You'll need two things to get the most out of this gadget. One is an insatiable thirst for burning fossil fuels. The other is a roomy electrical cabinet in your home. AlertMe Energy is a tool that clips to your meter and measures the amount of juice pumping through your wires. But in an increasingly crowded marketplace is AlertMe's kit electrifying? Or as useful as a dead battery? Read on to find out.
The default kit contains three things - a meter reader, a meter transmitter, and a hub. The guidance provided with the kit says you can clip it around any wire coming out of the bottom of your electricity meter, but we found it took a few tries to get one which delivered a signal.
Happily, though, a simple clamp around a cable is all that it takes to get the device hooked up to your system. There's no unscrewing, cable-chopping or other scary things to do - unlike some other energy monitoring kits. Once the meter reader is in place, you hook it up to the transmitter with a 3.5mm jack, pull out a tab to connect the batteries, and you're nearly set.
We'd point out here that the transmitter and reader, while not huge, are pretty big. They didn't happily sit in our very small meter cabinet, and had to be left dangling unattractively. That's why we said you'll need a bit of room to work with. Once it's all hooked it, it'll begin to flash, which is your cue to hook up the hub part.
The hub is a much smaller device, which comes with an Ethernet port and a power socket. You hook it up to the mains and to your wireless broadband modem, and after a short bit of updating and a pairing exercise, it'll begin quietly crunching data about exactly how much power you're using.
Here's the best bit - you can then automatically send that data to Google's PowerMeter service every 15 minutes, allowing you to graph your usage. Data geeks rejoice! You can break down the data into daily, weekly, and monthly bar graphs, and view what the baseline and maximum electricity used are, as well as compare it to other average usage for different types of dwelling, and see how your usage compares to your historical data.
Google integration aside, AlertMe's web interface lets you examine things in even more detail. You can see the exact level of your current usage, identify different devices (with colour-coded lamps), set-up email alerts if you're worried about using too much juice, and it'll give you the approximate cost of the amount of electricity you've used so far that day.
You can even monitor the sensors themselves from the web interface - seeing their connectivity strength, their battery life remaining, and even the temperature of the sensor itself. You can tell if your heating is on, for example, while you're away from home.
There's a useful mobile site, too, so you can check out your electricity usage on the go (did I leave the iron on?) as well as turn on or off any SmartPlugs in the system - these are accessories that can be controlled over the Web, allowing you to be absolutely sure that you unplugged your hair straighteners before leaving them lying on the bed. You can even text your appliances to turn them off.
AlertMe's kit costs £69 one-off, plus £3 per month (or £30 per year) for the subscription to the online service and mobile website. SmartPlugs cost £25 each, and you can add lamps, cameras, and various sensors too - all of which are available in AlertMe's online shop, which also offers a security bundle for considerably more cash.
If you're serious about cutting down on the amount of energy you use in the home, you need to know exactly how much you're using right now and be able to track your progress. If you don't, it's like trying to lose weight without owning a set of scales - you're completely in the dark about whether you're actually getting anywhere.
The biggest question, though, is whether you'll save enough energy to justify the cost of £100 for a year's usage, and £30 for every year thereafter. Even if you use it for 3 years, you'll need to be saving more than £50 each year on your bill for it to be worthwhile. Perhaps some large family homes use that amount of energy, but if you're in a small flat and you're not leaving the lights and television on 24/7, then it's questionable whether you'll save any cash.
But the ability to add security features, control appliances remotely, an anticipated tie-in with British Gas, and the warm fuzzy feeling of being less reliant on belching pollutants into the atmosphere means that you might actually get more than just money saving out of the device. Plus with rising energy costs on the horizon, this could be a very sound investment for the right household.
With its wonderfully simple installation, detailed web interface, Google PowerMeter compatibility and huge range of customization options, AlertMe offers a well-rounded solution to the problem of high energy usage in the home. While low-usage households might struggle to get their money's worth from the gadget, for many this will be more than just about the cash - it'll be about saving the planet, being in control of your usage, and plain ol' peace of mind. Can you put a price on that?