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How Mobile Energy Management Systems Work


Mobile Energy Management System Setup
Current State is an iPhone application, currently in the concept stage, that would allow for a variety of remote energy monitoring and management capabilities, including turning home appliances on or off through your iPhone.
Current State is an iPhone application, currently in the concept stage, that would allow for a variety of remote energy monitoring and management capabilities, including turning home appliances on or off through your iPhone.
Finn McKenty / Kaleidoscope

Some energy-management and monitoring devices may only be available through your utility company. But as long as you have a smart meter -- or are able to get one installed -- you should be able to choose from a variety of products to monitor your energy use remotely. Still, there are few products at this time that allow for true mobile home energy management -- such as turning on and off appliances or scheduling when your AC will run using just your cell phone. With the spread of smart meters and the development of the so-called smart grid, that's expected to change, but for now, we'll look at a mix of monitoring and management possibilities.

Tendril mostly works directly with utilities, selling its products through them, so it's unlikely that as a consumer you'll be able to deal directly with them. But your utility provider may decide to partner with Tendril, meaning that when looking at taking advantage of your smart meter, Tendril may be an option for you.

Tendril makes thermostat-sized digital displays (and actual thermostats) that use ZigBee routers to communicate with a smart meter. (ZigBee is a wireless-network standard popular with home automation solutions.) Among Tendril's other products is one called the Volt, a ZigBee-enabled electrical outlet that plugs into a standard outlet. After plugging an appliance into the Volt, you can monitor the device's electrical usage on your computer or other Tendril device.

With a Tendril device installed, you can also go online and survey a variety of information, presented in figures and various graphs, to track your energy usage. With your Tendril device, you can learn about changing electricity rates and your home consumption, down to the hour. You can sign up for text messages that provide you with information about your energy usage, and you can compare your house's energy consumption to people of the same demographic.

Whenever Google enters a new field, people pay attention, and so it has been with the Google PowerMeter. This iGoogle gadget, or "widget," is similar to products put out by Tendril and other companies, offering in-depth utility data. Currently in a testing phase with utility companies, Google promises that PowerMeter will be available to consumers in late 2009 [source: Google]. Google.org features positive testimonials from some Google employees who have been allowed to beta-test PowerMeter. One Googler who tried PowerMeter learned that her apartment's electrical meter was incorrectly connected to the apartment building's washer and dryer, causing her to be charged for all of the electricity those appliances used [source: Google].

Besides Tendril, Google and similar products (such as those offered by Greenbox and Comverge), consider SunPower's iPhone application, which allows users to monitor their solar panels' energy production from anywhere. Of course, the system only works if the solar panels are provided by SunPower. There's also Control4's Mobile Navigator License, which is one of the few iPhone applications that actually allows you to control devices in your home -- from lights to thermostat controls -- through the phone and may serve as a model for future mobile energy management solutions. Finally, a company called GainSpan, in partnership with Our Home Spaces, has developed an iPhone app to control any home device that's WiFi-connected, including thermostats, water heaters and lighting.