Review: Blue Line Innovations PowerCost Monitor -- Wi-Fi Edition - Page 2

By Michael Hall

September 27, 2010

Hohm charts the information it receives from the PowerCost Monitor, and just like the display unit, Hohm gets its updates about twice a minute so the information presented is always up-to-date. In addition to current figures, you can view data for the previous 6 hours, day, month, or year, so once Hohm's been collecting data for a while, interesting and informative patterns will emerge. You'll clearly be able to see when you consumption tends to peak, and by contrast, what your overnight baseline is; i.e. the period when consumption generally drops to its lowest point. You'll also see how much your consumption changes by day, time of day, season, etc. When you hover the mouse over any point on the graph, you'll see exact time and consumption figure for that particular moment.

Like the display unit, Hohm can display consumption data by kW or cost. The latter figure, however, doesn't currently reflect your actual cost based on the pricing information you enter into the PowerCost Monitor--rather, it's an estimate derived from the average power rates for your ZIP code. That's due to be fixed in an upcoming Hohm update (the site's officially in beta, and so is still a work in progress).

Wi-Fi Woes

As it turns out, we had some difficulties setting up the Wi-Fi gateway, which seemed to stem from the fact that it actually uses the antiquated 802.11b wireless standard. Getting such devices to work with 802.11g/n access points often requires that an access point's configuration be tweaked to accommodate the older standard (such as running in mixed mode for backward compatibility), and at the very least, adding an 802.11b device to your G or N network will constrain the performance of the newer devices running on it.

Moreover, due to different ways router manufacturers implement 802.11b compatibility, there's also the potential that the Wi-Fi module may not work properly, or at all, with some hardware. Case in point is the bizarre problem we encountered when connecting the Wi-Fi gateway to a Netgear WNDR3700 router. While it was able to connect to our wireless network and beyond to Hohm, we could not determine what IP address it had been assigned by the router, and even after setting it up with a static IP address, that address could not be pinged or reached by a browser. This prevented us from directly accessing the Wi-Fi Module's status page, which provides information including the quality of the signal from the sensor as well as the sensor's battery life. No amount of tweaking of the Netgear's settings could eliminate the problem, though it's worth mentioning we did not experience it with another router (non-Netgear) we tried.

Such headaches should be eliminated by a G-based Wi-Fi module Blue Line says is in the works and should be released in the not-too-distant future. To avoid potential performance compromises or setup hassles, we'd recommend holding off on the PowerCost Monitor Wi-Fi Edition until the new Wi-Fi gateway is released. (The model number of the current hardware is BLI-31000.) Another option is to buy the PowerCost Monitor sans Wi-Fi, and since the Wi-Fi gateway is available separately, buy that piece later. Going this route will likely cost $10-$20 more in the end, though.

Wi-Fi Gateway compatibility issues notwithstanding, the PowerCost Monitor Wi-Fi Edition represents a relatively easy and inexpensive way to get some real insight on how much electricity you're using so you can start using less.

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