Category Archives: energy saving

Practical Meter for USB Charging

Practical MeterWith the plethora of USB charging power sources and charging rates, it was probably inevitable that someone would develop a meter to measure the power going to a device. The bragging rights go to Utah-based Power Practical and the Practical Meter, a USB in-line power meter. Looking much like a USB dongle, 5 LEDs show the power transfer from 1 W up to 10 W.

Originally a Kickstarter campaign that met its funding back in the July raising nearly $170,000, the Practical Meter has been today recognised as International CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree.  “Just last week we shipped out the 10,000 pre-order units we received during our Kickstarter campaign to have the Practical Meter come to market,” says Matt Ford, CEO of Power Practical. “It’s crazy that a week later we’re being honored by something as prestigious as the CES Innovations awards.

As a pure USB device, it will work with anything that charges via USB such as smartphones, mp3 players or battery packs. Practical Meter is available now for $24.99 online and includes a 3-in-1 fast charge cable with mini-USB, micro-USB and Apple connectors.

Practical Meter Charging

Verbatim Dual USB Power Pack Review

Verbatim LogoVerbatim will be known to many older geeks for their floppy disks but since the demise of this market, Verbatim have branched out into newer media, products including lighting and water filters, and accessories such as USB power packs. Verbatim have an extensive range of rechargeable packs from 1,200 mAh up to 10,000 mAh and on review here is their Dual USB Power Pack with a 5,200 mAh capacity.

First impressions are good. The Power Pack comes in attractive, easy-to-open packaging that doesn’t need to be attacked with a pair of scissors. Inside is the Power Pack, a short USB to micro-USB cable and instructions. The USB cable is only 10 cm long and can be used for both recharging the Power Pack and charging other devices. Some might quibble about the length of the cable but I think it’s handy and avoids all the disentangling. Besides, I have loads of long cables should I need one.

Power Pack Top View

The body of the unit is about 7 cm wide and 11 cm tall. Depth is 1.7 cm and tips the scales at around 175 g. The top and bottom faces are covered in a soft-touch rubber coating and the middle section seems to be metallic-looking plastic. On the bottom, there are four small nubs for feet and the top surface has four blue LEDs and a small button. Pressing the button for a couple of seconds illuminates the LEDs to show battery charge level.

Verbatim USB Ports

Round the edge are three USB ports, 2x standard and 1x micro-USB. The latter is used for recharging the Power Pack and the former for charging other devices. In common with similar products, one port is rated at 2.1 A (port A) and the other at 1 A (port B). However, unlike some of the Power Pack’s competitors, both USB ports can be used to charge while the device itself is being recharged.

The Power Pack is a 5,200 mAh unit which Verbatim suggests on the packaging will recharge a smartphone 2.5 times. My experience with recharging a Nexus 4 (2,100 mAh internal battery) is that this isn’t too far from the truth. Further, the blue LEDs are good guides to the battery level – consider each LED as 25%, so all four is 100%, three is 75% and so on. Below is the obligatory screen shot from Battery+ showing the charging rate for a Nexus 4, which is pretty much the same as charging from a mains charger.

Nexus 4 Charging

In summary, the Verbatim Dual USB Power Pack is a fine little unit. The soft touch rubber coating gives it a slight softer feel and the recharging-while-charging is a worthwhile feature. My only concern is that I think the Power Pack is a little pricey at an RRP of £41.99 and there are other models out there that offer more capacity for less money (but do watch out for those batteries which can’t charge and be recharged at the same time). As this is a brand new product, no “street price” has emerged but something around £25 would make the Dual USB Power Pack value for money.

Thanks to Verbatim who kindly supplied the Power Pack for review.

Making Solar Pay

I have always been fascinated by the idea of generating my own electric power. Back in late 1998 I installed a solar power system that has sixteen 75 watt solar panels, along with a 4,000 watt power inverter/charger and a bank of expensive deep-cycle batteries.  Mention solar power, and most people think that all of these elements are necessary, including the expensive bank of batteries.

It turns out there is a much better way to think of home solar energy – use solar energy equipment strictly to push power back into the electric company utility grid. Batteries should never be considered to be part of a solar installation unless utility power just isn’t available, say in a remote location. Battery technology is an albatross when it comes to being able to store enough power to meet real-world needs.

If electric grid power is available, there are only two elements necessary – the arrays of solar panels, and what are called grid-tie inverters. In this battery-free scenario, the math of pushing power back to the utility to offset electrical use becomes much more interesting.

Power companies in the United States are required by law to “buy back” consumer-generated power. A grid-tie inverter takes the DC power being generated by the solar panels, inverts it into AC power, and then sends it back directly into the grid via a standard AC power plug plugged in to a regular 110 volt outlet. It is possible to have more than one grid-tie inverters, which also come in different sizes.

