that store power consumption and cost-related data for the devices plugged into them. Beyond viewing data on an iPhone via an Energy UFO app or Web browser, you can control the Wi-Fi enabled outlets remotely. (A native iPad app is in the works.) Users can also configure each outlet to turn on or off at designated times or when certain conditions are met.

Standalone apps. Among the numerous standalone energy efficiency-related apps available are those with no ties to specific companies or products. Many require manually entering data related to your appliances and in-home power usage to receive cost estimates and potential savings areas in return. Meter Readings ($1.99; available from iTunes) for the iPhone and iPad, for example, relies on you to manually enter rates, and then it presents you graphs that help you monitor electric, gas, and water meters daily, weekly, monthly, or annually for usage, costs, and potential savings.

MeterRead (99 cents) is a similar app for Apple devices that requires manually entering energy-related data to get such feedback as how many kilowatt hours your home will use in the coming 30 days. Wattulator (99 cents) and the advanced Watts Plus ($1.99), meanwhile, come from the same developer and provide estimates of how much electricity appliances are costing you and how a change in usage could positively affect costs. Similarly, Kill-O-Watts (99 cents) calculates the electricity typical appliances use and how much they cost you monthly and yearly. Beyond 120 appliance choices, you can also create new appliance scenarios, compare costs between appliance brands, pinpoint possible savings, and more. ▲

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