"Our goal is that no one comes to look at our dashboard," said Martin Flusberg, CEO of Powerhouse Dynamics said of his company's product.
Bold words indeed for a company entering the highly trafficked space of home energy management.
Forget about sleek consoles for the kitchen counter or smart plugs; Powerhouse Dynamics' eMonitor is tracking energy at the circuit level. "That's our secret sauce," Flusberg said.
Sure, there's a web dashboard and in-the-works iPhone and iPad apps, but Powerhouse Dynamics is looking to truly automate how you manage the biggest energy hogs in your home and then let you walk away.
The approach makes a lot of sense; the biggest energy users on a residential level are HVAC systems, pool pumps, refrigerators, laundry, dishwashers and other large appliances. Some are hardwired into the circuitry -- and let's be honest, when's the last time you saw the plug to your fridge?
"You have a dashboard in your car and then you go into your home and you have nothing," Flusberg said. "You have thousands of dollars of appliances, and you have no information to know if they're working. So we view this as broader than just energy, and that has a broader appeal."
The eMonitor was recently used in the ReVISION Home Vegas demonstration house, a retrofitted house with an energy efficiency overhaul, including a solar hot water system and 4.8 kW PV system. By monitoring total energy use across the home and the PV panels, eMonitor confirmed that the house was a net-zero home.
The real appeal of this system is that despite the analytics to geek out on, you don't have to do anything once it's up and running. Besides some early adopters, when energy management systems hit the mainstream, they're going to encounter a large swath of stubborn Americans who simply don't think about their energy use and don't want to.
The Newton, Mass.-based company sets up alerts so that once the system is up and running, it will alert you when power usage deviates from normal use patterns. The system can even be tailored to match the type of appliance that you have. If your defroster is on the fritz and using too much energy, you'll get an email or text alert.
Like other systems, you can also get alerts if your total energy use goes past a certain dollar amount or if a circuit reaches capacity.
There's also a nifty phantom power widget, so you can see the rooms where lights and electronics are eating energy all day long.
The dashboard background is a friendly green color, to remind you you're, well, going green. The top widget shows current power usage in dial form and a breakdown of the top appliances and circuits that are currently turned on. I would see in the beginning how you would check this out daily to see what's using all of the energy, and eventually just put appliances in automated control mode so that you're only using them as needed.
There is a comparison module as well, but it's in the form of a carbon footprint that compares you to the state average, so it doesn't offer the same granularity as other platforms that let you compare your use patterns based on zip code.
However, with that one exception, granularity and analytics are offered in spades across this system. Unlike other systems where you're just focusing on lighting or a few major appliances, this unit easily covers the whole house, from pool pump to rooftop solar panels.
Early adopters can geek out on Top 20 usage graphs from the past hour and detailed solar generation. And for the tech-savvy set, there will also be social networking for those who want to compare energy saving tips with fellow users.
If you don't have solar, but you're thinking about it, there's an "Is Solar For You?" function that will let you analyze the out-of-pocket costs, taking into consideration rebates and tax breaks in your region, and tell you how long it would take to get a return on your hypothetical investment.
But the real beauty of the system is that you don't have to use any of the analytics if you don't want to. You could spend hours clicking around on the dashboard, but as Flusberg said, or you could just as easily choose never to visit it unless you want to check irregular energy usage after the company sends an alert.
So who is this for? Flusberg is realistic about the market, and knows these are early days for the industry. Since first coming on the market in April, the system has been available through select energy auditors, security companies, PV installers and homebuilders.
Currently the MSRP is $499 for 12 circuits (the price goes up for more circuits) and $189 for two years of service (that goes down if you sign up for additional years of service). Actual prices have varied, as some dealers have given the cost of service for free with installation, while others have charged for the service but cut the cost of the product itself.
"I think there are people who will spend the most on energy, homes that are green -- that's going to be the market right now," he said. "People aren't running down to Home Depot to ask for a home energy management product."
But that will change -- and offering a product for consumers to set up and forget about is very appealing. Even better, anecdotal accounts suggest that some current customers are seeing energy savings of around 30 percent.
And while Flusberg said that this might never be a product for someone like my father -- my benchmark of an average suburban American and aging Luddite -- I think I disagree. (For reference, Mr. Tweed just got an email account less than two years ago.)
I can envision the old man getting an energy audit because he wants to save some money and opting for a system like this. And now that he knows how to get online, I could see him walking around the house trying to shut down phantom power, or being grateful for an alert when something goes wrong with the pool pump or the basement freezer.
As for the installation for the mass market? Keep an eye on the Geek Squad.