Sunday, February 14, 2010

TED5000-C Install

This post has nothing to do with software development, but I wanted a place to record my experience installing a TED5000-C from "The Energy Detective". My TED5000 just arrived the other day and I spent a couple hours on Saturday getting it all setup.

The first thing you'll notice is the box. The hand holding the wireless display doesn't look very comfortable.

When you open this up, you are greeted with smaller boxes for the three main modules and a set of installation instructions:

Unless you are pretty comfortable with the electrical system in your house, the included installation instructions won't be very helpful. The paperwork suggests you refer to the more detailed instructions on the included CD. That's probably a good idea.

Just don't stick that mini-CD in any slot-loading CD-ROM drives. You might not get it back.


The first module, the "MTU" is the device that you install directly into your power panel. It detects your power usage and transmits that data using Power Line Communication (sending network data using power lines) throughout your home.

According to the manual, the TED5000-C MTU is designed to support "two-phase" power systems. I guess this is supposed to imply that it is designed for typical North American homes. Unfortunately, the guys at The Energy Detective seem to have fallen into a common error. While many people refer to North American power as two-phase, they are wrong. No homes in North America use two-phase power. What we actually use is a three-wire, single-phase, mid-point neutral system. You can read more about home power systems at Wikipedia.

You'll need to open up your power panel to install the MTU. Here's what my panel looks like.

To install the MTU you'll need a good flat-head insulated screw-driver. I also recommend removing all jewellery (including rings), wearing good rubber-soled shoes, and if you have them, a pair of good rubber gloves. There is a lot of juice flowing in your panel and you don't want anything going wrong here.

If you aren't absolutely confident you can do this safely, DON'T. Call an electrician.

First, turn off the main breaker to cut power to your entire house. Now grab your screw driver and take the cover(s) off your panel.

First you'll want to hook up the power harness for the MTU. This is a wiring bundle with a red, black and white wire. Find a circuit breaker that isn't driving a lot of electronics equipment (hallway lights, bathrooms, etc) and screw down the black to black, and red to red, on that breaker. It is critical you get this right.

In a split-phase system, the black wires are one 120V line, and the red wires are a second 120V line, running in opposite phases. You need to connect the MTU to one wire of each phase, ensuring it has a 240V supply. Finally, connect the white wire to the neutral bus in your panel.

Here is what mine looks like.

Now you've got a power supply for the MTU. The next step is to install the sensors around your mains. These are the two main power leads coming into your box. In my home the come up from the bottom of the box. While in others they down from the top.

The MTU comes with a wiring harness that has two round clamps on the end. Each clamp can be opened with a simple squeeze. You'll need to arrange one clamp around each main in your box. You'll notice a small red dot on each clamp. It is critical that both clamps have their dots pointed the same way with regards to the flow of current; either both pointed "in" or both pointed "out". These clamps will hang loose around each main. They do not need to be tight, but you should make sure they are going to stay put.

Be very careful when attaching these clamps. Even though you have turned the primary breaker off, the main lines are still live and touching the ends of them may be a lot more excitement that you are ready for.

Here's what my clamps look like.

Now that you've got the wiring harnesses in place, you need to connect them to the MTU and then find a good spot to place it. I just left mine sitting in the bottom of my box.

Here it is, all hooked up.

Don't put the covers back on just yet. You'll want to ensure everything is working first. To do that, you will need to turn the main circuit-breaker back on.

If you've hooked everything up correctly, the MTU should quickly blink green a few times then settle into a slower pattern, blinking only when it is transmitting data. If you don't get the proper lights, it's time to check the trouble-shooting manual. Chances are good that you didn't get your power-supply connected right.

If you need to go in and make any changes, don't forget to turn off the main circuit-breaker first.

Now that you have the MTU installed, the next step is the Gateway.

The Gateway

Now that the MTU is measuring your power use and transmitting that data across your power lines, the next step is to receive those results and do something useful with them. That's what the Gateway is for.

The gateway is a singularly uninteresting device on the outside. You plug it into the wall somewhere and then run a cable from the top of the device to your Ethernet router. That's it. But in those few steps a remarkable number of things are happening.

First, the gateway is detecting the Power Line Communication (PLC) from the MTU in your power box. Every few seconds it reads the new data and stores it in a history log.

