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It’s Easy Being Green: Tech Tools for Cutting Energy Costs

SOURCE: AP/M. Spencer Green

Anne Rashford, director of temporary exhibits at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, is seen inside the SmartHome exhibit where a monitor displays the energy and water usage of the home. More gadgets and gizmos are entering the market that let consumers track their power use.  

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You know the drill. Turn off lights when you don’t need them. Set your thermostat at a reasonable level and turn the air conditioner off when you leave the house. Keep chargers unplugged when not in use.

But let’s say that you want to take cutting your home energy consumption a step further. Lucky for you, there are a whole host of devices that can help you measure and monitor your electricity use, making it easy for you to determine which of your appliances suck up the most juice and what steps you can take to conserve even more.

You’ve got some options depending on how serious you want to get about this whole monitor-and-conserve business. The most basic are devices that plug into the wall between the outlet and appliance cords. The devices’ LCD screens have a cumulative kilowatt-hour monitor as well as watts, volts, and amps. Some models even predict energy costs.

More comprehensive models monitor whole-home energy use. These devices are installed near your home’s power meter, and then transmit wirelessly to a receiver unit inside the house that details how much power your house is using in real time and just how much you’re spending on electricity as you consume it. Some of these so-called “home energy management systems” claim they can save consumers up to 20 percent on their power bills.

Utilities in some areas are rolling out monitoring devices called smart meters that power companies issue to help ratepayers monitor their power use. These monitors also communicate directly with users’ power meters to help them determine how much electricity they are using and how much it’s costing. Many of these devices can be controlled remotely, allowing users to modify their energy use even away from home. In some states, such as California, these smart meters are required by law, but they are also becoming more common in areas that use smart grids.

Studies suggest that giving consumers digital tools to control and monitor their electricity use can add up to big savings. One particular study allowed users to perform these tasks through a website. The Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that using tools like these could reduce the peak load off energy grids by as much as 15 percent a year. Over 20 years, this could save $70 billion on spending for new power plants and infrastructure and avoid the need to build the equivalent of 30 new coal-fired power plants.

Those who’ve got a hankering to use less energy and slash their electricity bills now have the tools to do so at their fingertips. Conserve away.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series

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