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A New Era of Energy Management

A new crop of energy monitors are extremely marketable for CE pros.

Companies such as Vantage (pictured) are putting energy data at homeowners' fingertips via their touchpanels.
CE Pro Editors · October 18, 2010
A System that Suggests
Energy monitor makers are also pushing recommendations to consumers. Some are basic to start, such as suggesting a new refrigerator or dryer if the one being monitored uses a high amount of electricity. And over time, the recommendation engines will become better and more customized. “We’re looking to provide more information on how to improve efficiency,” says Michael Terrell, energy policy counsel for Google, which is offering its Google PowerMeter software free to utilities and to retail market vendors (The Energy Detective and Current Cost monitors work with it).

“We don’t present data. We present usable information, like ‘Your fridge is using more energy. Maybe it’s time to service?’” says Scott Ballantyne, vice president of marketing for Tendril, which is making energy management systems for utilities and eyeing retail and consumer electronics channels for 2011.

Powerhouse Dynamics’ eMonitor, now available through the custom channel, provides alerts if it senses a significant increase in power use by an appliance about to fail, for example. Again, it’s not just monitoring energy. The eMonitor is poised as a step-up or more upscale monitoring system, capable of measuring electric loads at the circuit level and coming with a subscription for recurring revenue. The eMonitor interface also sprinkles in a basic carbon footprint comparison (social psychology) and basic suggestions.

“We’re looking at it as beyond energy management,” says Martin Flusberg, the CEO of Powerhouse Dynamics. “A car tells you tire pressure and all other kinds of things going on with engine and the vehicle. But think of a house, and you don’t have that. We want to track appliances and send alerts when things happen, like when a well pump or sump pump dies.”

The bottom line these companies are seeking: Energy monitoring and energy management should be one function of a system - like a larger home control system. And energy management functions should be integrated into these systems seamlessly. Subtle, remember?

“Our goal is that they don’t come and look at our dashboard - that they’re comfortable that our system is monitoring their home, and they come to us when we send alerts or opportunities for appliance rebates, and a monthly report card,” says Flusberg.

Eventually, energy management systems will recede far into the background, fully automating home energy savings by turning devices off, raising and lower shades to save on heating, cooling and lighting costs - and only being visible when sending alerts. And all of it will be done to a homeowner’s preprogrammed preferences.

“It has to be ‘set it and forget it,’” says Cisco’s O’Connell.

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Is eMonitor the Answer?
Unlike many basic energy monitoring systems making their way to the market, Powerhouse Dynamics’ eMonitor can monitor electricity at the circuit level. Others simply provide a total of one’s electrical usage, and perhaps graphs to deduce what caused spikes in energy consumption.

The suggested retail for the eMonitor is $499 for 12 sensors, with a subscription of $189 for two years, and $699 for 24 sensors, with a $249 charge for a two-year subscription. As part of the subscription, Powerhouse Dynamics provides energy usage data down to the minute, carbon footprint comparisons with state averages, and it can send alerts to owners when certain appliances or products are using more electricity and may need to be serviced or replaced.

The company started shipping its eMonitors to dealers in March, but had to change manufacturers to keep up with demand. Flusberg says the company’s goal is to sell 400 units by the end of June and 2,000 by the year’s end. That’s a start, but the company will have to generate much bigger sales numbers in the long-term, as this is definitely a big-market play. Flusberg says the company is in talks with homebuilders and two cities that have received stimulus funding, which would boost sales. He says solar installers appear very interested in using the eMonitors as an add-on to solar PV (photovoltaic) systems.

Studies of energy monitors show that just by having immediate feedback of their electricity use, people will save 5 percent to 15 percent on their electric bills. Flusberg says he has received anecdotal stories of 30 percent in energy savings.

The eMonitor can also be integrated with AMX and Crestron home control systems. Flusberg says the company has been in talks with Control4 for the same.

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