One of the perks of investing in early stage technology companies is that I get to participate in the beta launches of their cool new products. One product that I’ve been eagerly waiting to try is the new Home Base and Energy Management system from our portfolio company, EnergyHub. EnergyHub describes the Home Base as “Command central for energy saving” and promises that “watching your energy costs shrink can be addictive.” Here’s a video describing how the HomeBase system works.
I would be the first to admit that I’m a card carrying “early adopter”, “gadget guy”, “data nerd”, and “cheapskate”, so this product was clearly designed for me. However, I wasn’t expecting to find the EnergyHub system quite so engaging.
I setup my home with the standard EnergyHub starter kit. I have a Home Base sitting on the kitchen counter. This connects via the EnergyHub ZigBee wireless mesh to power strips and sockets. I used one power strip for my TV/DVR/Blu-Ray/Soundbar in the living room and another power strip for my PC/Monitor/Speakers/Printer in my study. I also replaced my 10 year old, incomprehensible programmable thermostat with the EnergyHub ZigBee wireless thermostat. The Home Base is also connected to my home WiFi network so that I can monitor and control all my connected appliances and thermostat through the EnergyHub MyHub web portal and iPhone app. The Home Base would also connect to a Smart Meter, but mine isn’t scheduled to be installed until next year.
I’ve been using this EnergyHub system for about a week and here are some of my initial impressions.
I didn’t understand the energy usage of my appliances
My 50″ plasma TV is rated at 400W, I have a 400W power supply in my PC, and my soundbar claims to produce 250W of power, so I naively thought these devices might all use about the same amount of energy. Also, my DVR has a “power” button which I assumed would reduce its power consumption when I wasn’t watching TV or recording a show, so I didn’t expect it to use too much power. As you can see from the chart below, taken from my EnergyHub web portal, the ratings of these appliances have little correlation with how much energy they actually consume during normal usage.
My TV does indeed draw around 300W while it’s on, but I only watch TV for around an hour a day, so that’s not actually that much energy. In contrast, my PC uses about 60W, but I leave it on 24/7. Over the last few days that has made this PC the biggest power hog in the house. Now that I’ve realized this simple fact, I took action. I installed this SetPower application, which is essentially “EnergyHub for your PC”, that enables simple scheduling of sleep modes.
We need to do something about these DVR and set-top boxes
The other immediate lesson for me, is that the power consumption of my DVR is astounding. It consumes 50W all the time. The “power” button is a joke. Turning the DVR “off” makes no difference to its energy consumption. In case you’re interested, I have the Motorola HD DVR. In fact, I’m embarrassed to say that I actually have two of these behemoths, so that I can watch HD recordings in my bedroom as well. I had read a little about the energy used by DVRs and set-top boxes, but it was only after seeing my own data that I read this article from the NRDC which estimates that in 2010 the 160 million set-top boxes in the US used $3B of electricity – more than the entire state of Maryland. I have been a cord-cutter-wannabe for several years. Now that my EnergyHub system has informed me that I’m spending an additional $200 a year to power my DVRs it might just be time to switch to the Netflix app on my TV. The power switch on that actually works!
Smart Design did a great job
The Home Base was designed by New York design firm, Smart Design. In this Fast Company article the designers describe how they came up with the consumer-centric design. A key design element of the Home Base is three illuminated buttons on the top of the HomeBase which switch between the three operating modes, “At Home”, “Away”, and “Goodnight”. It feels completely natural to “put my home to sleep” when I go to bed. Similarly, when I go out and set the alarm, it’s also feels natural to set my home into “Away” model. All the appliances and thermostats attached to the EnergyHub system come pre-configured to turn on/off in the different modes. I get great satisfaction from hitting the “Goodnight” mode button and knowing that the vampire loads from my soundbar, printer, monitors, TVs etc etc etc all turn off at the click of just one button.
It’s information-enabled behavior change
The Home Base system has lots of state-of-the-art technology, ranging from ZigBee wireless mesh networks, to the latest embedded ARM processors running Android, to cloud-based mobile apps. However, the impact of the Home Base system on my electricity bill comes from the elegant way that this technology provides me with actionable information to change the way I use electricity and how simple EnergyHub makes this behavior change. I could have installed SetPower on my PC without having an EnergyHub system, but I didn’t realize what an issue PC energy consumption was until I saw it on EnergyHub. Similarly, I could go around and unplug all my vampire loads every time I got to bed or leave the house, but it’s so much easier just to hit the “Away” button on the Home Base.
For those of you who have read some of my other postings, the concept of information-enabled behavior change runs through many of the investments in Physic Venture’s Sustainable Living portfolio. GoodGuide do a great job providing consumers with information on the impact of the products they buy. WaterSmart are now piloting their equivalent of the EnergyHub solution for reducing water consumption – look out for my posting on that system once I talk my way into one of their pilots.
Finally, for those who still subscribe to the Dick Cheney perspective that energy efficiency is a personal virtue, not part of the solution to our energy problems, I want to point out that my usage of EnergyHub is not particularly virtuous, in fact it’s rather fun. Also, I estimate that the small changes I’ve made since installing EnergyHub have reduced my consumption by 25%. Not a bad start to addressing the energy problem!
I look forward to hearing from other HomeBase users on what they’ve discovered about their energy usage and how the EnergyHub system is changing their behavior.