CurrentCost – the CC128

CC128 - the new display unitThe nice people at CurrentCost were kind enough to let me have a pre-production version of their next home electricity monitor to play with: the CC128.

I’ve been meaning to post some thoughts about it for a few weeks now, but the run up to Christmas meant it got forgotten.

But I finally had a bit of time to give it a try today.

If you already know about CurrentCost meters, nothing here will surprise you – this is more of a refinement to the current design, rather than something new and different. (If you don’t, I’ve written about CurrentCost meters before – this new one is just the same, except with a new display unit).

There are some improvements here that I like.

Longer history – The most obvious improvement is that this meter maintains a longer record of historical power usage than the current model. To summarise:

‘first gen’ ‘second gen’ CC128
2-hourly history none 1 day 31 days
daily history none 31 days 90 days
monthly history none 1 year 7 years

This is cool – my CurrentCost app uses the meter’s history as a data source, which means that I need to connect my app to the meter at least once a day to not lose any hourly usage records. With the CC128, I can connect once a month and still get the app to draw unbroken graphs of my hourly electricity usage.

Gaps in the hourly graph has been identified as a problem by several users of my app, and my own graph has lots of gaps in them.

Multiple inputs – The new meter has support for collecting data from not only the ‘whole house sensor’ as before, but also support for up to nine individual appliance sensors. There aren’t any individual appliance sensors available yet, but this is an exciting sign of things to come. Presumably at some point there will be plug adaptors which include a transmitter, making this new CurrentCost display an aggregator for multiple sources of input. That will be very cool.

CC128 - the LCDWith my current meter, the XML it produces gives separate values for each channel input for the current reading only. History is returned as an aggregation of all three channels.

Impressively, the CC128 maintains and produces separate history data for each individual sensor as well as the whole house sensor.

Electric logo – The meter also explicitly identifies the sensor type, with ‘1’ for ‘electricity’ – both on the display and in the XML data it produces. Again, this is an exciting teaser for what might be to come.

CC128 - the new flat pack boxPackaging – It’s a minor point, but the new flat pack box is a definite improvement over the bulky box that the current meters come in.

Reliable clock – Finally! The clock on my existing meter loses time constantly, so I regularly have to update the clock. I’ve heard that it should get better over time, but I’ve had the meter since May, and it’s still fairly unreliable. So far, first impressions are that the clock in the CC128 is going to be better.

Improved display unit – It’s a bit more attractive, and the hinged base is a nice touch – you can angle the display to face how you like, unlike the fixed base of the old meter.

Works with my old transmitter – As I said before, the only difference between this and my existing meter is that the display unit is new. This means I have been able to use the new display with my old transmitter – which is good.

the back of the meterDeveloper documentation – I spent a fair bit of time trying to reverse-engineer the fairly ambiguous history XML produced by the current meter.

It’s great to see that CurrentCost have started to produce a detailed description of the XML output by the CC128.

As a developer, this is one of my favourite improvements!

XML includes version number – The XML produced by the new display unit is different to that produced by my old meter. At some point, I need to get around to writing a new parser for the CC128. It’s good to see that the new XML does include a version number, although it’s disappointing that it’s not consistent with the old format.

It was: <src><name>CC02</name><sver>1.06</sver></src>

While the CC128 produces: <src>CC128-v0.09</src>

Speaking of things I’m less fond of, there are a few other disappointments:

CC128Two-hourly history – The meter still maintains historical electricity usage in two hour blocks. Why not hourly? I’d much rather see an hourly graph, even if this meant there was only space for 15 days worth of records. Two hours seems like an odd interval to use.

RS232 socket – I’m still not sure about whether it’s a good idea to use a RS232 physical socket to provide a serial connection. This has confused more than one user, and has been the topic of dozens of emails I’ve received from CurrentCost users. It’s fine once you know what you need, but it’s not exactly intuitive.

Confusing XML format – As I said above, having a documented XML format is a huge boon. But even so, the XML format is a bit clunky.

