Business Report

Save Energy with These Apps and Gadgets

TR takes a look at the best mobile software for tracking and reducing consumer energy use.

Bulb switcher: Changing a light bulb today is just as tricky as the old joke implies. Choices include LEDs, compact fluorescents, and incandescents. Light Bulb Finder, winner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent Apps for the Environment contest, identifies energy-efficient bulbs in your home, calculates the financial and environmental payback, and creates a shopping list. The average American home has 40 lighting sockets and could cut electric bills $120 a year with a full bulb makeover, the EPA estimates.

Remote control: ThinkEco brings the old-fashioned power outlet into the wireless age with the modlet, an adapter for your wall outlet that lets you remotely monitor how much energy devices are using and set schedules for turning them on and off from your PC. The modlet and software starter kit cost $50 but could cut electricity bills by 10 percent, according to the company.

Groupthink: Could energy-efficiency games ever catch on like FarmVille? With the Opower app for Facebook, customers of 20 U.S. utilities can upload their electric bills to their Facebook accounts and see how their usage stacks up. The app lets you compare yourself with friends and encourages competitions that get people to find and share creative ideas for saving energy. You can manually enter your energy bills if your utility is not signed up. Utilities working with Opower will mail you monthly reports and coupons for home improvement purchases.

Phone saver: The newest smart phones are battery hogs. They work on faster 4G networks, come with bright, high-resolution screens, and are packed with apps that rely on GPS. Juice Defender is a free app for Android phones and tablets that turns off battery-draining features at times when all you care about is that your phone stays on.

Smarter thermostat: The Nest Learning Thermostat is made for people who don’t want to adjust the thermostat. It automatically learns and adjusts to your habits so that it can save energy by, say, turning down the heat around bedtime. Nest CEO Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive involved with the iPod, created a cool, simple design with a steep price: $249. But with heating and cooling responsible for about half of home energy bills, it could be worth it.

Solar investigator: The Solar Checker app helps figure out whether solar panels are a good idea for your house. Take your iPhone on the roof, and Solar Checker will use the phone’s compass, tilt sensor, and GPS to calculate how much energy a roof panel might yield. Enter the square footage of the roof, and the app will estimate your annual energy savings and calculate how quickly an investment in solar panels might pay you back.

Green your ride: Using the iPhone’s accelerometer, greenMeter’s $5.99 app displays your car’s fuel consumption as you drive. The goal is to help drivers choose efficient cruising speeds, learn how stopping and starting uses more gas, and eventually burn less fuel. When refueling, you can use apps like Gas Cubby to track mileage and see your results. At your destination, ParkMe, which tracks on- and off-street parking in major cities, can help you quickly find a spot so you don’t waste fuel circling around.

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The price of energy is rising. Carbon dioxide emissions are rising. But there’s one thing that’s falling: the price of computing. In this issue, Business Impact profiles the emerging business strategy that says information technology could be the cheapest way to save or create more energy. Follow us this month into the smart electrical grid, save gas in a driverless car, and learn how some nations are exporting renewable power in the form of e-mails and Facebook photos.

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