From 7 to 29. Should I be worried? Or just keep monitoring?


Peaksaver PlusSeven cents per hour. That’s what the energy monitor was showing me a moment before I plugged in the kettle. Then it jumped to 29 cents. Wow! And this is mid-peak time, too, my new energy monitor warns. Should I be worried?

Better cut back on the tea if I want to conserve energy.

It did the same last night when we turned on the microwave at dinner time, but that was off-peak. Still, that’s pretty high, compared to seven cents. Those two devices seem to be the biggest energy hogs we have.

I need to do some calculating, however, to figure out real costs. What does five minutes’ worth of microwave heating translate to in terms of KWH used, and costs? I need a new app…

Energy monitorI’m reading the real-time display on my new energy monitoring toy tool and it’s telling me a lot about how I use electricity. It gives me that geeky satisfaction of watching data flow, just having it in front of me.

I got it when I signed up for the Peaksaver Plus program through Collus/Powerstream. Collingwood residents would have received a notice about the program in their last utility bill. If not, you can read about it here.*

The program (for homes with central air only, it seems), offers a free digital, touch-screen thermostat (Peaksaver Plus) and the wireless In-Home Energy Display. Free. For both. As in no charge, no additional billing, no hidden costs.

The stick behind this magnanimous carrot is simple: to reduce energy usage. The thermostat is connected wirelessly to the utility’s computers. If the power demand on the grid looks like it’s going to exceed capacity and cause a brownout, the utility can raise the temperature of your air conditioning by two degrees for 15 minutes to lighten the load. Does it all by itself.

Seems like a pretty good idea to me. After all, we don’t use the A/C a lot, and even when we do, the effect is a small change for a short time.

It won’t affect the winter heat (which is gas), so why not? Everyone has to do their part for our environment.

We’ve been using programmable digital thermostats for a couple of decades now. They really make a difference to your gas bill. Not least of all because, since it’s programmed, you never forget to turn the thermostat down when you leave the house. Or when you go to bed at night. Plus they are more accurate than the old manual, analog system. You get 68 degrees when you ask for it, not 70 or 72.Besides, the digital thermosat is cool, very programmable, and touch-screen. Not quite an iPad, but nonetheless, it’s pretty neat. And it runs off power from the furnace – not on batteries like the previous one (which always seemed to go dead on the coldest nights of the year…).

Our gas bill dropped significantly when we installed one.

Digital thermosat

We tend to keep our place naturally cool in winter and warm in summer. We let the temperature fall to 61 or 62F at night, and it’s set for 65 during the day when I’m here alone or we’re away. It only goes up to 70 in morning and at dinner. We don’t use the A/C except on the most severely hot-humid days. So I think we’re already pretty conscientious about energy. We both figure we can dress warmly, and we have a gas fireplace so we can heat one room when we’re cold, not the whole house.

Now, with the new monitor, we can take a hard look at our electricity use. Try to figure out where we can save. Nine cents it says now.

What is using power right now? My computer, obviously, and my second monitor. They’d be the biggest usage. And they’re almost always on during the day.

As I type this, the dining room light above the keyboard is off, just to see what difference it makes… yipes! up to 10 cents – does the dimmer switch make any difference? Yes, the usage drops to eight when I set it halfway along the slider. But when I move the slider back to the top, it fluctuates between eight and nine and sometimes ten, then finally settles in at nine – was it just a surge?

Also consuming power are the home phone modem and the internet cable modem. Both are always on. The fridges and the freezer. A couple of small plug-in fire alarms and gas monitors. The clock lights on the stove and the microwave. Plug-in phone and charger. Two alarm clocks. The new digital thermostat. A couple of tiny LEDs in ground-fault outlets. Altogether not a lot of direct usage.

Curiously, unplugging the second monitor didn’t reduce the usage. It actually rose back to 10 again. No significant difference shows when I turned it back on. I wonder what that means? More power use by the laptop screen? Or some hard drive work as it set the display up for a one-screen use?

Phantom power is also draining the electricity. The TV set, DVD player, Susan’s laptop, the stereo, iPad charger.. all taking a little trickle when off but still plugged in. Not a lot, of course., but doing so constantly, like a dripping tap leaking water. What can I shut off without losing anything? I’ll have to experiment (have some fun…).

Woah! The display just fell to five! What’s that all about? I didn’t turn anything off or unplug a device. Don’t know but I’m guessing the freezer or fridges were on a cooling cycle and now are stopped. I feel like a techno-detective watching this thing. Have to sleuth around and look for devices and appliances that consumer power. (update: ten minutes later it was back up to ten…)

Anyway, for homeowners with central air, this is a great program. If you’ve never had a programmable thermostat, you’re going to love this thing, especially when you see your heating bills fall. Call Collus/Powerstream at 866-323-0206 if you want to enroll in the program. I recommend it highly.

Did I mention the word “free” enough times?


* It’s got a lot more features, like a clock and digital thermometer that’s reading the temperature outside at the meter (58 right now – I have it set for Fahrenheit, but you can change it to Celsius). It tells you the total usage since it was installed ($1.40 since late morning, yesterday), calculates the monthly amount based on current usage ($44.83) and will tell you how much a particular appliance is costing you (requires setting the display, then turning on the appliance so it can measure the difference). Plus in the kettle on appliance mode – 13, 14,15 – wow: 16 cents. That’s half again as much energy as I was using for everything else.

I also think the new thermostat will double as a soft night light because it has a cool green glow on the display, which might be helpful when I stumble downstairs at night.

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