It's ironic that the days you need electricity most - like the hottest summer days or the coldest winter ones - are just when that commodity is least available. When there isn't enough juice to go around, electric companies offer many different programs to encourage consumers and businesses to save power and avoid brownouts and blackouts.
Israeli startup Greenlet
has introduced one of the easiest-to-implement energy-saving programs for consumers yet. "Greenlet's system allows utility companies to set up what amounts to virtual power plants, letting them provide more energy, especially during peak hours," says Liat Shenhav, Greenlet's product manager.
"Many utilities faced with high demand think they have no option other than to set up new power plants to meet that demand. But that's expensive and requires approval by regulators, and increases stress on the environment." Greenlet's got a better idea: Freeing up more electricity by enabling consumers to use power more efficiently.
Greenlet's technology allows utilities to monitor and micromanage home energy use, by keeping track of the power usage of home appliances. Customers are provided with small plug-in devices the size of wall timers, into which they plug appliances such as air conditioners. The devices communicate with the utility over the Internet, analyzing usage and allowing the utility to regulate the use of the appliance - cutting power at intervals, or even turning it off.
In return, customers get a bonus - such as credit on their electric bill - for every kilowatt hour saved. Right now, as part of a pilot program, the system is keeping tabs on large appliances for US utilities including Austin Power, California's PG&E and the Citizens Utility Board in suburban Chicago, as well as a large East Coast concern that Shenhav is not at liberty to name. The Israel Electric Corporation
is field-testing the system, with the objective of implementing it on a large scale.
Finding energy hogs
"Customers can see their usage on a special Internet page, showing which appliances are the biggest energy users," says Shenhav. In one of the company's videos, a utility customer with Greenlet boxes installed on appliances in his home discovers that a hot and cold water dispenser is a huge electricity hog, gobbling up 14 percent of his household's energy use. "By turning it off at night, when it's not in use, the customer could achieve significant energy savings," says Shenhav.
Multiply that savings by 150 million times - the number of US households that could install the system - and you're looking at serious energy savings. And unlike nearly every other demand-response program, Greenlet allows consumers to install the monitoring hardware themselves, without the utility having to send out a technician.
Asked whether customers might hesitate to allow their electric company access to information their appliance usage, Shenhav says most folks have no qualms. "In most of the programs in the US, there has been a strong response, with a waiting list in some cases," she says. "Especially in today's economic climate, there are many customers who are happy to save $20 or $30 a month, and are willing to work with their local utilities to save money."
Greenlet was established in 2009 by Avner Cohen and Nir Marom, and is headquartered in Tel Aviv. With about a dozen employees, funding for the startup has come from a variety of sources, including Israel's The Time incubator, from which it graduated in 2010, as well as the Chief Scientist's Office
, and several contracts with utilities in the US and Israel.
Greenlet seeks to expand its program to include more utilities in the US, and even Europe, says Shenhav. "After our trial programs this year, we expect to expand significantly in the next few years."