As with the Modlet, Nucleas information is available on a desktop computer or a mobile device, and via the Web. But unlike the Modlet, it can also tap into the existing energy management capabilities of “smart” appliances, such as dishwashers, dryers, and other ZigBee-equipped large appliances.
GE’s technology is still in trials with consumers in a handful of states, where it’s being offered by utilities as part of “demand response” programs. These programs allow the utility to selectively reduce the power consumption of customers’ devices when the grid is under an especially heavy load.
While the target markets of GE and ThinkEco have considerable overlap, for now ThinkEco is taking a more consumer-first approach. However, its biggest impact could be in the office, says ThinkEco cofounder Mei Shibata.
“In the office, it’s nobody’s job to [think about energy use]—it’s not my job to turn off my lamp even though I should,” says Shibata.
On a device like a vending machine, which can typically be switched off on weekends and overnight, the amount of time it takes for the Modlet to pay for itself in energy savings can be as little as two months, Shibata claims. While results vary depending on how much power a device is wasting and the cost of electricity, a typical payback time for devices attached to a Modlet is nine months in the home and seven in the office.
Research suggests that most energy-management systems also result in reduced consumption by users.
“I think a lot of what we’ve come to understand is that most people don’t understand energy usage at all,” says Mike Beyerle, an engineer at GE. In the trials that GE is working through now, that means users are getting an education in an area of their everyday life that was previously invisible. “They are then much better consumers and decision-makers—they’re empowered,” says Beyerle.