For example, the history data is still returned with relative tag names (e.g. <d07> for 7 days ago), which means any user of this data needs to do more than just parse the XML – it needs to be transformed into absolute data. Why? It’d be much easier if history data was just tagged with a proper timestamp.

Setup usability – The new meter has three physical buttons on it, so to perform tasks such as setting the clock, setting a cost of a unit, or choosing between ? and ?, means having to remember an obscure combination of buttons to press or hold. It’s a bit like those old LCD watches I used to have, except these buttons have even less labels.

I know that keeping the number of physical buttons to a minimum keeps production costs down, which is vital for this to be a realistic option for people. So, it’s perhaps understandable. But even so, it means that the setup usability is pretty horrible.

Finally, I should stress that as a pre-production beta version of the new meter, some or all of this may change before the meters are actually released… so you should take all of what I’ve said with a pinch of salt. But even so, from this first look, I’ve liked what I see so far.

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71 Responses to “CurrentCost – the CC128”

  1. Neil Cowburn says:

    Documenting the XML format is definitely a step in the right direction. I would love to see them fully embrace the very active developer community and publish the schematics for the display unit, so those that want to (er, me!) could build their own headless data recorder.

  2. Andy Piper says:

    Hey, you have a base for yours… I just have the display. I know it works, but since I don’t have time to fiddle with the XML right now I’m still using the older unit on a day-to-day basis. Either way I really should get this hooked up with my iPhone webapp.

  3. Jonathan Ives says:

    Thanks very much for the preview Dale. I guess the CC128 will replace the other unit ?

  4. dale says:

    @Neil – Yeah, I don’t know much about how the clamp transmits the data. Assuming it’s nothing too obscure, you could come up with something to capture the updates yourself. But what do you gain over letting the CurrentCost display do that for you, and getting the current reading from it’s XML?

    @Andy – Interesting… I wonder if I’ve got a slightly newer beta than you? Know what you mean about the XML though… I’ve been putting off writing a new parser as well.

    @Jonathan – I don’t know… guess that would make sense though.

  5. Neil Cowburn says:

    The LCD display becomes pretty much redundant when you start to roll your own software. Having a headless device that only receives the data and churns out the XML (or any useful format) would use even less power and take up less space.

  6. mike says:

    FYI…

    Current Cost say the new model will be released at end of January and will cost ?45 “same as the current model”.

  7. Malcolm says:

    Got my CurrentCost CC128 display today – pretty neat looking, and interesting to see the added memory capacity. Also happy with the clock – which seems to hold when power is disconnected.

  8. mike says:

    Malcolm – where did you get your CC128 from ?

  9. Hello,

    Any update on availability of the CC128’s ?

  10. dale says:

    I don’t know – sorry.

  11. mike says:

    The current cost web site seems to have lost all its pages (except home). Perhaps the website is being updated for the CC128 – this would fit in with what I was told on 7th January.

  12. dale says:

    @mike – AFAIK, the new CurrentCost website went live yesterday. It certainly looks new and shiny to me, and I didn’t see any dead links. Perhaps you just need to refresh your browser cache?

  13. mike says:

    Thanks – seems to work now.

  14. Jonathan says:

    Yes I watched as the web site morphed into it’s new shiny form. Apparently they expect the devices to be on their ebay site from Tuesday.

    Tantalising picture here :
    http://www.currentcost.com/product-cc128.html#

    the display has tiny icons for Gas, oil & water too. I assume they plan extra sensors to monitor other resources. Great !

  15. mike says:

    > Yes I watched as the web site morphed into it?s new shiny form.
    > Apparently they expect the devices to be on their ebay site from
    > Tuesday.

    Did they say which Tuesday 😉

  16. Jonathan says:

    >Did they say which Tuesday 😉

    Hmm, taking their time to emerge. Was hoping to get one for my birthday next week.

    BTW – Sort of related to this whole area is this project from Oxford University :

    http://www.i-measure.org.uk/

  17. Jonathan says:

    Just ordered mine (in latin 😉 )

  18. colin says:

    Dale,
    Ordered mine yesterday, apparently it has been shipped.