The relatively high-end inverter that I have is capable of producing 4,000 watts sustained output. So, if I wanted to push 4,000 watts back into the electric company utility grid, I would need at least two more arrays of solar panels feeding DC current into the inverter.

In my case, the batteries died within about the first three to four years. I simply turned the equipment off and my youngest brother sold the battery carcasses to a battery recycler. The equipment sat dormant until yesterday. A friend that does solar as a hobby helped me check the inverter and get it up and running again. I contacted my electric company and they sent a man out this afternoon to look over and approve my system, an absolutely necessary step. So the net effect is that now whenever there is daylight, the inverter is pushing power back into the grid. Obviously the maximum amount of power is generated when the solar panels are in direct sunlight.

The electric company performed a test of the inverter to make sure that if there is a grid power failure that the inverter automatically cuts off its own output. This is quite critical to the power company, because they want to be absolutely certain that in case of a grid power failure, no user-generated AC current is being fed back into the downed power lines.

I was able to verify that my inverter was pushing power back into the grid by turning off all internal breakers in my house so that no power was being used. At that point I looked at the power meter out on the utility pole and it was actually running backwards! Of course, in normal operation with different things consuming electricity in the house it is unlikely it will run backwards much, but it will be slowed somewhat.

My local electric company is a rural electric cooperative and they actually encourage customers to set up these types of “selling” consumer-generating power systems. It helps them reduce peak demand, thus reducing the need for more electrical generating capacity on the utility’s side. Solar panels are generating electricity at peak capacity when peak demand is likely to occur when air conditioning demands are at their highest.

Can a system like this ever pay for itself? It depends on the initial cost of the equipment, installation expenses, and how long of a payback period you are able to live with. If you can do most of the installation work yourself, then obviously the math works better. Eliminating the batteries really helps the cost come down.

An HQRP 1,000 watt grid-tie inverter sells for $287.95 on Amazon.Com. Aleko brand 75-watt solar panels sell for  $149 dollars each. Sixteen of these solar panels multiplies out to $2,384 dollars. With brackets, wiring and installation let’s estimate a total package price of $4,000, which may or may not be wildly off one way or the other. The 1,000 watt electrical output of the inverter would have to offset $4,000 dollars worth of electricity over a period of years before it would pay for itself, which is likely a long period of years. If the price of the equipment and installation can be brought down, then the payback period shortens.

My electric company will only allow this type of setup to function as an offset. So, let’s say that someone was putting more power back into the grid than they were actually consuming. My power company will never issue a check for the power, so it’s really just an offset for how much I consume. With enough equipment feeding power back into the grid, it would be possible to bring electrical grid usage down to zero.

Many local and state governments offer tax rebates for new solar equipment installations, which could also help mitigate the cost.

The beauty of a battery-free grid-tie solar user-generated power system feeding into the electrical grid is that once it is initially set up, everything happens automatically. Since I already have the equipment and it is long since paid for, I might as well be utilizing it to offset a portion of my power usage.

EnerGenie Saving Money and Energy

Power EnerGenie makes products that helps you keep track of how much electricity you are using in your home and ways to control that usage. The basic product is a socket that plugs into the wall. You can then control any device that is plugged into it by your iPad or iPhone; turning the device on or off, setting a timer for either reoccurring or single phase. It can measures how much electricity is being used by individual devices. You can use it to do a cost relationship analysis. You can also compare how much is being used in the daytime and nighttime.

They also sell a Power Management System which you can set up either via USB or wirelessly. You can program it so each plug turns off and on different times. You can also group plugs together, so for example when you turn on your TV, your blu-ray player would come on. They are also going to be selling a portable charger which handles up to 40,000 mAh. The charger will be available at the end of Q2 for $250.00. The socket and power management systems are $50.00 and $150 respectively and are available now through Amazon and the Energenie website.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

Support my Show Sponsor:
30% off on New GoDaddy Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 for a New or Transfered .com cjcgnc99 @
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain. Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with free Domain. Promo Code: cjcgncwp1

SpareOne Emergency Mobile Phone at CES 2013

SpareOne Emergency PhoneModern smartphones are expensive, relatively fragile and battery-hungry. Consequently, they’re pretty much useless in any tough emergency situation. Todd talks to Christian Scheder of SpareOne about their solution to the problem.

The SpareOne emergency phone is a mobile phone that runs off a standard AA battery rather than a rechargeable one more usually found in a mobile phone. While this gives 10 hours of use from a single battery, the benefit in an emergency is that the battery can simply be swapped for another. Further, Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA batteries have a storage life of 15 years so this phone can be stored with batteries for up to 15 years, ready to go. The SpareOne is supplied in a waterproof bag that further protects the phone during storage and any wet emergencies.

