Martin Flusberg is CEO of Powerhouse Dynamics, creator of EMonitor, a software and device combination that tracks and analyzes home electrical use down to an individual circuit or outlet. It also delivers reports and comparisons that make it easy for consumers to reduce “phantom” electric used by stand-by devices, or to identify and manage their carbon footprint. A version for small/medium-sized businesses will add a ROI calculator to let users manage energy use in an office or store.
Q: You say the critical feature in energy analytics is delivering the right details. What does that mean?
A: It’s about bringing relevant, timely information in a way that’s easy to understand. To the consumer it has to be easy because you can’t expect the consumer to go looking for it. And then making the details matter to the user — terms like “power factor” that are recognized by someone at a utility company doesn’t mean anything to a consumer. And it’s about getting information you can use.
Q: And the “right data at the right time” is different for everyone.
A: We have a Powerhouse Dynamics partner who is a solar panel installer – he wants to help his customers figure out how to lower their elecricity use so they can use a smaller photovoltaic system. Another client has a $1,000 monthly electric bill. He’s simply looking for a way to reduce his costs. At his house, he’s probably monitoring 70 circuits – we can easily show him the top three outlets that are consuming the most power.
Q: So, it starts with monitoring and reporting but then can be more advanced by setting alerts, noticing when things go wrong or spotting patterns BEFORE problems occur.
A: In your car, you have warning lights that tell you about the oil pressure, the distance-to-empty for your gas tank or monitor the air in your tires. That dashboard is a set of analytics even though you might not call it that. In your house, you have a lot of uncoordinated devices and systems that don’t have an integration or coordination. If you’ve ever had a hot water heater fail that’s a high-electric use device and when it breaks it tends to consume more energy before it finally fails with a catastrophic crack or leak. Monitoring it could tell you when it starts to be inefficient and warn you of a failure.
Q: Your view of “knowledge is power” means delivering data simply and visually.
A: The average consumer doesn’t know the energy use of their home and how many watts they’re using. Think about light bulbs: the brighter the bulb the more lumens – that’s the unit of measure that matters. But the consumer knows them as 50-watt, 75-watt, 100-watt and that’s about how much energy they use. We tie the level of analytics to the level of the user – often they simply want to know a baseline or “normal” range. If a system tells you you’re using 2300 watts of power you have no idea if that’s good or bad. So we look at neighboring houses or those with a similar number and size of rooms. It’s about interpreting the information and energy is a hot topic right now.
Q: Can data get people to take action?
A: Research shows that real-time home energy data leads to cuts in use by as much as 20 percent. When you interpret the data and show them out much power an entertainment center or home office consumes it gives them a tangible reason to do something like turning off the power, installing a single-switch power strip or unplugging unused devices until they’re needed. But you can’t unplug the refrigerator or hot water heater even though those are probably the two most energy-intensive things in your house. We are finding that customers really do change behavioronce they have information.
Q: So the data is intended to get someone to ask “Why?”
A: And once you find out why, you can decide what to do to fix or change the status quo. It also depends how frequently you choose to monitor and make changes. The “it” could be something simple like you left the lights on. Or it might be major like an aging clothes dryer or water heater – it’s still up to you to look for the problems and take appropriate action. When it’s minor you turn the lights off, or you can do an energy audit to replace old appliances to lower your electricity consumption, something you might do every few years or when you move or renovate a house.
Spotfire Blogging Team
Image Credit: Powerhouse Dynamics