Energy store update

In order to prepare for a store opening, I have been working on a number of things from renting space to preparing for the bookkeeping, to understanding what products will be important for people in the Enfield, NH area.

Grand Opening – April 11 (tentative)
The retail space I’m most interested in, 78 Main St, is going to be quite a few more months to resolve the financials, loans, and to get the renovations underway. So I am starting to look at other retail space nearby — close enough that it won’t be a problem for people to find the store when we move. Fortunately for me there are a few options, so I have set a tentative Grand Opening date of April 11!

I’m looking into the various Quickbook products thinking that the best system will be one that integrates standard Quickbooks accounting with a merchant account that allows me to take credit cards (in the store as well as online) and provides accounting for a cashdrawer.

If I try to do this all with Quickbooks I will probably get the best result in that it should all work together. On the other hand, I haven’t figured out how much that will cost yet — and if I will be required to use Microsoft Windows. More updates to come.

I have spoken to USA Solar Store owners from 5 different stores now and the products that their customers are most excited about include the solar attic fan, solar hot water systems, radiant systems, Grid-tie and off grid photo-voltaic systesms, “camp” systems, propane heaters, and wood stoves. In the smaller items, they get excited about the Kill-A-Watt meter, the indoor air-dry clothes hanger and various solar-powered toys and LED products.

In the upcoming year it is expected that it PV (photo-voltaic) will become more popular as the tax and rebate incentives are going up. There are also some promising products on the horizon for wind turbines and thermal and geo-thermal systems.

What products would you like to see in a local energy store?

Measuring energy usage – TED

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I had received a product to measure my house electricity use on a realtime basis: TED, The Energy Detective. I have now successfully installed it in two different houses (the one I just left and the my new house) and in both cases people who have seen it were excited about the prospect of a simple readout in their kitchen or family room that shows electrical usage in either kilowatts or dollars. I am too, which is why I’m planning to make this device available in my store and help with the installation.

Most people only get to see how much electricity they used in the past month by reading it off their bill. Even then, the company who reads the meter might only read it every other month. They estimate the electrical usage for the months they don’t read it. If you made a change to try to lower your electric bill, it might take months to figure out if there was an affect!

With this device you can take a reading of your baseline electricity usage, then force a change like turn on the electric dryer, and actually see that spike in energy usage. Or, if you put the TED in a central part of your house and take a look at it from time to time, you might see a spike in electricity usage and you can immediately try to seek out the source and shut it down, or decide to use it more sparingly.

When the TED starts up it provides a readout of your electrical usage in killowatts (kW or kWatts). If you go through the setup instructions you can add the rate you are being charged (including flat, tiered and time of use rates), and then TED will display the actual dollars being spent.

I will use another blog in the future to go into details of some of the ways to log data over time, set alarms for when the usage is unexpectedly high, and to send your data to your browser window so you can monitor it from where ever you have access to the internet. Fun stuff!

This is a whole house monitor, unlike the Kill-A-Watt which measures the electrical usage of one 110V device at a time. That means to install TED you need to mess with your breaker box and get close to some high voltage, potentially life threatening wires in order to install it. The installation instructions tell you to seek the services of a qualified electrician. One rule of thumb I stick to is that I don’t mess with house electricity if I am alone — kind of like you shouldn’t go swimming if you are alone. If anything happens to you, there should be someone else nearby who can quickly get help or provide CPR.

I have documented the installation so you can see what was required and understand that this really should be a 15-20 minute process. That way if you are paying for installation, you should have a feel for how long it would take.

There are three parts to the TED system: The RDU which displays the electricity usage, the MTU which collects the measurements and sends them to RDU, and the CTs (2 of them) which are the sensors that measure current. The pictures below are shown as installed in my house.

RDU, Receiving Display Unit

RDU, Receiving Display Unit, in the kitchen

MTU, Measuring Transmitting Unit

MTU, Measuring Transmitting Unit, in breaker box

CTs, Current Transformers (2)

CTs, Current Transformers (2), in breaker box

There are good installation instructions with the TED. When I installed it the first time, I couldn’t get any readouts so I tried a few things and eventually wrote an email to the company. They agreed with me that the MTU was probably bad and immediately sent me a new one as well as the box and prepaid label to send back the old one. The second install only took about 15 minutes.