The phone takes standard GSM SIMs for ordinary calls but the SpareOne can also call the emergency services even without a SIM card. If you are interested, the SpareOne is available now for $99 from the website.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

Support my Show Sponsor:
30% off on New GoDaddy Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 for a New or Transfered .com cjcgnc99 @
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain. Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with free Domain. Promo Code: cjcgncwp1

How Much will that New Electronic Toy Add to Your Electric Bill?

energy calculator Many people are going to be buying and getting new big screen TVs,  computers and other electronic gear  for Christmas and Hanukkah. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to calculate how much these devices will add to your electric bill.  Even if you are not getting any new devices, it is winter in the northern hemisphere which means you are probably spending more times indoors. Watching TV, playing video games and working on computers. This leads to the inevitable higher electric bill.

There are tricks you can use to lower your bill. However first you need to figure how much you are using. This is where the Consumer Electronic Energy Calculator created by the Consumer Electronic Association comes in. The calculator is now available at the GreenerGadget. The calculator is very easy to use. It is divided into various categories, computing, entertainment, home office, digital imaging and telecommunication. Under each category the appropriate devices are listed. You simply move the device you have or want into appropriate room on the diagram. It will ask you how many you have and how often you use it. It will also give energy tip for each item. Once you have added all your items it will calculate your energy usage. It will let you compare your usage to the average American household. It will also show you which category is using the most energy. With this information you can then start making changes on how you use your devices and save some money on your electric bill.  If you have a website and want to encourage your readers to be more green you can download a free widget from the GreenerGadget and add it to your website

Power Sockets with USB Charging

Last week I was at a trade show for electrical wholesalers and I came across these single and double power sockets with a USB charging point built-in.

Power Sockets with USB

As soon as I saw them, I thought, “Those would be handy…” and then I saw the price…£62.74 for the single and £76.60 for the double socket and they’re trade prices too (ex VAT). In US money that’s $99 and $120 respectively. As Todd would say, “Are these guys smoking crack!?” Who in their right mind would pay that kind of money for a built-in USB socket and a single USB socket at that? I can only hope that it’s a pricing error or a multi-pack.

With a bit of searching, I subsequently found another company that charges a far more reasonable £15 for a single socket and there are doubles going on ebay for £30 which is still pricey enough.

From the specs, it would appear that 1A is the rated current which will be fine for most phones and mp3 players, but tablets will take their time to charge.

For those who despise wall warts and power bricks, it’s a neat way to go, but make sure you aren’t paying over the odds.

Verbatim Demos LED Bulbs at The Gadget Show

Verbatim LED LightsVerbatim are best known for their data storage products and I can remember having piles of Verbatim floppy disks back in the day, as it were. Younger readers will know the company for blank DVDs, memory cards and USB memory sticks but Verbatim have recently launched an LED lighting business.

Offering direct plug-in replacements, the goal is to encourage consumers to replace existing incandescent lights with LED-based equivalents. The power savings can be considerable with 60 W bulbs being replaced by LEDs closer to 10 W in power.

Verbatim LED Lighting Demo

At The Gadget Show Live, Ian tells me more about Verbatim’s LED lighting products and why we should all switch over.

Green Plug Brings Control to AC-DC Conversion

Green Plug LogoAs energy prices rise and green credentials come under scrutiny, each step in the energy path is being examined for inefficiency. Andy and Courtney listen to Paul Panepinto from Green Plug on their technology.

Green Plug have developed a digital controller to optimise the conversion of electricity between AC and DC. For the non-engineers, AC (alternative current)  is what is in your wall socket and DC (direct current) is what most of your gadgets use. All those power bricks and wall warts are transformers combined with AC to DC converters to change 110 V AC to 12V / 5V DC.

Green Plug has pioneered the use of intercommunicating digital power and load processors to optimise the AC-to-DC power conversion and increase efficiency. It’s an area that has been typically overlooked in power management but Green Plug has reduced the implementation cost to make the inclusion of the technology cost-effective. Over the next few years, it’s likely that this technology will start to appear laptop and phone chargers, so keep an eye out for it.

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

Support my Show Sponsor:
30% off on New GoDaddy Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 for a New or Transfered .com cjcgnc99 @
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain. Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with free Domain. Promo Code: cjcgncwp1

Allure Energy Intelligent Thermostat with Proximity Control

Allure Energy graphicAllure Energy introduced their latest energy management product, EverSense, at CES 2012. Andy learns how to save money on your electricity bill from Kevin, Allure Energy.

Allure Energy’s EverSense, a thermostat replacement technology, is based around a tablet device that can make intelligent energy decisions on your behalf. The proximity control feature raises or lowers the temperature in your based on how far away you are from your home. By using a GPS app on your iPhone (or Android smartphone) that sends back your location, EverSense knows where you and if you are coming home, it adjusts the temperature to your preferences. Cool.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

Support my Show Sponsor:
30% off on New GoDaddy Orders cjcgnc30
$.99 for a New or Transfered .com cjcgnc99 @
$1.00 / mo Economy Hosting with a free domain. Promo Code: cjcgnc1hs
$1.00 / mo Managed WordPress Hosting with free Domain. Promo Code: cjcgncwp1