IT WAS just after lunch on a sunny early-autumn afternoon and Bleeding Edge Power Generation Services was pumping out a satisfactory 3953 watts of electricity from the solar panels we had installed on the roof last July.
At the same time, our domestic power load - two refrigerators, upright freezer, Windows PC, two large LCD monitors, uninterruptible power supply, cable modem, wireless router, the SSD Linux system we use to run our open-source telephone system with four handsets, and a few of the highly efficient Melbourne-designed Brightgreen D900 LED lights that replaced our power-hungry quartz halogen globes last year - was 568 watts.
We had just taken the latest step in our personal campaign to reduce our electricity bill and our personal carbon footprint, installing a device that gives us an accurate, comprehensive picture of our power use and the efficiency of the solar panels - a so-called photovoltaic or PV system - in which we had invested last July.
We quickly discovered the so-called ''smart meter'' the power company, CitiPower, installed to track generation and consumption was practically useless for the consumer. It doesn't show how much power you are generating or using. There's a left-pointing arrow when the net position is on the positive side and a red light that flashes when the equation is in favour of the power company but the figures you see are cumulative. It doesn't even give you a daily or weekly summary.
The SEGmeter measures everything and gives you real-time figures.
SEG stands for Smart Energy Groups, whose Melbourne-based founder, Sam Sabey, came up with the device. Powered by an open-source Arduino processor, it links a set of sensors to the switchbox, constantly monitoring activity. It transmits the data to the smartenergygroups.com website using a wireless link to your router.
It's a brilliant site, offering a selection of ''gadgets'' to display real-time information with a selection of charts, dials and reports of minute-by-minute power activity on your choice of ''dashboards''.
The SEGmeter tells you with near-perfect accuracy which appliances and rooms are using power, allowing you to identify where you can make savings. At $1000, including fitting costs, it's not an insignificant investment but given that Bleeding Edge's extravagant power habits were costing us about $650 a quarter before we decided to install a PV system, it made sense to us. Sabey estimates typical payback time is 18 months to two years.
For the increasing number of small to medium enterprises and shopping centres that are using the SEGmeter to identify costly problems and slash power bills, the payback time is significantly better.
Our experience suggests one of the reasons so few people economise on their power consumption is that they simply aren't aware how much money their appliances can guzzle. The SEGmeter makes the invisible painfully clear.
The first time we turned on our clothes dryer and saw the needle on the SEGmeter dashboard jump by 2400 watts (some dryers use twice that), we knew we were on the right track. We've since discovered that a clothes dryer can account for as much as 12 per cent of an average household's power bill. These days, we hang the washing on the clothes line whenever possible, or wait until 11pm before switching the dryer on.
Installation of a SEGmeter possibly represents an advanced stage of the obsession that apparently grips a significant percentage of people who install small-scale power-generation systems to continually monitor and reduce electricity use.
They do things such as post their PV vital statistics on pvoutput.org, a free site for sharing, comparing and monitoring energy production and consumption data. We frequently wander around the house with the iPad, turning appliances on and off and watching the results on the SEGmeter gadgets.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/digital-life/hometech/meter-does-a-power-of-good-20120411-1wnj3.html#ixzz2KAcNbZzN