    I’ve 2 ‘second gen’ units and have played around with them for a few months.
    I mess around building wind turbines, so wanted to use them to log individual power output from each inverter, but after a while realised that each units clock was ‘free running’ (untrimmed watch crystal and divider!) and very inaccurate.

    So that put paid to that idea, I just logged the RS232 data as raw XML and filtered using Excell and found long term data didn’t tie up.

    It was only a few weeks ago I got Dale’s GUI to work, when I realised I had to enter ‘COM5’ not just ‘5’ to select the port – I’m a hardware not software engineer – doh!

    Then I read Dale’s post about the CC128 being more accurate – we’ll see.

    It’s a shame that helpme@currentcost.com isn’t more forthcoming – I’ve had one reply from them when I questioned power reading accuracy for different mains voltages (which varies up and down the country) but no reply yet about how to clear the persistent memory in the unit.

    It’s sad if they haven’t programmed the PIC Micro to respond to a key combination at switch on to clear the EEPROM device fitted.
    Otherwise I can’t pass on a unit to a friend as it will have all my power consumption figures still in there – and I don’t want them to see how power hungry I am! – hence the trubines.

    Still I assume they are a small company and support resources will be tight – been there, done that…..

    Dale, I hope you ‘get around’ to writing a new parser for the CC128, as your app seems to be the only one available that actually works.

    Well done!
    Regards,
    Colin

  19. mike says:

    Where did you order your CC128’s from ?

    I can’t see them anywhere.

  20. Mike Gibson says:

    Somebody respond please and let us know where to get a cc128??

  21. dale says:

    @colin – Thanks very much for your comment. A couple of quick things to mention:
    – The app does (sort of!) work with the CC128 now (see http://code.google.com/p/currentcostgui/wiki/CC128 for more)
    – You can clear the power consumption data stored on the device – press and hold two buttons when you plug the device in, and it should force a reset.
    – The clock accuracy – I’ve been running mine for months now, and it seems to hold it’s time fine. A vast improvement on the previous model!

  22. dale says:

    @mike – There were a limited number on sale on CurrentCost’s eBay shop this week. I don’t know if there are any left (I’m on my phone on a flakey GPRS signal, so it’s difficult for me to check). At any rate, I believe they are going on more general release soon.

  23. mike says:

    Unless I’m missing something on ebay I can see 4 of the original models and none of the CC128’s.

    I’m looking here
    http://stores.shop.ebay.co.uk/Current-Cost-Ltd__W0QQ_armrsZ1

  24. dale says:

    All – Apologies that there is some frustration around when/where to get hold of a CC128.

    I would strongly recommend against relying on my blog (or in fact, any individual blogger not affiliated with CurrentCost!) as a reliable source of information – you would be much better served by getting information directly from CurrentCost themselves.

    That said, I *believe* that CurrentCost’s limited initial release of the CC128 that I referred to previously is still available on eBay – although to limit sales to people who have been told about the initial early release, it is not marked with the product name. (At least, not in English, if Jonathan’s comment above is correct?)

  25. mike says:

    Thanks for the information.

    I fail to understand why a company would advertise a product; reply to some one telling them when its available and where but then hide the product so they can’t find it.

    Why don’t they just say they have limited numbers and its not widely available. Maybe they prefer to alienate potential customers ?
    Perhaps it gives them something to laugh about down the pub ?

  26. dale says:

    My (limited) understanding is that they are not yet ready to make the product generaly available – whether this is because of stock availability, staff availability for shipping, or something I’ve not thought of, I don’t know. For whatever reason, they chose to make a limited number available for enthusiasts, and to spread the word about this unofficially through the development/enthusiast community that has grown up around the devices. Whether or not this is a smart or effective strategy, I don’t know – I am but a lowly code-monkey! – however, I doubt that the intention was to annoy or frustrate potential customers.

    My worry is that part of the frustration is that people are relying on posting comments here as a way of getting up-to-date info, and are not getting the info they want. I’m sorry if I provoked that with my post – it was not my intention.

