How To Get Control of Power Use

My daughter (11) is a serious believer in anything that will save the planet. Me too. I also love technologies that help me save money. So every time my daughter locks herself in the bathroom for one of her famously long showers, I think about this “proof of concept” device I saw at CES in January. (Watch Chris O’Malley give a demo of it in the video above.)

The idea of a home-control panel that lets me see how much our everyday decisions about turning off lights, using hot water, running the drier, and turning on the air conditioner cost or save appeals to me. Changing thoughtless behaviors about this stuff in a kid requires a real commitment to nagging. But I know I could point to a meter that displays how much water and energy my daughter has wasted in the shower and she would alter her behavior – not because I’m nagging her but because she cares about that sort of thing. It’s just easy for her to forget to do anything about it.

Apparently I’m not the only one hankering for this device.

I recently spoke to Joe Jenson, General Manager of Embedded Computing at Intel and he told me this idea has been met with universal enthusiasm since the company demonstrated this “concept car” at CES.  “The concept of the energy portal,” he says. “Addresses a common need – across the globe –for consumers to more efficiently use the energy we have. ”

The energy portal, though, is a bit more than a simple gauge of how much power is being used around the house. It’s also a place to leave video messages and a universal off switch for the house that puts the entire house into a low-power state. It’s sort of a fun media hub that helps run the house from one spot.

There have been ideas like this one bouncing around for a while. But Jenson says that cost has always stood in the way of getting this idea into the average home. But a new operating system and low-cost processors are bringing the price of the technology down to a level where fridge makers won’t have to think twice about adding it to a model’s features. And adding sensors that measure temperature, humidity, and other factors that can allow the panel to make a reasonable guess about how much power you are using so it’s possible to install this sort of device without building the house – or the appliance – from scratch are also getting to a reasonable price point. Jenson thinks we should see products we can actually buy and use on the market by the end of this year.

Obviously, I can’t wait. So I’ll let you know as soon as I hear of anything.

Meanwhile, I might draw a picture of a draining ocean on the wall of the bathroom where my daughter showers. You think that will work?

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