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Zerofootprint introduces the TalkingPlug

 Posted by on November 17, 2009
Nov 172009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Most commodities come with a clear price attached to a distinct amount. A bag of potatoes, a can of beans, a jar of peanut butter….the cost of these is stamped on a sign at the grocery and an individual label breaks down the nutritional details.

Zerofootprint's Talking Plug

Zerofootprint's Talking Plug

Electricity is sold with a price tag also, a price per kilowatt. Every month, customers pay a provider based on how many kilowatts their household has used. But there’s no label breakdown.

We don’t know how much electricity was expended to power the HVAC or dishwasher or fridge or computer. It’s a mystery what caused that spike in our bill. Our worst power phantoms are hiding.

Could the problem be those old incandescent light bulbs?

We don’t know. We’re in the dark.

“The way we use electricity is quite antiquated and quite dumb,” said Zerofootprint founder and CEO Dr. Ron Dembo, in a news conference Monday to introduce his group’s solution, the Talking Plug ™.

If we knew more — like how much, when and on what we were spending our electricity dollars, we’d be wiser consumers, he said. We could shift electricity use to off-peak hours making utilities happier  –  reducing our bills and our carbon pollution.

The TalkingPlug™ can be the starting point for all that because it takes energy monitoring to the micro level. It exposes errant appliances and runaway energy hogs in the home, but unlike similar, competitor devices that merely signal high or low energy use, it sends a stream of information to a software program (Zerofootprint’s web-based VELO software) so residents can monitor or re-tailor their energy use, and turn things on and off remotely via the Internet.

Set top box not needed today? Turn it off from your office or laptop computer.

“It’s win, win, win,” said Dembo, whose  Toronto-based carbon management company launched in 2005.

The TalkingPlug, he explained, is not just another cool gadget, but a foot in the door toward a new way of thinking about electricity. By putting more transparency into electricity consumption, Dembo proposed that it could lead to a paradigm shift that’s needed to fight climate change.

“It’s about changing culture more than anything,” he said. And changing the culture is necessary. Right now, green buildings are producing wonderfully new efficient buildings, he noted, “But if you leave the electricity on it doesn’t make any difference.”

His theory: You’ve got to develop precise measurements so people can compare their usage. “In short, it’s understood that if you want to change culture you compare things. These products allow you to compare very easily,” he said. This will take environmental consciousness to a new level, he predicts.

As the information bubbles up, and becomes accessible, there could be many applications, Dembo said, such as these:

  • A computer screen would register energy use using the TalkingPlug (Photo: Zerofootprint.)

    A computer screen would register energy use using the TalkingPlug (Photo: Zerofootprint.)

    A school could track its precise energy consumption using TalkingPlug technology, and it could be made public with a meter over the door showing if current energy use was in the red, orange or green zone. Such a device could inform the public and exert pressure on schools — or businesses — to watch their watts.

  • Appliance companies could track how their products worked in the home, and aggregate that information and use it for marketing. They could prove their claims of lower energy use, and do research.
  • Utilities and residents could make deals to idle, by remote, certain appliances at certain times, resulting in a rebate for the user and a reduction of peak demand for the utility. (Utilities are built for peak demand to avoid blackouts, Dembo explained, but “it’s only a few minutes a year that we hit full peak.” So at the commercial level a lot of electricity is generated to be on “stand by” that is not needed, and never used.)

All these are all potential applications for the TalkingPlug technology, Dembo said, adding that this new technology will be compatible with Smart Meters that are being installed by some utilities to get a better handle on how energy is used in a given home. But they won’t require rewiring or any retrofitting of appliances.

The SmartPlug and Smart Meter technologies could work “in tandem,” Dembo said. “I see this as a rapidly convergent market.”

Right now, the TalkingPlug is being custom produced, and each one costs about $50. But that will come down to somewhere in the $30s after the first of the year, and drop further as it’s adopted and can take advantage of economies of scale, Dembo said.

ZeroFootprint operates a for-profit software and carbon management programs aimed at helping companies reduce their carbon footprint through better risk management and new technologies. The organization also operates a non-profit foundation with a mission of reducing carbon pollution.

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