Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

The greenest watt is the one you don't have to create. Energy efficiency is the low hanging fruit of greening our homes. Ask your questions or post your energy efficiency tips in here!

Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby zzsstt » Mon Nov 30, 2009 12:35 pm

I have recently been looking for ways to cut down on my energy usage, both domestic and commercial, and in this process I have come across several gadgets that make great claims.

Some of these "gadgets" are well known and have a great deal of data and experience to prove their efficacy. Double glazing might be placed in this category.

Some of these gadgets have a rational scientific reason to suggest that they are likely to work. Power factor correctors and VFD's for electric motors might be included here. Even more straightforward are powerboards with one big "OFF" switch.

Some of these gadgets have a recognised certification program to provide some degree of assurance that the device will work. "80 Plus" certification of computer power supplies is an example here.

However there seem to be a large number of products that have minimal explanation of how they are supposed to work, and yet still make grand claims for their abilities. Many of these products are sold by "seemingly" reputable companies, many specialising in "green" products.

In the case of electrical products, I have a PowerMate and can therefore test to see if a product lives up to it's claims. but I still have to buy it before I can test it. Some of these gadgets are quite expensive, which is fair enough if they work, but not if they don't.....

A case in point here is the "Reegen Micro-Plug". It costs just under AU$200, but claims to save upwards of 30% of the energy usage of an electric motor (and therefore fridge, washing machine etc.). This device is being sold by various "green" companies who vouch for its efficacy, but Choice awarded it a 2009 "Shonky Product" award and said it did nothing. There is a degree of sense to such a device, in that power factor correction is indeed real, but that does not prove anything.

How are we supposed to know? A 30% saving is well worth having, but a $200 hole in my wallet with no result is not! "Choice" themselves are not always totally reliable, however. They have been known to get the wrong end of the stick from time to time, for various reasons.

Personal opinion is also open to question. After spending a wad of cash on an item, it's sometimes hard to admit that it doesn't work, as this is effectively an admission of being "conned". It's also true that personal opinion can just vary between individuals - I find LED lights to be useless (too little light) for anything except mood or accent lighting, but some people seem happy with them.

Does anybody know of a central repository of wisdom, based on testing and experience (not marketing) of "green" products? Alternatively, is anybody interested in starting one? It wouldn't be that hard to do. If 20 people each donate $10, a (for example) "Micro-Plug" could be purchased, tested and the results published . If it doesn't work it's only cost everybody $10, and if it works we can all rush out and buy them........ If the results were published only to people who have donated, then further donations could be used to purchase more gadgets to be tested, or indeed gadgets to test (light meters, for example). I suppose this is where "Choice" started, but it seems to have got rather large and politically motivated, where I am thinking of a smaller far more directed ("efficiency") group.

Any thoughts?
zzsstt
Solar Crusader
Solar Crusader
 
Posts: 1296
Joined: Fri Oct 02, 2009 2:27 pm

Re: Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby Tracker » Mon Nov 30, 2009 3:25 pm

Power Factor Correctors, whilst sounding plausible, are one of those "Black Boxes" that we wish for, but wonder "Could they possibly work?"

Power Factor Correction is designed to vary the reactance of the power circuit such that VOLTAGE and CURRENT, are in phase.. We all know about capacitors in flouro-lights and how they might exist in Industrial lights but not domestic ones.. Why - because in the domestic situation, the cost savings in Electricity, are swamped by the parts cost.

From an Electrical instructor -- "In order to correct PowerFactor you new to sample the Current and the Voltage, and vary the reactance (usually capacitance) to make I and V in phase."

That is a long winded way of saying that there is little chance that a PLUGIN device could ever do anything practical, as it will only be looking at the voltage. If can't measure current.
It might be able to sweep the circuit with a variable capacitance and then look for a voltage drop that "Might" indicate a phase conjunction of V and I, but I for one can't imaging that it would be effective.

Now - if you find a device that mounts in the power-box and connects inline/after the meter, then I would sit up and take interest. That way there is the possibility of reading both V and I.

The situation to me is the same as these "Pest-Free" plugins.
We refuse to use broad-use Cockroach sprays and hence rely on baits etc...
We have a Pest-Free device that "Buzzes the wires" supposedly to "Drive the bugs nuts"
I walked into the kitchen last night to see a mouse smiling at me whilst sitting right under the device and a few cockies running for cover. Bar-Hum-Bug ! they don't work !

