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         The Power Wizard Meter
A few reflections 

Note: This commentary supplements Smart versus Wise Meters in which  the Liberty Meter, the eSmart Affinity terminal and the Centameter are discussed.. The article defines the difference between  smart meters and wise meters.The conclusion is that at the end of 2004 New Zealand has bits of smart meters available but none that can be called wise and sustainable.


Word Count:
approx 2700




Power Wizard meter: retail = approx $ 250 plus installation costs (highly variable)

The Power Wizard  is a device for monitoring electricity usage and is aimed at householders. It claims to enable reduction in electricity bills of up to 50%. I am exploring this product separately to the Centameter, the eSmart Affinity terminals and the Liberty Meter because I learned of the Power Wizard’s existence subsequent to publishing my reflections on those devices. I would like to make it clear that many of the comments I make about this product will be relevant to other products too. Similarly general comments in that review are relevant here.

In the Smart versus Wise Review, I responded to the press release hype by asking five basic questions

1. What is a  “Smart Meter”?
2. What Power does a meter put into Consumers' Hands?
3. How does it put “Power into Consumers' Hands”?
4. How does this technology impact on innovation of sustainable technology and practice in general? Included in this are questions asking what is not there because it is there and what does the technology teach?”
5. Who is going to protect the Small Consumer?

I will approach this review using a slightly different structure. In it I view these products as a total package when examining how they may promote sustainable uses of energy generally. Included in the package are:

  • Technical and performance details of the device, of which I have little knowledge.
  • The device as an educational aid and message.
  • The promotion of the device and how they impact on the public’s awareness of sustainable practices.
  • How the device works in the existing electricity system and general “energy efficiency” structures.
  • How the device contributes to the development of a “smart” electricity system.

I will begin with an excerpt from an email I received informing me of the existence of the Power Wizard. The author has installed one in their home.

Now this metre is really smart have a look at its functions

The problem is who the hell wants to know

The marketing blerb says slash your power bills by up to 50% bullshit its just a lie

My opinion is its giving me an instant watts readout which is usefull but theres not much you can do about it

So whats the point my argument has always been infomation is not always usfull

It will tell what i have used what my expected bill by the end of month will be even calculating daily charges

so your billl is exactly what you expect.

But whats the point i am not going to turn things off just because it says this info

I feel the marketeing blerb is more powerfull than the device.

I suspect the author makes efficient use of electricity already and only the introduction of an intelligent electricity system will make the data meaningful. This email exemplifies a number of concerns that I have with some of the systems coming onto the market.  My major concern is they are going to give “smart” technology a bad name and further associate energy efficiency with deprivation.

So how does the Power Wizard work? This is outlined at their products info page.

It is described as “a state-of-the-art power meter which measures all power used in your home and then converts that information into seven different information displays.” These include the time of day, consumption since last bill, daily cost at current usage, minute-by-minute usage, prediction of end-of-month bill, compares “savings” progress against previous months usage and you can see your budget progress on a daily and monthly basis as well as receive warning when you are exceeding your budget.

The website provides a considerable amount of space to promoting the product as an empowering and budgeting tool, how good it is for the environment and how it is programmed to work as a budgeting device.
I could not spot any information of how it actually works. My understanding is that it measures electricity flow at the interface with the local grid i.e. at the “meter board”. I do not know if it measures the main’s wire or the wires to each meter. A wire carrying data has to be installed from this point to the display monitor. This involves additional expenses, particularly if the building does not have neutral wiring. A separate wire then has to be installed back to the meter. This can double the installation cost and if the customer is paying the electrician to program the Power Wizard as well, then total installation cost could easily be over $500. If it does measure off each meter, then installation costs could be significant in dwellings where the switch room is located some distance away.

Educational Value of Technology
The display monitor, pictured on the website, can be located in the living area. This fact plus compact, clean lines, digital display and simple touch key board work to remove some of the barriers to people feeling they can be involved in their electricity system. This is an important contribution to the development of sustainable intelligent use of electricity and other valuable forms of energy we use around the home.

Similarly, web and monitor graphics are smart. Progress graphs and scales enable quick and easy reading of consumption schedules.

Instructions for programming of the Power Wizard are detailed on the web and some electricity consumers may be a little daunted by them. (Some of us have trouble setting modern bedside clock radios.) What is not clear is if the programme has to be reset each month as consumption histories alter because of changed usage patterns. It seems to assume retailers bill on a set date. Setting budgeting targets also has to factor in seasonal changes to be meaningful.