    If you have questions or comments about availability, I would suggest getting in touch with them directly. In all my dealings with them, I’ve found them to be responsive and helpful.

  27. mike says:

    Allowing the product to spread around a few people is fine if they’re not ready for a full release. That is a good strategy.

    I’ve have got in touch with them twice and was told in mid-Jan it was available at end of Jan. I’ve contacted them again and was told it was soon.

    Personally I find giving out false information to customers is not a good strategy and doesn’t require much intelligence to know that.

    Here’s one of their email from them

    Hi,
    Thank you for contacting Current Cost.
    The CC128 is due for release by the end of January and will cost
    ?45.00 (the same as the classic).
    If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

    Kind Regards,
    Current Cost Ltd

    Why didn’t they jusy be honest and say its will only be available to a few people and general release will be much later.

  28. colin says:

    I don’t do Latin, so I assumed ‘Unbioctium’ at:
    http://shop.ebay.co.uk/merchant/currentcostltd_W0QQ_nkwZQQ_armrsZ1QQ_fromZQQ_mdoZ
    was the new one – certainly obscure.
    Sure enough it came today and it looks very smart.
    There were more left when I logged onto Ebay a few minutes ago…
    Colin

  29. colin says:

    Now I’ve read your reply,
    Thanks Dale, the 2 finger salute works on the ‘second gen’ model too.
    Now I can pass it on knowing my consumption figures are safe!

    Mike, lighten up – I think they have a good product and getting better.
    I’d guess they’ve made a consious decision to go down the marketting route they’ve chosen, so good luck to them.

    It takes a lot of money (and time) to satisfy all customers – most of the time you can’t win.

    I do think they should start/sponsor a forum though – then perhaps Dale can have a rest….

    Forgive my lack of etiquette/style in these replies, but I don’t ‘do’ blogging and stuff.
    Cheers,
    Colin

  30. mike says:

    > Mike, lighten up – I think they have a good product and getting better.
    > I?d guess they?ve made a consious decision to go down the marketting
    > route they?ve chosen, so good luck to them.

    Maybe you’re right – but if they told me the truth I’d be more favourable to them. Guess they’ve only lost one customer though so they won’t care.

  31. Jonathan says:

    Apologies if my comment was a bit cryptic. They are still listed on the currentcost ebay page, but with no picture and using a cryptic name. I received an email from them telling me about this, having previously registered an interest.

    Mine came very promptly and was up and working in a few minutes. A couple of comments :

    1) Some of the config menus are a bit hard to get into. Setting the tariff and setting the E7 times required some fiddling. The up/down arrow keys have some kind of hair trigger. You press them, wait for the led to flash and release. Sometimes this didn’t appear to do anything, but employing a faster release action seemed to work

    2) While it does seem to allow me to enter 2 tariffs (I have E7 but not a separate E7 supply) and the start and end time, there is no indication on the display when you are on low or high tariff, other than the change in cost calculation. On the CC website FAQ it mentions a blue LED but I don’t see this. Is that a feature of the “Classic ?”

    3) Having previously had an Electrisave/Owl device, now passed on to my mother-in-law, I’d say the CC128 seems to record higher consumption. I cannot say scientifically which unit is correct, but my background level is shown as approx. 600 watts as opposed 300 with Electrisave/Owl. Of course the other unit could have been measuring low. the Electrisave allows you to change your voltage from 220-250v. Mine was set to 240 as this was closest to the 235 which I measure at the socket.

    4) I think the USB data cable sold for the “Classic” also works in the CC128 ? is that right ?

  32. dale says:

    @Jonathan

    1) …Setting the tariff and setting the E7 times required some fiddling. …

    Yeah, it can be a bit fiddly at times. But I figure that I only have to do it once, so I didn’t mind too much.

    2) …On the CC website FAQ it mentions a blue LED but I don?t see this. Is that a feature of the ?Classic ??

    Yup.