PS - I just Googled the contraption and found a video of it's operation. (Reegen Micro-Plug)
I am wrong about one thing in that is that it does connect between the power and the appliance and the video show something dropping, so it could be sampling I and V. It's showing Either power or current??
The issue is that with just one unloaded motor connected , it took 40 seconds to stabilise.. If it needs one device for each appliance, then it's going to be very expensive to cover a house. I think that I would believe Choice in this case !
Retired Engineer and keen PV experimenter - Always ready to learn and share.
2 x CMS2000 (fan cooled) GCI and SE 170W panels
1.7kW First Solar/Outback Island circuit - Peak Replacement Power
Governments won't save the world :-) They will just TAX it :-(
Tracker
Solar Crusader
Solar Crusader
 
Posts: 5107
Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2009 5:54 am
Location: SYDNEY --- EA - Network, Retailer - EA

Re: Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby zzsstt » Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:28 pm

Tracker wrote:PS - I just Googled the contraption and found a video of it's operation. (Reegen Micro-Plug)
I am wrong about one thing in that is that it does connect between the power and the appliance and the video show something dropping, so it could be sampling I and V. It's showing Either power or current??
The issue is that with just one unloaded motor connected , it took 40 seconds to stabilise.. If it needs one device for each appliance, then it's going to be very expensive to cover a house. I think that I would believe Choice in this case !


And therein lies the problem. Choice admitted it showed a 5% reduction in power used by an electric drill, so it is doing something. The concept of power factor correction is entirely reasonable, though of course domestic users are charged based on kW and not kVA, so PF is not currently (no pun intended) a billable issue for them. "Black boxes" that reduce the running voltage of commercial sized strings of fluoro lights are real, and can show a power reduction in certain circumstances. Black boxes that correct the power factor of larger electric motors and adjust their speed to maintain efficiency are real (I have an 18.8kW motor using under 8kW with a 0.98 power factor on just such a system).

If Choice's methodology involved testing on modern appliances that are already "tuned" towards efficiency, then they might have seen less improvement than (for example) someone using an electric pump or an older less efficient appliance. So, potentially, there is a saving to be made. The size of that saving and it's financial viability are separate issues - 5% on an electric drill will never recoup the financial cost of the unit, 5% on a 2kW pump that runs 10 hours a day and the unit pays for itself in 3 years. More importantly, for those concerned with "carbon", it is a significant reduction in emissions. Of course there is always the possibility it doesn't work at all!

My point was more general, however. This is just one of many devices that may or may not work. In the case of the cheaper ones, an individual can buy them and throw them away if they don't work, and in the case of the more "way out" ideas, an individual can probably write them off as quackery. Obviously some will also fall in to the "too good to be true" basket. But then there are the ones that conceivably just might work, but are too expensive to buy on the off-chance............
zzsstt
Solar Crusader
Solar Crusader
 
Posts: 1296
Joined: Fri Oct 02, 2009 2:27 pm

Re: Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby taggertycyclist » Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:57 pm

All this talk of black boxes smacks on the late Peter Brock!

Any industry that has become the darling of one set or another is bound to attract the charlatans willing to con anyone. And you are right in that having spent a bundle on a product that isn't working, a buyer isn't really going to admit s/he was wrong.

I would have thought a Standards approval would be a starting point with any of these devices. And because they are being used on 240-volt equipment, surely there is a requirement for other approvals by electrical authorities to be bought.... err, sorry, granted. If a device doesn't work when getting those approvals, surely it behoves the tester to reveal this and to withhold approval.

I read last night an article related to another product unrelated to solar (in fact, Apple agents possibly refusing warranty claims on computers affected by the smoke of cigarettes) that in Victoria at least, a consumer has a right of return/refund if an item doesn't do the job that was promoted or advertised.

Then we come back to the conundrum of how an ordinary consumer without much or any technical expertise can prove that a particular electrical device like the one specified doesn't work...
taggertycyclist
Solar Evangelist
Solar Evangelist
 
Posts: 70
Joined: Tue Oct 13, 2009 7:32 pm

Re: Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby zzsstt » Mon Nov 30, 2009 8:50 pm

taggertycyclist wrote:Then we come back to the conundrum of how an ordinary consumer without much or any technical expertise can prove that a particular electrical device like the one specified doesn't work...


