As the largest tenant in the U.S., the General Services Administration knows a little something about plug load.

To cut energy and encourage best practices, the GSA recently used Enmetric Systems’ smart power strips in eight buildings as part of the Green Proving Ground program.

With Enmetric’s schedule-based functionality, the GSA reduced plug loads at workstations by 26 percent and by nearly 50 percent in printer rooms and kitchens.  

Building dashboard company Lucid just picked up Enmetric as a partner in the plug-load management space. The decision to partner with Enmetric came after Lucid tried out the smart strips in its own office.

The GSA is hardly Enmetric’s first big-name client, and Lucid is not its first partnership. The Belmont, Calif.-based company partnered with Teknion earlier this year to integrate plug-load management into Teknion’s office furniture, especially cubicles. Enmetric is also working with Google, Adobe, Hines and others.

“Plug-load management isn’t incredibly well known,” said Ryan Bermudez, marketing director at Enmetric. “We’re still focused on direct sales but we’re looking for OEM and channel partners.”

The company, which was founded in 2008 and started selling its product in 2011, has smart power strips, which communicate back to a gateway over wireless standard IEEE 805.15.4. That’s the same standard that ZigBee operates on, but “we built our own proprietary stack,” said Bermudez. Enmetric raised $1.5 million in a Series A round of VC funding. 

Unlike residential smart power strips that might have a dozen devices plugged in, offices could have hundreds of items that need a plug. Because of the scale of office devices, Enmetric found that mesh and ZigBee just couldn’t transmit at the speed it was looking for: once per second for each plugged-in device.

In the GSA pilot, for example, nearly 300 devices were being monitored. The GSA noted that one of the reasons it chose Enmetric was because all of the plugs could be centrally configured and controlled, although they don’t have to be. Lucid also said that it looked at other enterprise plug-load products, as well as residential smart plugs that claim they can work in commercial settings, and Enmetric was the only product that met its needs.

The frequency of Enmetric’s system might seem redundant for shutting down a task light when it’s not in use, but there are advantages, according to Bermudez. At that frequency, Enmetric can tell its clients if a printer is malfunctioning, which could be costing a significant amount of money. No matter who the customer, Enmetric finds out that about 10 percent to 15 percent of devices are mistuned as soon as they are plugged into the system.

There are two settings with Enmetric’s technology. One is a schedule function, which the GSA saw the most savings with. Overall, most customers see a 15 percent to 25 percent savings in plug loads, which can take up half of a commercial energy bill, just by using the scheduling. GSA noted that it would have likely seen a larger savings for laptops and monitors, but it had already implemented a computer power management system earlier in the year.

There is another added level of tuning where Enmetric can tell a power strip to power down based on what happens at a specific plug. If the computer is plugged into the first spot, that outlet can sense if the computer goes into sleep mode or is unplugged. When that happens, some or all of the other outlets on the strip can power down. Bermudez said that Enmetric has also taken the sensitivity of electronic devices into account. “Part of our IP is around the way in which we cut the power,” he said. “It’s done in a graceful way that significantly reduces any power instead of just unplugging something.”

For GSA, which owns and leases more than 370 million square feet of building space, the value came from the scheduling, rather than the load-sensing feature. Part of the problem was in establishing the baseline where the load would be cut to other outlets, especially since computers pull different amounts of power during sleep mode based on their age and manufacturer.  

Most of Enmetric’s customers are just concerned with saving power, and therefore money, but others are using the technology to get a broader understanding of granular energy use -- and office use. Google and Lucid, for example, share the information with employees.

“Getting tenants and occupants to manage energy is even more effective when it is personal,” Michael Murray, Lucid’s chief executive, said in a statement. “In commercial buildings, plug loads can represent up to half of all electricity used. By empowering individual occupants to take ownership and control of their devices, especially during nights and weekends, we can take a huge bite out of a building’s overall energy consumption.”

Even if individuals aren’t involved in understanding their plug load, there are still other options to reap added value out of the smart strips. In many ways, Enmetric’s plug-load solution could be used as a proxy occupancy sensor. Data-obsessed Google is also using it to inform occupancy, which the company could eventually use to help size the HVAC systems of future buildings.

The technology is also OpenADR-compliant and could be used for demand response. Instead of turning off everybody’s task lights for a few hours, an office could potentially cycle through all of the laptops without leaving any single one unplugged for more than 20 or 30 minutes.

In the future, Enmetric does not see itself as being a company that will grow into a demand response or energy management platform for the entire building. Instead, it sees the partnership with Lucid as the first step toward being part of an ecosystem of integrated systems within a smart building, where different companies focus on their own area of expertise. “We don’t want to get too far out of our sandbox,” said Bermudez.

Tags: building energy management, energy efficiency, energy management, enmetric systems, lucid, plug load, smart plugs, smart power strips