Why Doesn't Every Library
Lend kwh Meters?
Home Energy, conducted a roundtable of four energy monitoring experts. We present edited an
(and expurgated) version of the discussion in this issue (p. 37). As the roundtable s moderator, I kept a low profile, but here I can tell you what struck me during the conversation.
The stories that emerged from the roundtable made Americans sound more law-abiding than I expected. One tale, which ended up on the cutting room floor, told of an accidental monitoring of hotel rooms used for prostitution, and another told of a researcher who unwittingly discovered sweatshops in someone's home. But unlike reports we heard years ago, no one had detected marijuana farms or illegal exotic reptiles in basements.
On the subject of energy, I was surprised and delighted that kwh meters had found their way into the public libraries of Madison, Wisconsin. Borrowers there wait months for these meters, which suggests that consumers are concerned about how much energy their appliances consume (or that the libraries need more kwh meters). Manufacturers like Pacific Science and Technology may have a large untapped market.
I was not surprised to hear that the experts disagreed on the choice of equipment. Nevertheless, each of our panelists constantly tried new equipment and techniques, even when reasonably satisfied with his current loggers. When dealing with 30 channels of information and collecting data as often as every five seconds, even small differences in devices can affect the ease of analysis.
One big surprise was that the experts didn't enthusiastically endorse stand-alone data loggers as a starting point for contractors or others who want to collect just a tiny bit of data. Devices such as the ACR Smart Readers and the HOBOs are rugged and easy to use and make data easy to download. The experts argued that much more powerful and flexible systems were available for only a little more money. So there might be a role for the more advanced devices in contractors' tool chests.
According to the panelists, monitoring energy is among the easiest data logging tasks. They have had much more difficulty monitoring other variables, such as light usage or water flow rates. These difficult-to-measure variables are important, since energy consumption alone is a sterile number. We must combine consumption with other information in order to provide purpose and context. But for residents who already know the context (their home), energy consumption is the great mystery. They simply want to know how much energy they're using. Just ask the library patrons in Madison who use simple kwh meters with their single data point.