The Green Button – Monitoring Your Energy Usage

I am betting we’ll hear more over the years about new hardware and software that will help us monitor and control our home energy usage. One that I’ve been really excited about is Nest, a completely reinvented home thermostat that learns from your behavior to save heating and cooling costs. And I read today about how (some) consumers now have access to detailed energy usage records and apps that provide reporting on that detailed data. Sadly, I can tell you today, after a bit of experimenting, that the process of finding and using that information is not yet ready for the masses.

What I read was a news article about the US government (particularly the CTO, Aneesh Chopra) pushing public utilities to provide consumers with more information about home energy usage. I was excited to hear that SDG&E was one of the first to offer detailed extracts through the Green Button. So I decided to go online to see what could be done with the data.

The article mentioned an app published by Tendril called Energize, so I went to the Android market and downloaded it. After installing it, the home screen asked for my Energize URL, my username, and my password. No instructions about where to find the URL or how to set up an account. So right away I was lost.

I decided to go to the SDG&E website for more info. I signed into my account, but nothing was jumping out at me for where I could download data or link to a feed. I finally stumbled over to “My Energy”, where, huzzah!, the Green Button was finally visible. I was able to download an XML feed without too much difficulty, but still didn’t understand how I was supposed to get the Tendril app to interface with this data.

The next stop was the Tendril website. There is a section for Consumers with some text about the Energize application suite, but when I clicked through, I was taken to a profile page of one of their designers. Flying in the dark now, I backed up and clicked on the Developers link. It finally looked like I was in the right place because I saw a link to Green Button Connect, where I can sign up, upload, download, and learn more about apps.

So, I signed up and tried to upload the XML data I downloaded earlier. Except it failed to upload, multiple times. And I gave up on the process here, finally realizing they mean it when they say “Beta” in the logo.

After reading this narrative, are you lost yet? Can you imagine how anyone is supposed to get motivated to monitor their energy usage after hitting so many brick walls?

Thinking about this data more tonight, I wonder how helpful it really is. The utility company is only giving you a historical view, so they can’t tell you anything about how you’re currently using energy. And the smart meters aren’t quite smart enough to tell you energy usage about specific components in your house. SDG&E does give you usage details for the prior day and breakdowns by hour, which is a huge step up from the month-over-month views you get on paper bills. But I found myself wanting more; it’s very interesting to know my usage was higher for one month, but why was it higher and what should I do differently?

If you really want to learn more about your energy usage and make some changes, start with a Kill A Watt. You may need to wait a bit longer for the Green Button and apps to get a bit smarter.

Meal Planning with The Fresh 20

Stephanie and I have 3.5 year old twin girls, and my frequent joke is that we have no business having kids because we can barely feed or clothe ourselves some days. We both enjoy cooking, but far too often the last four years we’ve stared at each other at 5pm and asked “What do you want to eat?” And far too often, that has resulted in us getting unhealthy take-out, spending too much at a restaurant, or eating separately from the girls. Constantly having to think about dinner menus and grocery shopping was adding a lot of stress to our lives.

For the past six months, we’ve subscribed to The Fresh 20 and have loved it. For about $5 a month, you get access to a weekly menu with five balanced dinners, a shopping list with no more than 20 ingredients, and a checklist for things you should have stocked in your pantry. They offer Classic, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free menus.

There are several things I love about this service. First, we no longer have to think about what to make each night, when to go grocery shopping, and how much food to get. Having a menu and grocery list takes away all the thought (and stress) about what to do for dinner. Second, we found ourselves shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store and very rarely venturing into the aisles; we buy a lot more milk, cheese, meat, seafood, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and a lot less boxed, frozen, canned, and processed foods. We also waste a lot less food because all the things you buy are accounted for in the recipes you make that week. Finally, it has promoted family meal time each night, which is currently very frustrating with our two wild animals, but will hopefully pay dividends in the future.

There are a few recipes we would have never tried on our own, but we’ve learned to trust the system and find ourselves enjoying new things. We are starting to see a few recipe repeats after six months and some recipes we’ll skip because it’s not worth the headache (like homemade chicken nuggets). But all in all, we’ve been really pleased with The Fresh 20, and are going to stick with it.

2011 Books

In terms of volume, 2011 was an average year, with 23 books read. It was also average in terms of quality – no good or bad stand-outs.

San Dieguito Half Marathon Elevation Profile

If you are running the 2012 San Dieguito Half Marathon on February 12th, you may be interested in the elevation profile below (click for a larger view):

We’d heard rumors of this being a tough course, so we drove it to see how bad it really was. There are rolling hills throughout, but the really brutal climb is at mile 6. The rise from mile 2 to 3 is also intimidating, but it is early enough in the race. Of course, it could wipe you out early if you go out too strong. The hill just before mile 10 will also be tough. The final climb from mile 12.5 to the finish looks bad, but isn’t in comparison to other hills on the course. I’m sure after 12 miles it will feel like the largest hill of all!

The roads are in fair to poor condition (potholes), which is surprising considering this is one of the richest neighborhoods in the US.

See you at the race!

2010 Books

For no other reason than for the sake of completeness, here are the books I read in 2010. I will be better about writing here this year, I promise.