Device links to B.C. Hydro meter, shows real time electricity use

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Another stage in B.C. Hydro’s smart meter era has arrived. You can install a device in your home that shows the amount of electricity you use while you’re using it. Turn on an electric clothes dryer and you’ll immediately see big numbers on the screen.

B.C. Hydro has partnered with Rainforest Automation of Vancouver to sell two kinds of monitoring devices to residential customers in detached or semi-detached homes.

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Rainforest Automation's EMU-2 energy monitoring device, links to B.C. Hydro smart meters
Rainforest Automation's EMU-2 energy monitoring device, conveys information from B.C. Hydro smart meter

The simpler device, called the EMU-2, is a bit bigger than a deck of cards and has a grey-scale screen that shows electricity consumption numbers and bar charts. It wirelessly connects to your smart meter after B.C. Hydro confirms that the meter is compatible and does some activation stuff. You plug the device into a wall socket for power, but there are also batteries so that you can roam the house with it in hand. You could take it to your electric stove, turn on the oven and watch what happens to the numbers. But the batteries are not meant for constant use; the manual says if you go battery-only, the batteries will be drained in a few weeks. Rainforest is selling the EMU-2 to B.C. Hydro customers for $34.99, plus shipping.

There’s a fancier device, called the Eagle, that’s about the size of a Wi-Fi router. You connect it to your router using an ethernet cable. Computers and smartphones on the same Wi-Fi network can then get access to data that the Eagle picks up wirelessly from the smart meter. The information is displayed in a web browser after you type in the supplied URL, or through a dedicated smartphone app. The Eagle is selling for $64.99 plus shipping.

The Eagle shows its information in colour and you can use a keyboard and mouse to control it. With the EMU-2, you have two buttons to press over and over to set numbers and options. The EMU-2 is standalone, while with the Eagle you need a computer or smartphone. The Eagle also has to be plugged into an electric outlet.

Why would you want such a device? You might be an electricity geek who likes to track power numbers the way a baseball fan likes to track batting averages. B.C. Hydro offers a more prosaic pitch — the devices can help you better control your electricity use and save money. Here's a quote from B.C. Hydro's website: “Real-time feedback makes it easier for you to understand when you are using a lot of electricity and when you are being energy efficient. This should help encourage conservation which will ultimately be reflected on your bill. Typically users find that they can save between 2 and 6 percent of their overall bill.”

I’m thinking of getting an EMU-2, mostly out of curiousity. If I end up saving a little money, all the better.

The ordering process starts with the filling in of a form on B.C. Hydro’s website. It asks for your account number, the amount charged on your last bill, plus your name and contact information.

One annoying thing about the ordering process: there’s no indication of how much shipping will cost.

[Update: I ordered the EMU-2 and was charged $6 for shipping; the total cost, including taxes, was $45.91. The B.C. Hydro website now says shipping is $5 to $9 depending on location, plus taxes.]

Rainforest devices are the only ones that B.C. Hydro has authorized to work with its smart meters. The prices are being temporarily discounted by $35, B.C. Hydro says. (The EMU-2, being sold to B.C. Hydro customers for $34.99, is listed at $69.99 US on Amazon.com for shipment in America.)

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Electricity consumption information is available without the need for special devices through B.C. Hydro’s website, but the numbers are at least a day old. After setting up an account, you can see your consumption information by the hour, day, week or month.

B.C. Hydro explains its Home Energy Monitor Program. You can order the EMU-2 and Eagle through this link.

Details about Rainforest Automation’s EMU-2

Details about Rainforest Automation’s Eagle

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