THE WATTZON BLOG

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Archive for February, 2009

Not All Are Vampires

I heard a report on NPR this evening about how digital picture frames are proliferating, and how they are sucking power. I was simultaneously thrilled and disappointed at this story — thrilled because this important issue was being raised on national radio … disappointed because I fear people listening heard the wrong message.

vampire-transformerThe story raised many good points and was technically accurate. I was most excited that it raised the important issue of vampire transformers. All electronics use transformers; but until recently, most used ones that looked and acted like vampires — with two teeth to stick into your socket and suck your electricity (even when the sun is up!). The story properly moved on to other common things that use power continuously, such as a DVR (My measurements: TiVo uses 11W, Comcast/Motorola DVR uses ~ 100W). Eventually it cited cell-phone chargers as the most likely culprit in many households. The advice: get a Kill-A-Watt and measure. What, … what (!) could I possibly not like about this story?

My complaint? It fell into “quick journalism” traps: using a hook issue (the newly popular digital picture frame) to grab attention, then isolating a few aspects of the larger issue. Given the presentation, I’m afraid that most listeners only heard “digital picture frames are bad”, even fewer heard that “cell phone chargers should be unplugged”, and only a rather small percentage of people heard about the recommendation to use a Kill-A-Watt (as I do – yes, I am a certified geek).

Back to the real issue of the vampires.  So are digital picture frames bad? Sure, if they use cheap old-technology transformers — but, not so bad if they use modern switch-mode transformers, which only use power when power is required. Cellphones? The same story — I rushed over to measure the power used by the two cellphone (iPhone) chargers we have plugged in at my house, and was not surprised to see they registered no power draw on my Kill-A-Watt.  They use switch-mode transformers. Even if you don’t have a Kill-A-Watt, all you have to do is touch and listen: no heat or sound, no power (mostly).

My “close” on the NPR story would have been to give a pat on the back of electronics manufacturers who spend the extra $1 for switch-mode transformers … and a slap in the face for makers of any cheap electronics that still go for vampire transformers. The switch-mode ones are better for the environment and save a lot of money on your electricity bill – what’s not to like?

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WattzOn and Wesabe Join Forces

Exciting news!  We are partnering with social personal finance website Wesabe to change the way people think about energy and money use!

Wesabe is a free, online money management tool that lets people see all their bank and credit card balances and transactions in one place.  Their users can explore their financial information to find ways to save money through a clear and intuitive interface.

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Wesabe also fosters a community so that users can share advice and information to help each other make better financial decisions and achieve money-related goals.

The tools that we are planning would provide a way for Wesabe users to track both their money and energy spending at the same time. WattzOn will serve as a currency converter for their members, letting them see their spending not only in dollars, but in watts too. Wesabe wrote a great blog post detailing all the goodies we’re working on.

Soon, people will be able to really explore the relationship between saving energy and saving money – stay tuned to hear about our developments!  Come hear more at the March O’Reilly ETech conference in San Jose.

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Saving Lots of Watts by Sleuthing

You probably can guess at what are the big contributors to your electricity bill each month; things like the lights, the fridge, and the dryer are all known to use quite a bit of juice.  Take the dryer, for instance. In my house, we dry about 4 loads per week. It takes about 1/2 hour per load, or 2 hours a week. Using my PowerCost Monitor, I can see the dryer uses 7500 Watts when the heat’s on, and 200 Watts when just tumbling, and that the heat is on about 1/2 the drying time. That means that the dryer alone is adding about 46 Watts to my household’s lifestyle.

But, the big items are not the only things to consider.  I did a bit of sleuthing around the house and made some small changes that ended up saving a lot more electricity than the dryer.

Stereo? We have a receiver that we use for our TV — we turn it off whenever the TV is off … or, so I thought. One day I realized that it was a bit warm to the touch and a tiny little indicator on the front was lit – even when “off”. It turns out the receiver has the ability to handle three “zones” (which we don’t use) and tiny black buttons for the unused zones were pressed on. Turning off those zones saved 85 Watts (as measured with a Kill-a-Watt).

A little heat and a little indicator light were my clues.

Server? I had an old desktop computer running in a broom closet next to our router and printer (I’m a geek — having a “server” is almost a requirement). When my wife complained of the noise from the fan and how hot it made the closet – I looked into it. It turns out that the whole setup drew 108 Watts. I was able to replace it with an Apple Time Capsule that draws only 12 watts. Net saving: 96 Watts.

A little noise and some heat were my clues.

Transformers? How about all those “bricks” that electronic things use: cell chargers, wireless phones, computer speakers, and all the rest. New ones (called “switching transformers”) use barely any electricity. Older ones (usually much bigger) suck watts all the time, hence the nickname “vampire” transformers. Touch them — if they’re warm, they’re old ones. I unplugged or got rid of five that we didn’t need. There are a few from computers that I do need, but only when the computer is being used; so, I put them on smart strips. Those changes equal 45 Watts saved.

A little heat gave it away.

Standby? I thought our @#%$ Windows XP computers were set to go into standby (and hibernate) modes automatically. But, it turns out that doesn’t really work in many cases. I figured out how to make XP hibernate, but also got into the habit of manually setting the computer to standby. For the three computers, I estimate about 200 Watts saved.

The clue? Made by Microsoft. And noise and heat.

It Adds Up. Currently, we’re paying $0.20 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), according to our electricity bill. For every 100 Watts saved, we save about $14/month (100 W * 720 hours in a month = 72 kWh * $0.20 ~= $14). So, my four little changes alone save 426 Watts and $59/month.

No doubt the PowerCost Monitor and Kill-a-Watt helped me identify how significant these things were. But, if you don’t have them, look for lights, listen for sounds, and feel for heat – with a little sleuthing and some small changes, you can watch your electricity bill go down.

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