In practical terms, knowing an annual history and being able to pay even/smoothed payments throughout the year is probably a greater assistance to those who have difficulty budgeting, as long as the retailer maintains regular meter readings, communicates them to customers and uses honest algorithms.

If New Zealand had opted to develop an intelligent electricity grid, such programming requirements would be unnecessary. Consumption histories would be downloaded directly from the local grid/retailer and would be part of a wider demand response technology. As an aside, it would be wonderful to get clever and creative people such as the guys at Wizard Corporation working with community owned grid/retailers that are primarily focused on achieving consumer-oriented and environmentally minded objectives

Promotion Impact
Information and promotion of such products can have a serious impact on popular perceptions of sustainable practice and what constitutes “smart” technology and intelligent systems.  Most consumers will find after a short period that this technology is not particularly smart in the wider context. They will still have to turn off appliances themselves and will be unable to use the information in a meaningful and convenient way in response to grid sourced information. They cannot transfer data to their computer.

The website makes some very bold headline claims starting with

“Take Control of your Power Bills with the Power Wizard.”
Let Power Wizard help you manage your power use and power waste
and then save up to 50% on your power bills”.

There is a large difference between able to control you electricity consumption and managing electricity bills. The claims confuse power with electricity, a form of power. We have many forms of power at our disposal in our home including solar power and wind power. Controlling grid-sourced electricity consumption is dependent on our awareness of all the other sources of power available. One page uses the symbol ‘power’ some 26 times in association with grid-sourced electricity. This use works directly against the stated objectives.

It goes on to say:“But we know that by using Power Wizard to its maximum value, most households can save well over 300 kilowatt hours of power-use, per month. That means the owners of Power Wizard will save a vast amount of money, and also reduce our atmospheric pollution by a massive 75 million kilograms per month.”

The fact households use power does not necessarily create a problem. Many could make increased use of power and still reduce atmospheric pollution and save money. Simple acts such as exploiting the insulating power of air and especially argon, aligning windows to use solar power and using wind power for drying and ventilation are examples. These kinds of activities enable people to maintain and enhance their lifestyles while reducing electricity consumption. To break the cycle of excess dependency on main-grid electricity we need education programmes, revolving funds to enable the initial fitting or retrofitting and empowering regulations. Then such savings are accomplished with ease and without deprivation.

The Power Wizard has functions that “help you create the ‘switch-it-off’ habit and see appliances accidentally left on, or malfunctioning” and that “shows the awful reality of your end-of-month bill. By developing the ‘switch-it-off’ habit, you can reduce this prediction by a huge amount.”

These functions can be unhelpful in our current situation where household debt is rapidly rising, rapidly increasing numbers of people are dependent on the short-term vision of landlords and the traditional revolving fund mechanisms have been demolished. In this context the “switch-it-off” calls tend to stimulate feelings of deprivation and helplessness.

Other functions “keep the reality of the power bill right there on the wall.” and  “confirm the information printed on your power bills.” I have witnessed generations of households use electricity very effectively by keeping the reality of their electricity usage upfront. They pin their electricity/gas bills on the wall and could predict within a few units or cents the bill I am delivering.

Other claims of the Power Wizard are that it is a safety and monitoring device and “You will very quickly become reliant upon the Instant Watts function, because it will tell you when appliances such as irons. Ovens, elements, heaters, lights, or electric blankets, have been left on.”  I am not sure the device is that smart. There are a number of appliances that legitimately use electricity on a random and continuing basis. Examples of the former are hot water cylinders, fridges and freezers and phone chargers are an example of the latter. These would all have to be turned off to ensure other appliances are not left on accidentally.

Similarly the site points out that “Faulty appliances can cost you a fortune.”  It claims “The Instant Watts (IW) shows you when appliances are over-consuming, or switching on when they really shouldn’t be switching on …causing waste”.
It also claims that it can “detect leaking hot-water cylinders –Stop wasting huge amounts of power. Just the smallest leak from the pressure-relief pipe can cost a fortune.”

I have seen electricity bills double because of faulty hot water systems. However while a large and inexplicable increase in an electricity or gas bill can indicate a fault, it takes a wide and systematic search to locate the fault often. Many of the tools cost nothing – finding and watching the hot water overflow pipe (tape a hose onto it and put the other end in a bottle if necessary). Turn all taps off and listen for running water. (Other hot water pipes might be leaking.)  Check tap temperatures for failing thermostats. Buy a thermometer to double check the central heating thermostat.

