DTE Insight v3 Review: A Big Step Back

Like many power companies, our local company rolled out smart meters a few years ago.  These smart meters are in constant communication with the power company.  Benefits for this include real-time monitoring capabilities and the elimination of meter reads.  Drawbacks are, according to some, increased exposure to RF radiation as the communication takes place.  Like it or not, they are here to stay. Our company, DTE Energy, made it really cool. They came up with a device called an Energy Bridge and an app called DTE Insight that allowed real time monitoring of your usage. They recently rolled out DTE Insight v3.  Here’s my review.

Energy Bridge and DTE Insight

The Energy Bridge and the DTE Insight app went hand in hand.  With the app, any electric customer could monitor their usage.  It provided breakdowns by day, week, and month.  You typically had access to your statistics after a day or two.  With the Energy Bridge device, it moved this up to real-time.  This device had a data connection that you plugged into your home router. It paired with your electric meter, and you could view your usage in real time.

It’s a really cool bit of technology.  On many occasions, I would pull up the app, and literally go around the house, turning things on or off, or plugging or unplugging devices to see how much energy it used.

It was wicked cool

And, because I signed up when it first came out, it was free!

Widespread Rollout

After a couple of years, they announced that they would be making this available to everybody.  Apparently once they ran out of the initial devices, that was it.

Existing customers received notice that a brand new device would be coming our way, replacing the first device.  The new devices were wi-fi capable, which was a definite plus.  So far as I can tell, that was about the only improvement.

Still, the device came, and after getting it configured, it was back to business as usual.

Trouble On The Horizon

One of the things their rollout e-mail promised was that we would soon have an updated app to use.  I was curious so I went on the Google Play Store to see what I could find.

It wasn’t good.

The reviews of the updated app were lukewarm at best.  One common complaint was that the newer version of the app took away a lot of features.

I guess I was skeptical of this, because why would any developer take away features?

Well, turns out that they were right.

The New DTE Insight v3 Sucks

The old version of the app (v2.3.7) will no longer be supported.  Customers who want to use their Energy Bridge have to upgrade or it won’t work.

I have automatic updates turned on for my apps, so one recent morning I saw that I’d received the newer version of the app.  How did I know? Well, the icon was missing from my front page but I found it in my Apps folder, and the icon was different than before.

I had a feeling that the fact that it didn’t put the icon back wasn’t a good sign.

Turns out, I was right.

First, the new app made me log in again.  I can’t stand when apps do this.  Unless it’s a financial app or app that can be used to compromise my identity, I want to set it and forget it.  But, no big deal, I soon supplied my username and password and I was in.  It kept the connection to my Energy Bridge device, which I guess was good.

But, then I started noticing how awful this app is.  I realized after about two minutes that none of the reviews were exaggerating.

Pretty much every feature I’d found helpful in the old app was gone.

Missing Features

  • Current Day Access to Real Time Data – In the old app, you could press and hold a circle and move it around and it would show you your usage for any point in the day.  Now, that was gone.  I could see my real time data, but trying to go back a few hours was a no-go.
  • Historical Data – The old app showed pretty much every bit of historical data you could think of.   I could compare any month to the last twelve months, or even go back over a year.  The new app has no historical data whatsoever.
  • Budget and Usage Goals – In the old app, you could set your goals based on historical data.  I always set that I wanted to keep my usage at the same level as the same month a year ago.  But, since they got rid of the historical data, the ability to goal set is gone as well.  How lame.
  • Challenges – The old app had some different challenges, and when you made them you were awarded points.  For example, if you checked your usage on three different days, you’d often get a couple hundred points.  If you kept your usage under a certain amount for the week, that was good for a few hundred points.  The challenges changed weekly.  They were cool.  You didn’t really get anything for them, but it was still something to shoot for.  These have all vanished.

Adding Insult to Injury: They Are Charging For This

All of the above is bad, but to top it off, they’re now charging for anyone that wants an Energy Bridge device.  They will start charging 99 cents per month.  Now, since I was a user of the old device, I get six months for free.  Which is good, because otherwise I’d be sending that thing back today.

I find it really amazing to think that they would strip away so many features, and then turn around and call it an upgrade.  My guess is that this is probably a brand new app, so technically they’re starting from scratch.  But you know what?  That’s no excuse for rolling out something so terrible.

Because of the fact that I’m getting this for six months, I guess I’ll hold onto it for now.  But simply put, DTE Insight v3 is awful.  Hopefully by December they are on a newer version that brings back the features I found handy.  If not, I have a feeling they’ll be getting a lot of these things sent back.  Mine would be one of them.

Readers, do you have any devices or systems that allow you real time monitoring of your utility usage? Would you pay for such a thing?  

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

When To Make The Switch To LED Christmas Lights?

We got our decorating done this past weekend. Usually, we go in full force the day after Thanksgiving, but we decided to start a bit earlier this year.  We have a mix of LED Christmas lights and regular lights.  Pretty much everything inside is regular and outside is LED.

Benefits of LED

According to the site Holiday LEDs, there are many benefits of switching to LED lights, which include:

  • Much less energy use – They say that LEDs use about 90% less energy than traditional light strings.
  • Longer life – They say that the bulbs last 50,000 hours, which is up to 20 times longer than a normal set of bulbs
  • Safer – LED bulbs throw off a lot less heat than normal bulbs, which reduces the risk of fire caused by overheating
  • Easier to use – Many LED light sets do not suffer from the frustrating problem of a loose, missing, or broken bulb causing the entire line to fail.
  • Brighter – The LED lights typically emit a more bright, crisp light, so you don’t use as many lights on the tree.

