Natural gas prices have dropped dramatically over the last five years as North American production increased, primarily because new technology makes previously marginal or inaccessible deposits highly productive. Because energy bills are stable, many homeowners see less urgency in taking steps to lower them. But with today's emphasis on climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, homeowners have an added responsibility to minimize energy use and eliminate waste that goes beyond heating costs.
Conserving energy starts with an accurate measurement of energy consumption. Energy use in a home heated with natural gas is primarily established by the monthly gas bill. Unexplained variations in the monthly cost are usually the first warning of a problem, however small increases are often unnoticed or assumed to be normal. A proper evaluation of energy use in a residence is not possible unless the consumption characteristics of each gas appliance are known. Otherwise energy-saving measures are largely hit-and-miss and sizable expenditures could be made in the wrong places, producing disappointing results.
Until now the only way to get this information has been to install a gas flow meter in the line servicing each appliance. This involves cutting the line, inserting the measuring device and cutting it again to remove it. This task can be performed only by a licensed technician and the cost and complexity makes this completely impractical in a normal residential setting.
Ideal Engineering of Vancouver has developed a system called GasTrac which makes possible a complete appliance-by-appliance evaluation of energy use in any gas-heated home without disturbing gas connections or creating other disruptions. The system monitors and records the natural gas use individually of the furnace, water heater, clothes dryer, gas fireplace, pool heater, hot tub and any other gas appliance over a specific time period. Resulting data is analyzed to create a highly detailed and thorough report showing relative consumption patterns. Energy use outside the normal range is spotted and the most promising measures to correct energy waste becomes immediately obvious.
GasTrac can identify malfunction in gas appliances that might not be otherwise obvious. Some dangerous conditions caused by faulty devices can also be discovered. Before-and-after monitoring can quantify the outcome of any remedial measures. Results can be compared to a baseline of similar residences and gas equipment.
The GasTrac system consists of a high-resolution microprocessor-controlled digital sensor for each appliance to be monitored and a base station. Each sensor transmits its findings to the base station every six seconds wirelessly over a radio frequency network in the part of the spectrum used by cordless phones. There is no connection to the internet and no possibility of privacy invasion or hacking. The system also monitors weather at the location for the period of the test including temperature, rain, wind speed and sunlight, which substantially affect heating load. The base station aggregates the data and also continuously records room temperature.
On completion of a test data is retrieved from the base station and analyzed using proprietary algorithms. A composite easily-understood graphic is generated of the operation of the appliances. Installation and removal of sensing equipment in an average residence takes about 30 minutes. A typical monitoring period is seven to 21 days.
Extensive trials using GasTrac have shown that very simple and cost-free or nominal-cost actions identified during a test can produce significant savings. Defective thermostats and improper setting of programmable thermostats are major causes of energy waste in home heating. So-called 'smart' thermostats are prone to mis-programming to produce very limited savings or occasionally increases in energy consumption.
Home owners often do not realize the amount of gas energy used by various appliances. Gas fireplaces and hot tubs consume far more gas than most people realize and using them judiciously can produce large savings. Advances in gas appliance technology make them steadily more efficient. In many cases the cost of replacing obsolete high-consumption units can be quickly recovered, but in others such replacement may not be worthwhile. GasTrac can positively and clearly determine the potential for savings.
GasTrac can be used by providers of home energy audits to dramatically improve their accuracy and benefits for their customers. The auditor installs the monitoring equipment for an appropriate period, and upon completion transmits the results to Ideal Engineering. Ideal performs the analysis, also incorporating baseline data from other audits. Within 24
hours a complete report is returned which summarizes the home's energy efficiency status, identifies anomalies in the operation of gas appliances and shows what steps can be taken to optimize natural gas use.
This system can also be used by natural gas utilities in their home energy audit programs. It generates detailed information of gas use by appliance, enabling much more meaningful recommendations to the homeowner. GasTrac can complement existing audit procedures such as air leakage tests and insulation inspection. Utilities can also obtain new insights into characteristics of gas consumption by residential customers.
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