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Straight Talk Articles

Energy Apps for your Phone: Can they save you money?
February, 2017

Dear Pat: I finally got a smartphone and want to install some apps that would help me track my energy use and give suggestions for how to reduce it. Do you have any suggestions? -Peggy

Dear Peggy:

Smartphone apps can help you figure out how you use the energy in your home. This information can help you choose efficiency upgrades that will give you the biggest bang for the buck.

There are a few different kind of smartphone apps you could consider downloading:

  • Your co-op’s app: A number of electric co-ops have smartphone apps that let you see your recent bills and set high usage alerts. Many of these apps will also let you pay your bill through the app, read about any co-op efficiency programs or incentives, see how your usage compares to similar homes, and how the weather may have impacted your energy bill. Your co-op’s website should tell you if they offer an app for your phone.

  • Smart thermostat apps: There are a number of smart thermostats on the market from companies like Alarm.com, ecobee, Honeywell, and Nest. Smart thermostats can optimize your home’s heating and cooling based on your family’s habits and the weather. If you have one of these smart thermostats, there is a corresponding smartphone app that can give you detailed energy use information about your heating and cooling use, which is the biggest energy user in most homes.

  • Energy disaggregation device apps: There are some devices and corresponding smartphone apps from companies such as Bidgely and PlotWatt that analyze electric signals to determine how much electricity different appliances are using in your home. With these devices and apps, you can see the energy use of a particular appliance over time—an unexplained jump in energy use could pinpoint a problem.

  • Apps with energy savings tips: There are many apps that can give you personalized energy tips based on your location, home characteristics, and other information that you provide. An example is Touchstone Energy’s “Together We Save” app, which gives energy savings tips for the home, as well as energy use calculators.

 

Other apps that can help you track and understand your energy use are becoming available each day—read reviews from other users to learn which ones have been most beneficial.  Keep in mind that while these apps can give you some idea of how much energy you are using, which areas of your home are using the most, and some tips for reducing your use—it’s up to you to evaluate the information the app provides.  One thing to remember is that apps often only look at a single fuel use, so if you have an all-electric home, the app could be quite conclusive—but if you have natural gas or propane appliances, the information will be less thorough.

With trend data on your energy use, you may be able to see what are the big energy uses are in your home. For example, if heating and cooling are significant draws on your energy bills, investing in weatherization measures or upgrading your system to a more efficient one could have a big impact on your electric bill. Apps that give you access to real-time information can be a powerful diagnostic tool to help you evaluate the impact of an energy efficiency measure.

A good practice is to sit down regularly with your energy bills and look at trends and changes. Has your energy use gone up in the last month? Was the weather significantly colder or warmer? Did you have house guests or was your family at home more often because of school vacation or holidays? Does your co-op have time-of-use rates, and if so, do you make any adjustments to your energy use to account for those different rates—for example, running your clothes dryer overnight instead of when you get home from work?

 

If your bill is rising and you are not sure why, or you want more ideas for how to reduce your energy bills, your electric co-op is a good resource. Your co-op’s energy advisor may be able to sit down with you and analyze your bill, talk about your home’s characteristics and your family’s habits, and give some ideas for how you could reduce your energy use.

 

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Amy Wheeless of Collaborative Efficiency.

 

For more ideas on efficiency apps and how to save energy, visit the February 2017 More Information page.

Smartphone apps can be powerful tools for understanding your energy use.