Drawbacks

  • Price – The price has come down for LED bulbs.  Still, they remain higher than regular bulbs

    Image from morguefile courtesy of earl53
  • Performance – We replace at least 1-2 lines of outdoor LED lights per year. The bulbs might last, but the lines don’t.  I expect being outdoor lights, they won’t last as long.
  • Availability – Last year I saw quite a few stores carrying them, but most had a limited selection or were sold out quite early.
  • Color – We use regular lights inside because they’re much warmer lights.  The LED bulbs have made some strides. Still, they’re much more harsh lights.

We definitely see a bump in our electricity bill during the holiday months.  I think this would be higher if it weren’t for our mix of bulbs.

So far, our mix of bulbs seems to work for us.  I would love to switch more of our internal bulbs to LED lights, especially since we have one pre-lit tree that now needs lights strung over about 80% of it, since other lines have burned out. I think it will take a while. Maybe in a few more years we’ll get there.

Readers, have you made the switch to LED yet?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Our Smart Meter Is Not Yet Very Smart

A couple of years ago, DTE Energy, who provides our electricity and is the main carrier for the metro Detroit reason, began replacing regular electric meters with new smart meters.  Our community was one of those that was to receive the new meters.

mb-201309meterThe first difference is that the new meters are digital.  This made them easy to read, which was nice as compared to the old ones that had multiple dials.

The biggest benefit to the electric company is that the new meters could be ‘read’ via an electronic signal.  No longer would they need meter readers, nor would customers have to deal with estimated readings if the meter couldn’t be read, as the meters would transmit usage remotely.  They are also supposedly able to notify the company of outages, as they can identify meters which are no longer responding.    This additional broadcasting has been a major cause for concern as many people think that the signals are dangerous.  I guess I’m not as concerned as many here since cell phones, wireless router signals, and everything else seem to already be inundating the ‘spectrum’, so to speak, so is the electric meter really cause for that much worry?

One of the biggest selling points that we were provided in the announcement was the abilities we would have as customers to track our usage.  We were told that we could track our usage in real time through the internet, via accessing our account, or that we would even be able to use compatible devices within our home (typically a thermostat) which would have the ability to interact with the meter and provide usage details.  You could look at your device and note the power usage at any moment, and see what the effect is each time an appliance or light is turned on or off, or every time the A/C kicked in.  I immediately equated it with having a Kill-A-Watt meter virtually attached to any electrical device.

Which seemed pretty cool to me.

So, I was pretty excited when they came to install the new meter.  I’m pretty sure I even went on online later that day to see if the new availability through my account access was available.

It wasn’t.

I figured maybe it would take until the next billing cycle to show up, and checked after that to see if it was there.

It wasn’t.

A few more billing cycles and it still wasn’t.

After a few months, I e-mailed DTE and asked them if I was missing something or if I had to enable something, basically checking to see if and when these features would be available.

They answered me that they were not currently available, they expected them to be available in the future, but they didn’t have a date that they could provide me.

Great.  Thanks for the info.

It’s been over a year and a half now since we’ve had our meters.  I will say that they have improved the information available online….slightly.  They break down usage by category, for things like appliances or cooling and such.  Which, I’m not exactly sure how they would come up with that, though I’m thinking that it’s either a wild guess, or if it is based on some actual information, is probably based on some algorithms that if the power usage changes by x amount, it’s likely the air conditioner, by y amount, it’s the refrigerator, etc.

Either way, it’s pretty disappointing to see the lack of progress in terms of enabling the features that were promised to residents, who were not given a choice on whether to participate in this program.

So, tell me DTE, when will these smart meters start showing signs of intelligence, because so far they’re getting barely a passing grade, so far as I can tell?

Readers, has your company switched you or announced plans to smart meter technology?  Have any of you been able to utilize the advanced data that they can supposedly provide?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Commonly Overlooked Ways to Save on Utilities

Everyone knows that to save on utilities it is important to reduce the use of major appliances. However, the common adage of turning off the lights does not always lead to significant enough results to lower utility bills. Because the average household often uses more gas and electricity than they are aware of, it is important to examine how every aspect of a family’s routine can be adjusted to help add up to major savings on utilities.

In order to help anyone who would like to save on their utilities, the following ideas are among some of the most commonly overlooked ways that people can make changes to reduce their usage of electricity and gas.

Wash Laundry on Cold 

Many people mistakenly believe that the majority of energy used during laundry is for running the washing machine. However, most of the energy used during laundry is actually used for heating up the water. Therefore, simply moving the switch to a cold wash can effectively reduce energy bills.

Monitor Appliances 

Many appliances use energy even when they are not being used. In fact, if an appliance is plugged in, then it is most likely drawing energy even when it is not turned on. Many households have appliances that they no longer use. If they are still in working order, consider them for your next garage sale or just move them to a storage unit for safe keeping.

Install Weather Stripping 

Most of a home’s cool air and heat escape out of the house through tiny cracks and crevices along the seams of windows and doors. Even the smallest of cracks can lead to significant energy loss. Therefore, it is important to make sure that all of these cracks are sealed.

Pay Attention to Windows 

Simply changing the window decorations each season can help to cut out heating and cooling costs. During the summer, the windows should be shaded with heavy curtains or blinds to block out the sun. When winter comes, these can be removed so that the sun can shine through and help to heat up the house.

Take Cool Showers 

Showers are well-known for being a way to save water as they require less than a bath. However, showers can also be used to cut down on gas and electricity by reducing the amount that is needed to heat the water. Therefore, a cool and quick shower can provide an invigorating way to save.

Around the home, minor changes can be made to reduce the use of gas and electricity. While many of these ideas are often overlooked, they take little effort and can add up to major rewards when the utility bill arrives in the mail. Saving on utilities is as simple as incorporating these ideas into a person’s daily routines.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.