On Earth Day 2009, a Maine family will throw the switch and officially invite the world to begin eavesdropping on its home energy use through Twitter.

Peter Troast is the guy behind Energy Circle, a company dedicated to home energy efficiency. He's so convinced that technology can make meaningful improvements to people's power bills, he's putting his own household online. For the past six months, his family has been monitoring its energy use in real time — right down to the watt. Now they'll be piping that information to Twitter, where anyone with a web browser can look in for a live view of how the Troasts are doing.

Saving through monitoring

It's the same sort of technology Google will be launching later this year with its PowerMeter project. The general idea is pretty straightforward: If you know how much electricity you're using — when you're using it — you are much more likely to switch off non-essential stuff and save money. Google thinks real time monitoring can trim five percent to 15 percent on most household power bills without further home improvements. On a state or national scale, that's a lot of saved energy and cleaner air.

The Troasts are using something called TED (The Energy Detective). TED looks a bit like a glorified electronic thermostat, and it's placed so everyone in the family can see it. The device is tied in to monitors at the breaker box and power meter, which wirelessly transmits precise information about what is on and how much energy is being used. Perhaps more importantly, it converts this information to dollars and cents, based on local power rates. So you can immediately see what that load of laundry will cost on next month's power bill.

Your energy use: Live on Twitter

There's software to track savings and patterns of use from day to day or season to season. And — in the Troast's case — there's an output to Twitter. TED will be sending live updates of the Troast family's successes and failures to anyone who cares to follow a special Twitter account set up for that purpose. It will also feed long form information and commentary to a page on the Energy Circle website.


While TED users certainly aren't obliged to observe this level of energy saving exhibitionism, Troast thinks it will provide extra incentive for his family to stay on top of things. Think of the Troasts as a green version of the Brady Bunch, with Alice the Housekeeper running to the back fence to tattle every time a light gets left turned on. The two Troast kids get an extra incentive for acting as the home's energy officers; they get to pocket half the savings — a nice bonus for allowing their home to be put under a very public magnifying glass.

Considering your own power savings

There's a commercial angle to the Troast's Earth Day project, of course: Energy Circle is the family business. But Troast hopes people taking a look at the energy patterns of their admittedly average '80s-era house will get people thinking about their own use. Even if they don't decide to join the Ashton Kutchers and Oprahs of this world by sharing the details of their lives on Twitter.

Watch the Troast family's Earth Day power savings by following @EnergyCircleKW on Twitter.

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2009

Would you live life online to save energy?
A family tweets about its energy use -- down to the watt.