Usage and data
Both devices export their usage stats to Google's PowerMeter service, which at this point is only visible via a simple widget on your iGoogle homepage. It gives daily, weekly, and monthly bar graphs of your power usage and... that's about it. It's about all you need to know if you want to just track your overall energy usage, but both solutions offer their own ways to let you dig a little deeper.
For TED 5000 it's the Footprints website, served up by what's called the Gateway. It looks like an economy-sized AC adapter, decoding the signals sent by the MTU that we earlier installed in our circuit breaker and connecting to your home network via Ethernet. Anywhere on your home network you can go to http://ted5000/ and get a faceful of data, including the cost of your consumption (if you configure your utility's current rate), amount of CO2 generated, a comprehensive suite of reports and, most interesting, a little tachometer looking thing that swings further into the red the more current you pull down. Flip on a single light bulb, even a CFL, and you'll see it here. You can also export your data to spreadsheets, and who doesn't love spreadsheets?
The TED package we received also included a wireless monitoring device, a little rechargeable unit with an LCD that gives you a high-level view of your real-time usage; the AlertMe Energy fully relies on the web to log and display statistics. Both kits use Zigbee
which opens the door for a variety of wireless monitoring solutions.
AlertMe takes a similar approach to display the same set of statistics as the TED offers but with a user-friendly, Internet-accessible interface, and yet there are extra functionalities such as identifying each device by light color coding, controlling SmartPlugs (as mentioned earlier) and setting up thresholds for email alerts and auto-off for SmartPlugs. Once you're logged in you're greeted by the above dashboard, giving you realtime power usage, cost of electricity used today, access to detailed charts and access to each component (to view signal strength, battery status and temperature). (You can see more screenshots in the AlertMe gallery above.)
If you're on the move you can still monitor your AlertMe kit via its mobile site, featuring the same speedometer-style indicator (which updates every ten seconds) and a breakdown of power consumption from each component, plus the option to switch SmartPlugs on and off. This site is also handy for quickly tracking down vampire appliances, as you won't need to keep going back to the computer screen when switching things off one by one.
The TED 5000 provides a thoroughly comprehensive way to track every watt, letting you know exactly when it was consumed -- but not by what. You'll have to figure that out and then go turn it off yourself. The lack of any kind of mobile app or view to your data is a bit of a disappointment these days as well. Finally, the up-front cost is high, $239.95 for the package we tested (though we'd recommend ditching the wireless display to save $40), but it does have the distinct benefit of being a one-time cost. There are no monthly fees here.
On the other hand the AlertMe Energy goes for less intimidating interface to encourage wider adoption, as well as making good use of Zigbee to extend the package's functionality beyond energy monitoring -- with some extra investment it becomes a home automation and security system. Sure, each SmartPlug comes at a cost of £25 ($41), but it adds great value to the basic kit as it aids the product's main objective: to save your energy bills. The basic kit is only £69 ($113), but there's also an annual subscription fee of £29.90 ($49) for the web services -- such combination is still cheaper than TED's package. Well, for two years and a bit at least.
In the end, we were left with the lingering doubt that neither would ever pay for itself. Given the cost of electricity versus the price of admission you'd have to go all Buffy on some pretty serious energy vampires (maybe an electric foundry accidentally left simmering in the basement) for these to make economic sense. But it's not always about saving money, and the ability to monitor and control your home remotely (if you have AlertMe's option) can be hugely reassuring while traveling. Also, remember that with Zigbee these systems have much potential for future expansion -- something we hope TED will capitalize on to justify that initial cost. Even now, either provides you a good defense to to keep those monthly bill terrors at bay.
Special thanks to Richard Lai for additional work on this review.