Energy Production and Use Monitoring

I’ve gotten into a metrics kick around our energy use. We have used a bit more energy in this house then I expected based on our Xcel bills, and with the solar system and time-of-use pricing coming soon, I wanted more data on what’s driving our energy consumption.

I looked at a couple options. The one I’ve seen most frequently advertised is the Sense monitor. It has built in machine learning to try to detect which devices are which when they flip on. Pretty neat. But the solar monitor is the most expensive, and for our setup I’m not completely sure if it will work quite right. (our solar is tied into a sub-panel on the garage, so there’s no breaker that exclusively has production)

I discovered the Emporia Vue 2 monitor and almost immediately purchased it. It’s a bit more bare bones and doesn’t have the fancy-smancy machine learning built in, but for only $150 it includes 16 sensors so you can see the power use broken out across 16 different breakers, and it has solar detection built in. The sensors you attach to your main power lines have directionality built in so it knows when you’re pulling power from the grid and when you’re sending power to the grid.

I found it fairly easy to install myself, and I’ll post more about the installation another time. I have had it running since the beginning of February and it’s helped me discover some interesting things. Like we have a breaker labeled “heat” that I thought our furnace runs off of, but so far has never drawn any power at all. 🤔 Instead, we have discovered that the upstairs bathroom and furnace live on the same circuit, which is fascinating to me. Old houses…

When I first set it up, we had to go without the mains power sensors because our model of electrical box is integrated with the meter and there isn’t enough space to get the included 200 amp sensors around the bus bars. And this is nerve wracking because you can’t turn those off, they have live power at all times. 😬

But Emporia sells different sensors, so I got the Thin Profile sensors for $40 and installed them about a week ago. They just fit. (Emporia also sells another option but I wanted to avoid having to wire them in if I could.)

I reset the Vue so it would properly detect the solar array but most of last week it was comically wrong, attributing all our solar generation as if we were pulling from the grid. I had gone through their set up calibration process where you turn off generation and run a big appliance, I think so it can properly detect the directionality of power. But it still incorrectly showed that we were pulling a comical amount of power from the grid when our solar array was awake and generating a lot of power.

Late last week I tried the calibration process again, this time in the evening when our dryer was running (the biggest power draw we have) and everything was dark so we weren’t producing any power. The 2nd calibration seems to have done the trick.

Look at how it shows you how much power you pull from/contribute to the grid! Super awesome to see this data.

The selector on the bottom can show you the data based on live (seconds), past minute, current hour, current day, current week, current month, and current year.

You can see as of right when I took this screen shot, “balance” is what isn’t detected by the sub-sensors, and it’s green which means we’re contributing to the grid instead of pulling power from the grid. Our solar array is on a 100+ amp breaker, so the 50 amp sensors that came with the Vue don’t detect this power, which is why it shows up as a “balance”. (“balance” shows power to/from the 200 amp sensors to the meter that’s not picked up by any of the individual 50 amp circuit sensors)

I think the only thing I’d improve is to change the selector at the bottom. For instance, I’d expect “day” to show me the past 24 hours of use, but it actually shows today’s use from midnight on. I’d expect week to show me the past 7 days of use, but it shows me all that I’ve used since Monday morning.

Other than that, a neat little product to help you optimize your energy use.

New Car Shopping

Back in 2013, I suddenly found myself needing a new car. I pored over research and had a lot of ideas of what new car I wanted, and I decided my new car would be a new car.

But I hate shopping, and I especially don’t like the hard sell that so many car dealers try. As a youth leader, I decided to try something out: I took one of my 7th graders shopping with me.

He loved hanging out and test-driving new cars with me. (his favorite were all the buttons in one of the cars) As we were test-driving, the sales-people spent most of their time talking to the student instead of me. (win!)

I’m sure it confused them when a 26-year old showed up with a 13-year old. When we were leaving they asked if we were brothers. The kid started to explain, I just said, “Something like that…”.

Solar Generation Month 1

When we bought our new house last year, it didn’t have a garage so we added one in the backyard. (a whole process, another blog post in itself) And we decided to do something we have wanted to do for a long time: go solar.

Here’s what it looks like under a whole bunch of snow:

We had the panels fully installed in a single day in October but ran into delays getting the net meter installed. (one of the delays: Xcel didn’t have any net meters. Then they finally did, and they came to install it, but couldn’t because we had locked the gate to our backyard. But did they leave a note, or call us, or email us, or send us a smoke signal? No, because why would they do anything convenient like that. We finally called them and found out 3 weeks later.)

Anyway. So we finally got them turned on in January. 🎉 Very fortunately for dry Colorado but not for our solar generation, this has been one of the snowiest few months we have ever experienced. Just last week, the panels were covered under several inches of snow, and it took 3 days for it to fully melt, so we missed 3 days of wonderful sunshine.

