Monday, March 2, 2015

Reducing Your Electric Bill: There's an App for That!

Guest blog by Victoria Olmer

Bills can be expensive, but just about everyone has to pay their bills every single month in exchange for basic needs such as running water and electricity. Electric bills, especially in the winter, can become particularly pricey for those of you with electric heat as you fight to keep out the cold.

Let’s say that you’re trying to switch things up and have decided to reduce your electric bill by 5%. The first thing you’ll want to do is look at last month’s electric bill to see what your monthly electric use was.

Your last electric bill listed that you used 30 kW (30,000 W) EVERY DAY that month. Take 5% of your electric usage in watts. 5% of 30,000 would be 1,500; therefore, your goal is to reduce your utility electric usage by 1,500 W every day. It’s a do-able goal! And you can think of it as getting 1-1/2 days of electricity FREE every month.

Conveniently, investments such as a SUNRNR ("SunRunner") renewable energy generator can offer 1,500 W each day sustainably (when sun is available for recharge).  This is the offset method - powering that 5% using a source of energy other than the grid.  Of course, another route is pure reduction of consumption and other initiatives, such as turning off the lights or computers when they’re not in use, changing the thermostat by a degree, sealing cracks, washing clothes in warm water instead of hot, etc.

So where do smartphones come in? Well you’ll want to know how to keep track of your electricity usage so you can either cut back or use an alternate energy source. Most of us have smartphones these days and luckily there are a variety of applications that can make this task extremely easy.  Three applications stood out for evaluation. They include Green Outlet, EvoEnergy, and Power Simulator. All of these programs can be downloaded on smart phones either for free or just $1!

For the purpose of reducing your electric bill by 5%, Power Simulator and Green Outlet might be the best applications, since based on your input, they plainly state how much energy a particular appliance uses daily and the associated cost.  They are likely the most-helpful apps for finding that 1,500W and determining which appliances would make the best (and easiest) choice for being run "off grid" or used more efficiently.   

Power Simulator
        Very simple and easy to use! (Although changing cost/kW not very intuitive in Settings)
        A wide variety of typical appliances and their wattages are pre-programmed.
        Appliances not in alphabetical order, but are listed by type (kitchen, bedroom, etc.)
        Total cost and energy usage are given for amount of time the appliance is used per month.
        Time units can be easily adjusted.
        Not all appliances may be listed.
        It’s not clear that the cost and wattage predicted is daily.
        No option to enter your own appliances and wattages.
        No overall report or option to add up total appliance usage. Only one report for an appliance at a time.

        You can create a running list of all appliances for total monthly power usage and cost.
        Summary provides hourly, daily, monthly, and yearly cost and wattage totals so no math is necessary!
        Application is relatively easy to maneuver.
        Allows you to view total and individual monthly costs and wattages.
        Appliances can be edited and deleted.
        Power units can be altered (watts, kilowatts, milliamps, amps).
        The “Power Consumption Calculator” on the home page is redundant. Calculations can be done in the “Your List of Appliances” tab.
        You must enter all data including appliance names and their wattages - ugh!

Green Outlet
        “Welcome” page includes all of the instructions for the entire application.
        “Settings” provides unique options, such as entering data about your home including size, thermostat temperature, and the number of people.
        Appliance wattages are pre-programmed, and you CAN adjust the wattage.
        Includes a carbon footprint reading based on your electricity usage. Very neat!
        Not all appliances may be listed.
        No option to enter your own appliances and wattages.
        Instructions are buried in Welcome page, therefore difficult to navigate.
        “Appliances” page is cumbersome.  Not clear about how to add up total appliance usage.
         Appliances are not in alphabetical (or even any) order.
        Must read instructions to understand setting icons for each appliance. 
        “Estimated Monthly Electric Bill” only updates when you exit an appliance.
        After all the input, there is no final report, no synopsis of what has been entered.

Editor's Note:
The purpose of evaluating these apps was to find one that would help consumers simulate the benefits of investing in a SUNRNR.  These apps, although educational regarding consumption, did not accomplish the intended mission.  Stay tuned for further options for simulating a SUNRNR as part of your everyday electrical power reduction.

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