...and having decided it doesn't work, how they "persuade" a company to refund their money, given that the integrity of that company is under question if they have sold a "green" product that does not actually work!

In this case the testing is quite easy, however. Anyone with a PowerMate ($100 to $350+, depending on the version purchased) can simply select a variety of situations to test, say a fridge, a washing machine, a water pump (or swimming pool pump) and an air conditioner, and test the power consumed with and without the "gadget" installed. Any reductions become quickly apparent. As I suggested earlier, in a forum like this the results of such testing can be quickly shared, removing the need for everyone to own a PowerMate. If the "gadget" to be tested is a joint purchase, nobody has to spend a fortune to prove its efficacy, and having only spent a few dollars nobody is likely to get the "spent a lot of money, can't admit it's junk" problem.
zzsstt
Solar Crusader
Solar Crusader
 
Posts: 1296
Joined: Fri Oct 02, 2009 2:27 pm

Re: Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby SR76 » Mon Nov 30, 2009 9:57 pm

Here's some good reading material to begin with:

http://www.dansdata.com/personal/quacks.htm
http://www.dansdata.com/empower.htm

And on PF correction in general:

http://www.dansdata.com/gz088.htm

Dans Data is a huge website full of techno-geek goodness and has much to say about such products. Just keep following the endless maze of hyperlinks for your own entertainment. I've lost hours on it.
SR76
Solar Crusader
Solar Crusader
 
Posts: 109
Joined: Tue Sep 29, 2009 4:15 pm

Re: Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby zzsstt » Tue Dec 01, 2009 6:46 am

SR76 wrote:Here's some good reading material to begin with:

http://www.dansdata.com/personal/quacks.htm
http://www.dansdata.com/empower.htm

And on PF correction in general:

http://www.dansdata.com/gz088.htm

Dans Data is a huge website full of techno-geek goodness and has much to say about such products. Just keep following the endless maze of hyperlinks for your own entertainment. I've lost hours on it.


Dansdata has historically been a very good site. I used to use it when it was largely (entirely?) computer related, and was (more or less) just a list of CPU heatsink performance data. In the days before we needed to worry about power usage I used to fool around building massively overclocked water cooled computers. Oh, and performance cars.........

These days "Dan" gets in to everything, and sometimes misses the point in his attempts to be cool. In the case of the EMP, I entirely agree with him, however. But the machine we are talking about here is slightly different, and as I mentioned above, even Choice admitted it did do something.

Actually, reading the Dansdata articles above made me think. Very early in the piece he says (and indeed I also said earlier in this thread) that domestic users do not get charged by kVa, so power factor does not matter. His comment is that "spinning disc meters" measure kW. Which started me thinking...... I do not have a spinning disc meter, I have an electronic time of use meter (albeit that all the times are charged at the same "peak" rate). Do electronic meters measure kW or KVA? More interesting is that this meter is IDENTICAL to a commercial/business meter sitting next to it (we have a 3 phase domestic supply). So in fact the measurement basis is the same for both..... I must investigate this further!

The other issue with power in general, and power factor specifically, is that everyone's profile is different. Some devices have a far worse PF than others, motors being normally fairly poor. A city apartment dweller using a clothes washing service will run very few electric motors, perhaps a fridge/freezer, a small pump in a dishwasher and that's about it. On the other hand, someone living beyond the range of mains sewage systems will use more motors. Not only the washing machine (+dryer?), fridge, possibly multiple freezers etc., but also water pumps for domestic water, water transfer, irrigation, bore pumps, possibly pumps and air blowers for sewage treatment systems, pool pumps etc.. Then we have all the harmonic distortion issues that may have an affect on people with large numbers of electronic devices.

What this means is that even if we disregard the outright nonsense (like the EMP tested by Dan), there is a genuine possibility that what works for one person may not work for another, simply because of differing usage. Unfortunately this also means that a "simple" test of a device like the Micro-Plug may not be sufficient to write it off. Perhaps it doesn't work on a modern washing machine, but does on a water pump? I am not, by the way, a particular supporter of that unit, I've never even seen one in the flesh. But I am interested in knowing whether it, and many of the other "energy saving" gadgets do actually work. We can't rely on the sales people - as we all know, even those who appear genuinely interested in the "environment" are at the end of the day only trying to make money!
zzsstt
Solar Crusader
Solar Crusader
 