Second, the gateway is running a tiny web-server. It gets an IP address from your router and begins server up the data from your MTU in beautifully organized graphs and charts.

Third, the gateway is running a small ZigBee transmitter that sends detailed power usage data to the TED 5000-C wireless display (see below).

Fourth, the gateway communicates over the Internet to Google's Power Meter service and records your household power consumption online so you can view it anywhere.

All that in a unit that looks just like the power-adapter for your telephone.

At this point you could stop if you wanted to. You now have power being measured at your power box, and being received and displayed on your local network. To see the results, just point your web browser at the IP address assigned to the TED gateway (TED includes a small program that helps you find this address if you don't know it.)

There are even a number of iPhone applications that can display this information on your iPhone or iTouch device.

If you've ordered the TED 5000-C, you have one more box left to open.

The Display

The last piece is a small, battery powered display that receives the ZigBee transmissions from the Gateway. This unit shows all the data available on the TED web browser, but in a small wireless counter-top device.

A few years ago this device would have looked incredibly high-tech. But these days with all the iPhone and iTouch devices around, the TED display looks pretty boring. But boring or not, it does contain all the information you would want and it's very easy to read.

Pressing the big button on the front rotates through various displays showing your real-time usage, daily power cost, monthly cost, predicted monthly bill and a few other options.

The web interface on the TED gateway gives you a set of tools for configuring the options shows on the Display unit, and it's pretty easy to use.


Setting this whole thing up took me just under two hours. It was pretty straight-forward though the provided instructions could have been a bit better. The results are pretty impressive though.

Do I have any complaints? Certainly. My biggest complaint is the power line communications used by the MTU and Gateway. Because of the way it works, the communications between these two devices happens best when the Gateway is kept far away from electronics devices with switching power supplies. This basically means that you cannot connect the Gateway to a plug anywhere near your computer, monitors, fax machines, UPS devices, etc. You also cannot connect it to a power-bar or power filter.

The problem comes when you realize that you still need to plug the Gateway into your Internet router. I don't know about you, but I tend to keep my router pretty close to my computer. Finding a power plug that meets the Gateway's requirements, but is still within reach of your Internet router could be a huge challenge.

My only other gripe is with the portable Display unit. Mine doesn't work. Or rather, mine stopped working. When I first set everything up I had no problems. But at some point during the day, the device stopped receiving data from the Gateway. Now it just reports zero values for everything.

I've followed all the trouble-shooting instructions from The Energy Detective and have arrived at a step that suggests I call their technical support department. Hopefully that resolves the problem. For now, I'll just stick with an iPhone application and the web interface.

Will the TED 5000-C change our power consumption? That remains to be seen. My plan is to take the portable Display around the house and teach my children how much power the various lights and utilities in the house truly use. My hope is that information will make them smarter and help them remember to turn out lights and devices when they aren't using them. If that works, I'm sure we can shave at least 10% off our monthly bill. If we get that far, the TED will have paid for itself in the first year alone.

I'll let you know how it goes.


Rich McCue said...

Very cool... I was just helping my son Michael this morning with a science report... he is trying to determine if 4 Solar panels and a Windmill could produce enough power to run our home. We used data from our TED 5000, combined with data from the Gordon Head Middle School weather station ( to see if it would be feasible... so far it is not looking so good; at least for the first two weeks of February. I suspect that it would produce enough power for us in the summer. I'll post the report on my Blog & Facebook once he's finished it.

Do you guys have a heat pump in your home, or a Natural Gas furnace? Electric hot water or gas?

Cliff McCollum said...

We have electric heating in our home and a gas hot-water heater. Sadly, our thermostats aren't very smart, so they don't automatically turn-down at night. That might be the next step in our energy reduction plan.

Energy Monitor said...

Why did you decide to use the TED? I know it is probably the most well known but from my experience is also is the most outdated and has the most problems with its signal.

Cliff McCollum said...

TED was the unit I was familiar with, installation was trivial, and I haven't had any signal or other issues.

This Dad said...

Interesting Cliff. I'm not sure I'd be too comfortable installing it onto the bus and breaker box. I'm a bit nervous around electrical. Odd it would mention "2 phase" ..

How much do these items cost?

Cliff McCollum said...

This Dad, I paid about $300 for mine, but I. Think they are getting cheaper all the time. Just visit their web-site and see what they are charging.