Using Z-Wave and a Vera Home Automation Controller to track your Energy Usage

vera-aeon-microses-gui2Back in September of 2010, Aeon Labs announced their upcoming lineup of Z-Wave enabled Smart Energy products.   These devices were appliance and dimmer modules that are capable of tracking energy usage and sending this data to the Z-Wave Controller.   The most interesting devices mentioned were the in-wall micro smart energy modules. These nifty little devices are designed to sit behind a traditional switch within the gang box and make that traditional switch Z-Wave capable – and it can track energy.  These devices can give homeowners and home builders the option to add Z-Wave control for each switch in the home and still be able to customize the exact look and feel using traditional switches.  Brilliant!

When we heard about these new and exciting Z-Wave devices and modules we contacted Aeon Labs and asked for a few review samples.   It took a few months, but we were lucky enough to get some of the most recent samples direct from Aeon Labs.  We’ve added them into our Vera2 powered Z-Wave home automation network and have been test driving them for the past few weeks.

Aeon Labs Home Energy Monitor (Update)



aeon-hem
We tested the Aeon Labs Home Energy Monitor (HEM) a few months ago and it just wasn’t ready for prime time.  The clamps were too small to fit around our electrical panel and the Vera Z-Wave controller didn’t fully support the new Z-Wave Command Classes for these devices.  A few months have passed and we now have the latest version from Aeon Labs – complete with bigger clamps that are large enough to handle most consumer electrical panels.  The Aeon Labs HEM is designed to hang near your electrical panel and the clamps go around the main phase 1 and phase 2 wires coming into your box.   The HEM then reports the energy use every few minutes to as often as every few seconds when powered by the USB adapter vs. batteries.   The HEM then sends this data to the Vera Z-Wave user interface which  updates the wattage and also counts the total KWH.   When added into the Vera network, the HEM appears as three total devices within Vera as shown in the screenshot below.

 

vera-aeon-hem-gui

 

The HEM is also flexible in how you choose to power it.  You can power the HEM with batteries or with the included USB cable.  The included USB power cable has bare wires on one end and the directions call for it to be connected to the electrical panel directly. Since we are not fans of playing around near our electrical panel, we decided to use a nearby AC outlet and connected the HEM to a AC/USB wall-wart that supplied the necessary USB voltage.   The only problem here is that Vera still seems to think that the HEM is running on batteries and shows a low battery icon in the upper left near the device.

 

There isn’t much you can do with the HEM other than keep an eye on electrical use throughout the home, and best of all it promises to work with the Vera Energy monitoring and tracking, so you vera-energyusage-uselesscan see long term use and changes based on season, time of day, etc.  Sadly, as you can see in the

screenshot below, the state of the Vera Energy tracking is very poor and clearly still in beta.    The promises are there, and the framework is there, but the graphs being displayed are horrible and some of the functions for tracking live energy use gives a SQL database error.

We are not sure how the HEM operates with some of the other Z-Wave controllers on the market but it’s not going to offer you much at this point when used with Vera and it’s energy tracking.  The screenshot below shows Vera recognizes our Aeon Smart Energy devices, but gives an error when we attempt to monitor live usage.

 

We do think that Aeon Labs has a winner of a product here and it works as advertised – but we hope Vera and the folks at MiCasaVerde get the inner workings of their energy tracking fixed and it will become on of the more useful Z-Wave devices in our home.

Aeon Labs Smart Energy Switch

aeon-ses-externalThe Aeon Labs Smart Energy Switch is another device from Aeon Labs that allows for energy tracking  – but in a more convenient and user-friendly package.  This neat little indoor appliance module plugs into the wall and your device(s) into the other end of the module.  A simple press of the button makes it glow blue to indicate power and this powers the appliance module and also can be used for Z-Wave pairing.   Once the Aeon Labs Smart Energy Switch is turned on it begins tracking the wattage of the appliances behind it.  It then transmits this information to your Z-Wave controller to keep track of the energy used.  It can handle a load up to 1875 Watts at 15 Amps.

We ended up using this device with some heating tape to prevent pipes from freezing in the cold New England winter.   As soon as we paired this device with our Vera Z-Wave controller we could then remotely turn it and off and see the energy used within the Vera user interface.   The energy tracking is a bonus and helps us track the cost of using the heat tape through the season.  This is no doubt one of the easiest energy tracking devices to use with Vera and would be a great way to track phantom power devices plugged into a power strip or figuring out how much energy your pellet stove or other large electrical appliance uses.  We look forward to adding more of these in the near future to help keep an eye on our power consumption around our home.   Purchase the Aeon Labs Smart Energy Switch from Amazon.com

Aeon Labs Micro Smart Energy Switch

 

micro-sesOne of the neatest ideas in Z-Wave has to be the new line of in-wall Smart Energy Micro Controllers from Aeon Labs.  These tiny little devices are fully Z-Wave enabled and best of all they also carry the Smart Energy “smarts” that the other larger Aeon Labs Z-Wave devices offer.  Measuring just 2″ square and 3/4″ high, they are designed to fit in behind traditional switches or outlets in the gang box.  It can handle a load up to 1100 watts at 15 Amps and has an integrated terminal block on the bottom of the device to connect the wires.  For Z-Wave communication, it also has a small black wire sticking out that acts as antenna, increasing the range to 80 feet.

It has an integrated red LED which helps indicate Z-Wave pairing and power status, and a small button built into the back near the LED activates Z-Wave pairing and it also doubles as ON/OFF control of the module.  Aeon includes a small wiring diagram that explains wiring requirements (a neutral connection is required) and it also details how an external switch is wired.  Initially we had trouble grasping the concept of these devices and their proper installation due to the sparse documentation so we hope Aeon Labs can add some example diagrams and more details on how these are installed and used.

micro-ses-connectionsOnce installed, these micro controllers act as any normal Z-Wave appliance module  yet they are out of sight tucked inside the gang box.  Depending on the type of switch used (momentary or traditional 2-state flip-flop)  you can change the switch type by pressing the  control button on the module 6 times rapidly.   In the case of this install, we never used an external switch and relied on the Z-Wave scenes and other methods of control such as our browser, smartphone and Z-Wave remote controls.

Aeon Labs Micro Smart Energy Illuminator

 

aeon-micro2-smallAeon Labs also offers a dimmer module in this micro form factor – called the Micro Smart Energy Illuminator.  It’s identical to the Micro Smart Energy Switch reviewed above, yet it acts as a dimmer module and it controls up to a 275 watt load. We installed the module and used a momentary switch instead of a traditional switch.  By default the module is setup for a traditional flip-flop state, but we changed the module switch setup to the momentary option by pressing the control button rapidly six times.  We then wired up a momentary switch we found at our local Lowes and it worked like a charm.

 

 

 

aeon-labs-z-wave7-smallxPressing the momentary switch quickly turns on the lights to the last level.  Holding the switch dims or brightens the lights. We had no problem fitting the Micro SEI inside the 3-way gang box behind the middle switch as shown in the screenshot.  A GE Z-Wave Dimmer switch is to the left, the momentary switch controlled by the Micro SEI in the middle and a GE/Jasco Appliance switch on the right.  We really like these new line of Micro Smart Energy devices from Aeon labs and we think they will be a smart choice for homeowners and home builders that want to keep traditional switch design and feel with Z-Wave control.