New tools for controlling home energy use
New products and apps are making it easier than ever to reduce the amount of energy used in your home.
By Ellen Chang, TheStreet
New products and apps are making it easier than ever to reduce the amount of energy used in your home. Apps can help homeowners lower their electricity use without having to undertake the time and expense of installing equipment. Apps let homeowners use their smartphones to monitor and control their home's environment even when at work or elsewhere.
A new light bulb called Robosmart -- made by Smartbotics, a Los Gatos, Calif., start-up -- can be turned off or on by a homeowner using a smartphone, laptop or tablet. The light bulb is embedded with a Bluetooth sensor and works with an app compatible with Apple's (AAPL) iOS platform.
By August, devices running on Google's (GOOG) Android operating system will also be able to utilize the device.
"We wanted people to be able to save more energy, consume less power and pay less for their electricity," said Kelly Coffey, founder and chief executive of Smartbotics. The light bulb can also sense how far away the user is and will turn itself off if you leave the room, he said.
Smartbotics has other products in its pipeline, including temperature sensors that can be deployed to more fully automate a building's energy systems. The company is also working on a light sensor that would dim light bulbs -- or turn them off entirely -- as more sunlight lit the room.
A 40 watt Robosmart bulb is available from the Smartbotics website and costs $40, which seems like a lot. But the bulb has a 10-year life expectancy. The bulb is expected to be available through hardware stores later this year.
Crank up the heat
A new thermostat that has Wi-Fi capabilities can also be accessed via a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Made by Honeywell International (HON) the Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat features a color-customizable screen and can be accessed remotely via the Total Comfort Connect app.
This device helps consumers conserve energy by sending them an alert when their home is too cold or hot, saving you energy and money. You can also turn up or down the temperature after you have arrived at work or before you head home.
"With one quick touch on a smartphone consumers can adjust temperatures or set a heating/cooling schedule based on their preferences and lifestyle," said Brad Paine, Honeywell's director of product marketing for environment combustion and controls.
Honeywell said it is also currently working with many utilities to allow consumers and communities to enroll in utility-sponsored energy savings programs that help reduce energy throughout the year, especially on extremely hot days. This helps utilities avoid using backup power stations and conserve as much energy as possible.
Consumers can save as much as $180 a year on their energy bill with a programmable thermostat, according to the EPA.
Now consumers even have options that are free to help them monitor the temperature inside their homes, especially if they are using window air conditioners. In New York City, thousands of residents are now participating in the coolNYC program, which is a partnership between utility Consolidated Edison (ED) and ThinkEco, which manufactures the modlet, a new wireless dual outlet.
Consumers receive a free ThinkEco smartAC kit that can be used to turn window AC units on and off remotely by using a smartphone and set their thermostat remotely. This device can also control multiple AC units and networks them together under a single user and gives consumers the option to work with Con Edison during peak load hours to reduce the amount of energy being consumed and reduce the risk of blackouts.
"The coolNYC program offers New Yorkers more ways to control their window air conditioners and use energy more wisely," said Amanda Lurie, coolNYC program manager.
There are more than 6 million window air conditioners in New York, Lurie said, with many homes using multiple devices on the hottest days. The coolNYC program helps maintain reliability of the grid by allowing consumers to optimize their window AC units.
No energy left behind
Another device consumers can purchase is the $50 modlet, which is a wireless retrofit plug that eliminates the wasted energy used by plugged in appliances. The modlet can be controlled remotely with any iOS or Android device and can be set based on how you use a certain appliance.
Later this year or by 2014, Sunnyvale, Calif., start-up Ayla Networks said its software will be in retail products in the U.S., allowing home devices such as thermostats, appliances and lighting to become connected to the Internet, said Dave Friedman, Ayla's chief executive.
Ayla's embedded software enables chip makers, such as Broadcom (BRCM) and STMicroelectronics (STM), to provide manufacturers with chips that can be interactive and easily connected to smartphones through the cloud. Essentially, Ayla equips white goods manufacturers—companies that produce appliances and other home furnishings—with the technology to produce connected devices, which is a relatively new phenomenon called the "Internet of Things" (IoT).
"Our platform connects the device and network together, allowing them talk to each other," Friedman said. "The potential is that consumers will have instant connectivity via smartphone or web-based device that automatically turns into the remote control for the home. The technology is now available, and we hope to see manufacturers introduce new appliances with Ayla's technology very soon."
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