Posts: 1296
Joined: Fri Oct 02, 2009 2:27 pm

Re: Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby KarenS » Fri Dec 04, 2009 12:55 am

Saw something in one of the Melbourne papers in the last couple of weeks (sorry, can't give an exact reference, as I scan both daily papers 7 days/week for my brother's work-related purposes :( ) that some public libraries have PowerMates available for loan!
As a pensioner, I'm always looking for things to save money, and this one has to be great if you happen to have one of those libraries near you! I have to consult my local library on another matter which will take a bit of digging and rummaging, so I will also ask about this when I go pester them at the weekend.
KarenS
Solar Crusader
Solar Crusader
 
Posts: 116
Joined: Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:05 pm
Location: Ballarat, Vic. PowerShop (electricity & gas)

Re: Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby Joey » Fri Dec 04, 2009 4:32 am

I would have to say the most effective power saving device on the market is the power switch , unfortunately so many people just cannot grasp this simple concept yet.

There is no plug-in gadget in existence that can go between the supply and the source that can reduce the sources consumption. ( apart from an off switch )
Fortunately manufactures are becoming more aware that people are demanding more efficient devices where as before it was never a concern.
I don't think there is any such thing as an energy saving gadget , just newer gadgets that are more efficient than what they are replacing.


Power Factor Correction contraptions have no place in the domestic market , Some here might remember the user "Gyro" ,many of the scam websites referenced in his posts are selling these devices claiming to reduce home power bills by up to 60% , there are many more websites that completely dispel these scams and myths.
If you google these devices you will notice pre-packaged $5 websites popping up all over Australia making outrageous claims playing on peoples gullibility that they will be saving the planet , not to mention thousands of dollars ! Within a few years I wouldn't be surprised if you can buy these devices in supermarkets and salesmen will say they make the picture on your new LCD much clearer and cheaper to run.
These things are also being plugged by mum and dad work from home businesses , only qualification being that of not having any factual knowledge of what these devices really are.
Hows this for a brainwave " Once this device is installed , by raising the temperature on your Air Con in Summer from 23 deg to 25 deg will save you hundreds of dollars" !! WOW .
Joey
Solar Crusader
Solar Crusader
 
Posts: 523
Joined: Tue Sep 29, 2009 11:24 pm

Re: Energy Saving Gadgets - Do They Work?

Postby zzsstt » Fri Dec 04, 2009 6:47 am

Joey wrote:I would have to say the most effective power saving device on the market is the power switch , unfortunately so many people just cannot grasp this simple concept yet.


Entirely true, but only approprate when a device is not required to be used.

Joey wrote:There is no plug-in gadget in existence that can go between the supply and the source that can reduce the sources consumption. ( apart from an off switch ).


Not true at all. There are many devices that can reduce the power consumed. Whether these are "plug in" units simply comes down to wiring. I have many electric motors, in one case a motor rated at 18.8kW is actually consuming about 8kW on a VFD. Now obviously this reduction is becuase the motor is controlled to produce (and therefore consume) the amount of power required to do the job at that time, but without the VFD it would be wasting a great deal of power under many conditions.

Another example is (magnetic ballasted) fluoro lights. The ballast requires a high voltage to start the tube, but once started the voltage can be dropped and the power wasted by the ballast (the least efficient part of the unit) therefore reduced. This is effectively what an electronic ballast (like those used on T5 tubes) does, but in the case of a string of magnetic ballast fluoro's, a plug in box can apparently do this. I have not used one myself (preferring the T5 approach), but the science behind it is genuine.

It is in fact entirely possible that a plug-in device can save power. Whether it does this by reducing the power spike consumed a start up, lowering the voltage supplied to a device, managing the speed of a device or any other method, the point is that these things are possible.

The first question is whether a specific example of such a device works, or is a con, and the second question is whether it makes any material difference. Reducing the power used by a fluoro tube by 20%, whether by changing to a T5 with electronic ballast or installing a device to reduce the voltage after start-up, when the tube used 28W to start with is a questionable gain (6W). However a small shop using 200 such tubes (saving 1.1kW) or a supermarket with thousands of them may make a very large saving.
zzsstt
Solar Crusader
Solar Crusader
 
Posts: 1296
Joined: Fri Oct 02, 2009 2:27 pm

Next

Return to Energy Efficiency

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests

new solar power specials