I penned a blog post a few weeks ago now about energy monitoring (Energy Monitoring – Time to bite the electron) where I described my plans to install energy monitoring equipment for both my parents and myself. The approach I had tasked myself to follow was very different for both households. For myself I was going to take the more expensive, bespoke openhardware, opensource approach whereas for my parents I would use commercial off the shelf kit. So the following blogs explain how I got on and reviews whether my preconceptions where actually correct.
As predicted in my blog I went and got the LightwaveRF system for my parents. This basically consists of a base station (WiFi Link £69) and then any number of ancillary devices. In the first instances this was a energy monitoring device (£26). If you follow the links you can see more information on these two devices. The total cost, plus additional batteries for the energy monitor, come to just short £100. Fortunately I had a Maplin’s voucher and was able to save another £7 off the retail price.
The setup was extremely easy. The WiFi Link plugs into your home broadband WiFi router and the mains. You add batteries to the energy monitor connect the CT cable clip around the mains live cable and that cable plugs into the egg shaped monitor itself (after you WiFi connect it to the WiFi Link by pressing two buttons - one on the monitor and another on the link). Then after a moment or two you start receiving live consumption numbers in kWh on the WiFi Link LCD display. You then download the app from the play store (apple, web and desktop apps also available) register you device with your phone using the app and the WiFi Link and you then can monitor the power usage on your phone.
The fact it took longer to fit batteries and download apps then to do any of the actual setup made me think I had made the correct decision in product choice for my parents. All looked great for about five days then it all went a bit wrong. I suddenly lost remote connection to the monitor from the app. This meant I could no longer read the household energy usage unless on the local WiFi network. Reading the instructions which I had not really needed to do up until this point (good job really as they are terrible) I discovered I made a mistake during setup. For each family member I had registered them their own account to the WiFi Link/website when setting up the app. This turns out was wrong and you are suppose to use one account and share that email and password with each app/phone. Otherwise there is no way to synchronise the “house hold” settings.
Armed with knowledge I went through and tested each account credentials with my phone but found that made no difference whatsoever. Examining my parents router logs it was clear that the server the WiFi Link was talking to in the outside world was sending some sort of mangled packet back to the link and that was then being blocked by the router’s firewall. Why it worked for five days then broke down I do not know? I still need to contact the manufacturers for advice on fixing it.
Of course part of the reason to get the off the shelf kit was to enable easy automation so I bought a set of remote controlled plugs again from the Maplin’s store. And yes it is getting expensive. These I linked to the app on my phone and the provided remote control. This took only a few moments of effort (and reading the instructions to confirm the LED colour changes and button pressing durations) and within 30 minutes (most of which was spent hunting for appropriate devices to plug-in to the plug) I had programmed rooms, locations and timing patterns.
I also purchased door sensors so that I could program the system to trigger lights to come on when the door opened. In fact I also wanted the sensor to tell the WiFi Link and perhaps get an email. Unfortunately however that appears not to work or not a current feature so the result I could only program one plug to activate with each sensor. So the smart house which detects the front door opening and turns on lights and heating in different rooms looks to be a long way off for this system. Or I need to search the pdf manuals/website community for more information.
Expensive is the first thing that comes to mind. I went for LightwaveRF as it looked to be a reasonable compromise between price and functionality with a range of products. I stand by that choice. It is simple to setup but the software (app and web) is very clunky and perhaps not as functional as I had expected. But everything other than remote information about the energy monitor and state of sockets appears to work.
I’ve recently read in the web app that long term energy monitoring is coming (rather than today/yesterday usage) but I suspect you will have to pay for it and the lack of remote access to that information may be related. I have also read that the communication protocols for the WiFi Link are quite simple and you can readily communicate to devices using it and a PC (or a Raspberry Pi) so there may be a possibility of buying a Pi as a low powered PC rather than using the house PC to do longer term logging if that is required? In that respect the LightwaveRF was probably a mistake as a purchase and the alternative product of Geo could have been a smarter move. With that said the Geo was not available in Maplin’s nor did it have any automation functionality other than smart plugs so the LightwaveRF won.
To be continued…..