Watts out there?

Before we signed up to create MET3R we looked for an off the shelf solution. We researched the problem and as you probably guessed, we didn’t find what we wanted. Hence the birth of MET3R.

Still, we believe, what we found can be useful for many and we want to share the results with you.

We were looking for any solution that lets us make informed choices about our energy use without too much hassle or astronomical expenses. In terms of functionality we wanted to have live feedback and historical overview of the household’s electricity use, down to the appliance level. Also, when we looked for devices, we wanted to have something that can be easily installed.

Squeezing data out of the provider

Probably the most logical solution is that you get this service from your energy provider. Unfortunately, with some scattered exceptions, this is not an option for the vast majority of European or American consumers, let alone people living in economically less developed countries. It was also not an option for us, or for that matter to our family, friends or any acquaintances.

The chances that our electricity provider develops such a service in the near future are quite slim. The majority of households in the EU, or the US are still equipped with old ‘dumb meters’. Upgrading them to smart ones, which provide modern communication tools and live feedback, requires multi-million euro investments from energy companies with shrinking profits.

Where smart meters have been rolled out on massive scale, metering schemes have mixed results. Households equipped with smart meters typically show single-digit improvement in energy efficiency, but without an immersive and hassle-free service, users miss most of the saving opportunities. At the same time, many people fear that utility-installed smart meters are spying on them and want to have more control over their data. Smart meters have almost nowhere led to the improvement of the customer experience. And let’s be honest, serving customers with cutting-edge digital technology and immersive user experience is not something that we can expect from energy companies. So we realized that sit-and-wait is the worst we can do. More on what we tried and tested in a later article.

Get a gadget

The next option is to buy something that does the job. We have identified more than two dozens of devices that promise to give you a live feedback on the electricity use with different features.

There are products that can measure your consumption with great or good enough precision by using various technologies. They either observe your meter, measure the amount of electricity passing through the main current or catch the radio signals of your smart meter. We have found a problem with most of these devices that unfortunately rendered them useless for our case.

For instance, devices communicating on radio are only compatible with specific smart meters, such as the Wattvision Rainforest Eagle, available in some parts of the US, Canada or Australia. Others only show your consumption on in-home displays or in technical terms, which is outdated or does not yield useful insight for non-experts. Some devices are compatible with older ‘dumb meters’, but only with some of them, such as Blueline’s solution. So if you have exactly that type of meter, don’t mind the relatively complex installation, and ready to pay some extra bucks for the app to work, then you might have a solution. If not, read on.

Some products got many negative consumer feedback for failure to precisely measure or breaking down during operation, so we ruled them out (we will not mention the names).

Finally, we have found products using cutting-edge technology, which promise to measure with great precision, give appliance-level breakdown, and a nice app to control everything. But unfortunately most of these devices are in a pre-order stage, with ambiguous delivery times, such as Verv or Ecoisme, or not directly available to consumers, such as Neurio, or only available in very limited geographies, such Watty in greater Stockholm. Also, if you are looking at these more modern solutions, there are two further considerations: price and installation.

These products will cost you between 200–400 euros, plus additional installation costs. Expert installation is highly recommended, since you have to mess with cables carrying electric current, which you can’t eliminate by shutting down your fusebox. Installation can easily add another 25–50% to the price. Most people cannot afford that price tag, or simply refuse to pay that much upfront and earn back the investment in 4–5 years. We felt the same.

As you can see we didn’t find a service or product that fulfils our needs or available for us. This is not to say that those products are useless and there is a lot to learn from them. But they all have downsides due to technological limitations, outdated design or a hefty price tag. We learnt a lot from this research and we hope you also find our insights interesting.