So I don’t think our production numbers are all that impressive yet but I am super excited about the production we have had the past few days. Here’s a chart from today:

A few weeks ago, between snow storms, our peak production was 15.0 kwh. Two days ago, we beat that with 15.3 kwh. Yesterday we did 16.2 kwh. And today we produced 18.2 khw. 🙌🏼

I’m sure we won’t increase production every day by 1-2 kwh, but we do have some cool factors working in our favor going forward:

  1. Until 6/21, every day is going to get just a little bit longer. So a little more sunshine every single day.
  2. See that peak in the morning and then the dip through noon, until another sustained peak around 2pm? That dip is because our neighbors have a HUGE tree just south of our garage which shades the array for several hours. There’s no leaves on it yet, so I think as the sun finds a way to shine between branches you see occasional short-lived peaks even throughout this time. As the year goes on, the sun will move a bit more over head, and the shade from the tree will be less and less an issue.
  3. Our array faces due east, so the more the sun moves higher in the sky as the year goes on, the array and sun will be aligned and our efficiency will go up.

I’ve got our production website loaded on my laptop and I check it everyday. Fun to see our small contribution to the planet.

How To Follow Blogs

One great upside of social media sites like Twitter and Instagram, once you sign in, you get a whole view of all the people you follow. Unfortunately most of these timelines use algorithms, so you’re likely to find the most clicked but controversial content bubbling up to the top. And I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to like a friend’s post, but The Algorithm didn’t show it to me until 3 days later and I didn’t want to look like a stalker. Awkward.

That’s why I’m excited to get more people blogging. But how can you keep up? Fortunately, all you need is an app, the url to your blog, and you can periodically check in on all the blogs you’re interested in.

I use the Reeder app on my iPhone/Mac/iPad. But there are other apps for Android. The technical term for these apps is “RSS reader”, and there are a bunch. Here’s a good run down of some of the most popular.

Finally, while it’s fun to read and keep track of your favorite blogs, which will hopefully include mine 😊, it’s even more fun to participate.

Sign up for a free blog at WordPress.com, or wherever you want to blog, and send me an email. I’d love to follow along with you.

My email is aj at bourg.family. Would love to hear from you!

Happy anti-socialing! (social networking, that is)

Corn Plant Flowers

We have a corn plant in our living room. I’ve had this plant since at least 2013 but in the past 2 or 3 weeks it’s started to flower. It has never done this before and I have no idea what took it so long or why it’s suddenly decided to flower, but this thing is fragrant! The whole house has a nice lovely light flowery smell to it.

That’s probably why the scientific name is dracaena fragrans.

The honesty of toddlers

We have a two year old and a three year old this weekend. Took them to the indoor play place at the mall and they kept running away to the larger mall.

Finally, after the third time of carrying the 2yo back, as I set him down I asked him to promise not to run away again. “No” was his reply.

I guess at least he was being honest? 😂

Heated Things

One of my little quirks is that I’m cold a whole bunch in the winter. I need my heat!

Alissa likes to keep the house cold and I like to keep it warm. Except not really because I’m cheap and all I hear when the furnace is running is the sound of my bank account emptying into the gas company’s accounts.

Cue black and white late night infomercial, there’s got to be a better way!

I’ve got a heated mattress pad, a heated blanket — a combination for my bed we call the waffle iron. I set both to max and it’s rarely warm enough for me but at least it’s a start.

A couple Christmases ago Alissa got me a shoulder heating pad. Great on the shoulders. Small enough I’ll keep it in my lap when I’m on a Zoom meeting to keep my hands warm without any of my coworkers any wiser.

The newest addition to my warmth family is a towel warmer. Did you know you can BUY a towel warmer? 🤯 I didn’t either, and drying off with a piping hot towel every day is HEAVENLY.

Dog Sledding

There’s a saying that you need to be really careful when dating or you might accidentally marry into a family that runs 5ks on Thanksgiving.

We were on a good streak of running 5ks for Thanksgiving but then Alissa’s parents moved away. And a pesky little pandemic happened.

So we haven’t done a lot of Thanksgiving 5ks lately. But another tradition in Alissa’s family is, instead of giving gifts, everyone participates in a fun activity around Christmastime.

Since marrying in, we’ve seen several plays, or gone out outings to places like the Botanic Gardens. But this year I had the idea to go dog sledding.

We found a place outside Leadville. And when Alissa’s parents came back to Colorado in January, we went. It was so fun. Each person got the chance to “drive” the sled which mostly involved standing and letting the dogs do everything. And after that, you got to ride in the sled which was the warmest part of the experience. And then the rest of us would ride a sleigh towed behind a snowmobile so we could watch the dog sled.

If I were one of the dogs I’d be pissed that people had the technology to ride around in the snow without me pulling them. But these dogs seemed to really love it.