    3) …I?d say the CC128 seems to record higher consumption. I cannot say scientifically which unit is correct…

    Interesting… I don’t know how accurate it is in absolute terms. But I don’t think it matters to me, provided that it is more-or-less accurate in relative terms. As long as it shows me what behaviours increase my usage and what actions decrease my usage, then it does what I need. I guess any induction-based approach is never going to be 100% reliable.

    4) I think the USB data cable sold for the ?Classic? also works in the CC128 ? is that right ?

    Yup – I’m still using the same old cable, and it works fine.

  33. Jonathan says:

    OK – think I may have been premature about the readings being high. Yesterday I shut down just about everything and got the reading down to about 200 watts. Which was about as low as I ever got with other devices.

    It’s going well, I like the graphs of the previous day and I’ve ordered my USB cable so should be able to join the ranks of cc charting

    BTW – Dale I think you may have to revise your review of the clock

  34. colin says:

    Dale,
    I switched on my CC128 for the first time last night and tried your latest software.

    It worked a treat, I especially like the real time plot.
    The unit hasn’t been on long enough to get any historical data, so I can’t see that yet.

    I logged several hours data last night, so I’ll examine it later.
    I’m not sure if the published spec on the XML format hasn’t changed already – my software version is 0.11 and there was channel ID info in the data strings.

    Jonanthan, yes the clock is still bad.

    At home where the room temp was a frugal 18deg it seemed OK, but I took it into the office/lab which is 23deg and in 1 hour it had lost over 2 minutes, but the temperature accuracy has improved!
    Ho hum.

    As for accuracy, thats why I took it into the lab where I can access a professional power meter. There are a number of issues.

    1. It can only display VA, not Watts as it cannot measure the power factor of the load. With a kettle, this is OK as the load is mainly resistive, but a Flo’ light, Freezer or Washing Machine which have an (inductive) motor will change the phase relationship of the voltage to current (power factor)and so affect the Watts.

    2. It has to assume a fixed voltage, CurrentCost replied to my question about this and said they ‘assumed’ 240V. If yours is lower/higher it will affect the reading. My voltage is 248 volts, so my CC128 would read about 3% low.
    As the input assumes an in-phase V/I at 240V inaccuracies are inevitable.

    3. The current clamp – not necessarily inaccurate, but the measurement resolution will be limited causing errors at low power – but a clamp is a necessity for an easy installation.

    First I tried an LCD TV, the CC128 gave a reading of 91W, the Power Meter 130VA – 30% low?
    Then I tried an electric kettle, CC128 gave a reading of 2010W, the Power Meter 2140VA – 6% low?
    The actual voltage was 244V for the TV and 236.8V for the kettle (bad regulation on the isolating transformer) so this needs to be factored in against the assumed 240V.

    I don’t think that was too bad for a ?40 bit of kit?

    As a tool to change our power crazed habits it has to be invaluable.

    With the XML data format is prone to change (and has already?), I hope and pray that CurrentCost have implemented the MicroChip PIC bootloader so that (if and when) their PC software arrives, the devices can be firmware upgraded to fix bugs – like erratic keyscan functions?

    If not then early adopters (oops, Mike can say he told us so) will have bought lemons..

    After all, even my RF wave rechargable Nasal Hair trimmer has a WiFi link to allow it to beam up to planet Zanussi, download the latest version of Windblows and keep at the ‘cutting edge’

    Got ‘real’ work to do now, so bye.
    Just say if you want me to shut up………………
    Colin

  35. Neill says:

    Hello
    Can you direct me to where I can down load free software for monitoring the data from my new CC128 … I’ve tried to download and install the software at http://www.currentcost.co.uk:80/ but none of them want to install. … or is there a secret way of intalling them?

    I’m running windows XP

    Many thanks

  36. dale says:

    @Neil
    CurrentCost maintain a list of software that they are aware of at http://www.currentcost.com/software-downloads.html

    For any application, if you are having issues with it, then the best thing to do is to contact whomever is responsible for that particular application and ask for support – ideally giving as much information as possible about what the problem is. (For instance, what do you mean by they don’t want to install? What steps did you take? What happened? What specific error messages are you seeing? etc.)