Unless you know your hot-water cylinders heating patterns intimately then this device will tell you little. A smart device would provide a graphic history of the consumption of the cylinder.

In summary I am saying that in the promotion the choice of language is counterproductive and excessive claims will generate unhelpful images of what “smart metering” is.

Role in Existing Structures.
Wizard Corporation is unfortunate in having to operate in the current political environment in New Zealand. Its product is a product of and is designed for a fatally confused, conflicted and fragmented market. This confusion is reflected in the often counter-productive choice of symbols employed in the promotion of the product.

The website notes “Knowledge is power” and this is true to the extent a sustainable economy cannot exist without knowledge. It is necessary but not sufficient. There will be some households with high electricity consumption and that have the capital to invest in optional energy uses. (Examples are profiled EECA’s Energywise.) They may well find information in the form that Power Wizard provides valuable and stimulating. A large number of households are not in this position and have neither the capital nor quality of dwelling nor access to an intelligent electricity grid to make significant use of the information.

As I have pointed out, this product is not necessary for effective budgeting. However it will be helpful in enabling some to identify and understand their electricity use patterns. Once this understanding is achieved I predict its value will be minimal.

This is where it is product of a flawed Electricity Market. In a Market replete with revolving funds dedicated to providing consumer-oriented advice, audits and facilities, then it would be a valuable interim tool. Consumers could rent it for the period required to give them a clear understanding of how they use electricity. There are still some areas of New Zealand that have managed to retain such funds. Working against this use is potential temporary installation costs. I do not know how its accuracy compares with the Centameter reviewed above. This device requires no wiring and can be moved with relative ease. It can be used to measure individual wiring circuits and appliances and is cheaper to purchase.

Role in Future Smart Electricity System and a Sustainable (Knowledge) Economy.
As mentioned, the Power Wizard is an important step in providing images of what the future will be. The display module illustrates the new face of monitoring (metering) electricity. The website pictures how electricity use and dwelling management more generally will be touch-button, information rich and intelligent. Then visualise the display module morphing into your computer screen and its keyboard or voice recognition component.

This is the shape of some of the technology the average electricity consumer will be using when local electricity grids become consumer oriented and sustainable, In that situation citizens will have regained their franchise and communities will be able to develop smart distributed generation using local resources.

It is difficult to gauge how soon this will be. The basic technology has been here a decade but the political will is absent at present. Hence any change could be as rapid as a change in political will. Up to $500 is a risky investment, particularly when some astute observation of behaviour can achieve the same knowledge of electricity use and costs.

All products reviewed are clearly only interim devices and each contributes an element to a future smart system.

The Liberty meter seems to be fundamentally an electronic cash flow device.

The Centameter and the Power Wizard provide information of consumption rates with the latter having potential to provide budgeting information. The Centameter is cheaper and more versatile while the Power Wizard may have an advantage as a budgeting tool.
The eSmart provides improved opportunities for consumers to interact and benefit from price signals of grid loads. It will get a lot smarter quickly when it can be linked to “smart” appliances
Both the Liberty and eSmart present issues of the rights of individuals to access electricity from their electricity local grid.
The eSmart appears to be the greatest advance if a community is fortunate enough to still own their own local grid.

As an interim investment while we await the political will, perhaps the initial best investment is to buy you own two-way Maria approved meter. The AGO website quotes them at $A65 each. So if you are paying $50 a year rental as I am for a 30-40 year old meter then it’s a quick return. If it is capable of sustainable thinking, the New Zealand Electricity Commission will endorse in the next week or so the use and right to own such meters for small scale household electricity generation.

A web search on “Power Wizard” threw up interesting sites. The main New Zealand links were to powerwizard inc This rather alarmingly headlined its pages as

Power Wizard – high performance shock technology.

It is not electric shock treatment in your kitchen as aversion therapy to promote increased energy efficient behaviour and improved budgeting performance. Rather it is an electric fence site.

Those in charge of managing computers on scale in hostels, universities etc may be interested in sites about the EZ Wizard. This software turns unused computer monitors off. There is an interesting review entitled:

 Savings-Wise, World’s Smartest Universities Are Also World’s “Sleepiest”
By Steve Ryan, EPA Program Manager  

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