On one side of the MTU are wires that connect to the two CTs. The CTs are C-clamps that need to be installed around the two main cables coming in at the top of the breaker box. Here is another breaker box with a lot more room to install the CTs:

Main power coming into box

Main power coming into box

Even if you have the main circuit switch turned off (recommended before you even remove the cover), these wires coming in from the street are live and dangerous. They are nicely covered with insulation material, but there is probably some exposed metal where they connect.

The other side of the MTU has a black and white wire coming out and must be connected to one of the circuit breakers in the box. This is how the MTU gets its power. With the main circuit switch off the rest of the circuit breakers are NOT live. I highly recommend getting a live wire tester to convince yourself that the breaker you are working with is really dead before putting a screwdriver to it.

Below is a picture of how I connected the power and ground of the MTU in my house:

MTU power connection, shared circuit

MTU power connection, shared circuit

MTU ground connection

MTU ground connection

Ok… now that it is in I can immediately see when my electric baseboard heaters are on or off. When the wood stove is nicely heating the whole house, my electrical usage is down below 1 KW. But anytime one or more of the baseboard heaters goes on, electricity usage jumps up by 1.5-2KW for each one that comes on. At one point, when my wood stove wasn’t up and running and the outside temperature was near 0F, TED was telling me I was using 7.5-8KWatts! More wood!

100% Clean electricity in 10 years

I was watching TV last night and saw an ad for “Repower America“. I hadn’t heard of this website before this, but it is now on my blogroll.

The stated goal (originally from Al Gore) is to get to 100% clean electricity in the next 10 years. I like this goal because I think it meets the standard practice on how to set a good goal. It needs to be:

  • Documented (in this case quite publically)
  • Challenging
  • Believable
  • Measurable
  • Have a specific deadline
  • The other reason I like it is that there are already over 2 million people signed up at this site who want to help make it happen. There is some good information and some things that you can do related to efficiencies and clean energy.

    On the negative side, this is a site focused on the politics of the green movement. I have never been excited about politics and only once did I ever volunteer to help out a political campaign (2004).

    But I do realize that the kind of changes we need to get to a goal like clean electricity in 10 years, requires more than what individuals can do by themselves. There are a few too many large businesses and whole industries that are reluctant (I’m being nice here) to change.

    So as well as the things we have direct control over, we should become more informed about what our own town is doing, what our state is doing and what the federal government is going to help with these bigger goals.

    Enfield, NH has a town energy committee with a public record. This year they are working on decreasing the overall energy consumption of the town buildings and street lights, instituting a ‘no idling’ rule for vehicles in town, and working on a program to provide CFL bulbs and information to residents on things they can do in their homes.

    What is your town doing?

    Getting in touch with my heating system

    To really appreciate your heating system you need to contribute physical labor.

    Last weekend we moved from Acton, MA to Enfield, NH — and switched from an oil burning furnace with forced hot water to a wood-burning stove with supplemental electric baseboard. And I don’t want to use that supplemental electricity (much) until I can get it from the sun.

    We got a cord and a half of wood; stacked most of it; brought some of it inside and I’ve been feeding the machine every couple of hours. I can now appreciate what it takes to heat a house on a whole new level. To think I used to pay someone a lot of money and my house was magically heated… except when it broke down or the power went out.

    Feeding the Stove

    Feeding the Stove

    Indoor storage

    Indoor storage

    Tarp covered storage

    Tarp covered storage

    Okay, maybe someone can answer my newbie wood stove questions:

  • Should I cover my stack of wood with a tarp? Other ideas?
  • Should I try to keep the stove always burning, or is it ok (normal) for it to go out every night and start it up again in the morning?
  • My thermostat for the electric baseboard is set to 60F; it is really warm in the basement (probably 80F); there is a grate to allow heat to the kitchen in the first floor – but most of the other rooms are 60-62F. Any ideas or thoughts on getting heat to other rooms in the house?

    Any other words of advice for me are appreciated!
    kim at (or add comments to this post)