    My own application is at http://code.google.com/p/currentcostgui/ (and there is documentation on that site to get people started). If you are having problems with my app, then I take support requests through GetSatisfaction or through the Google Code site.

    Please note that I’m about to go on a short holiday (you’ve just caught me as I finished packing!) so you probably wont get any reply out of me until Monday – sorry about that.

    Kind regards, D

  37. Jonathan says:

    Any guidance on getting the prolific USB-serial driver working ? Tried a Dell & Lenovo laptops but both give a yellow warning in device manager when the cable is connected under XP SP3

  38. dale says:

    @Jonathan – I configured my prolific drivers as shown in the screenshots here

    I did that for the old style CurrentCost meter, but I’ve not changed the settings since and they seemed to work fine with the CC128 as well.

  39. Jonathan says:

    Thanks Dale, in the end I got it to work using the drivers from 30/6/2008 (second ones down at the prolific site). I could not get the driver from 12/2/2009 to work on either a Lenovo T61 or Dell 610 running XP Sp3. In each case windows device manager showed a yellow warning by the device, even after reboot.

  40. Andy says:

    I too am having problems getting the CC128 connected to the PC – I originally got the yellow warning triangle, but managed to locate a sys file required. But the PC software does not read anything over the com port – it shows the bar waiting for the data and then stops (bar vanishes).

    I too am using XP SP3.

  41. dale says:

    @Andy – Does the live graphing work?

    Have you tried using ‘Stay connected’ (i.e. no progress bars) as this is better suited for use with CC128? (see http://code.google.com/p/currentcostgui/wiki/CC128 )

  42. Patrick says:

    Hi all – got my CC128 mid Feb – but only just found time to get data import going. Had same problem with the yellow triangle, and stumped for a while until I read a post on Dale’s Google site (I think) about using the older driver.
    Worked fine since then. I have been using an old Thinkpad T40 – same issues as the Dell and Lenovo by the sound of it.
    24 hours on, still only have Average Day data (and not sure I trust it just yet), Live data…but no other tabs with data. May be me still at this stage!

    cheers

  43. dale says:

    @Patrick – Having an ‘Average Day’ tab without a ‘daily’ tab shouldn’t be possible… very strange

    How are you downloading history data? Using ‘download once’ or ‘stay connected’? The latter is better suited for use with the CC128 – please see http://code.google.com/p/currentcostgui/wiki/CC128 for more info

  44. Jonathan says:

    Yep – ‘stay connected’ is a big improvement for the cc128 user. I just left it running for a couple of hours and when I came back all the gaps were completed and everything was up to date

  45. dale says:

    @Jonathan – Thanks very much – glad it helped 🙂

  46. marcel says:

    Hi there, I’m really keen on getting one of these CC128, but I live on the fourth floor of a block of flats with the electricity meter in the basement (i.e. 5 floors apart). Overall, the distance is probably not more than 20m, but there’s a lot of brick and concrete inbetween. Will the transmitter will be strong enough for that?

    Many thanks

  47. dale says:

    @marcel – I don’t know, sorry. Might be worth asking CurrentCost, but I’ve not tried anything like that so I can’t comment myself.

  48. marcel says:

    Thanks Dale, I have asked that question to CurrentCost in several ways (website, tech support, ebay, etc.) but have had no response whatsoever. Anyway, will keep trying.

  49. Phillip says:

    Hi Dale, First of all, love your software! We would like to be able to OEM this and have our logo on it! its that good.

    Next to Marcel, we have one of the classic devices and our meter is 30 meters away, we then have quite a few walls in between the transmitter and the receiver – works fine even over that distance.

    Regards from Australia

  50. dale says:

    @Phillip – Thanks very much for the kind comments.

    You are able to get the source code for the app from http://code.google.com/p/currentcostgui/ which you could modify (for branding etc.) and re-distribute, provided that you conform to the terms of the license that it was released with.

    Kind regards, D