Crunching Energy Data Down to the Greedy Fridge

Photograph by Fuse

The data delivered by a smart meter is good at telling you how much overall energy your home has consumed. What if you want to know if your fridge is an energy hog, or if someone in your household is leaving the lights on all day? A four-year-old startup called PlotWatt has developed smart algorithms that can crunch energy data down to the appliance level to determine which of your household devices is sucking up more than its fair share of power.

While a lot of companies are tackling this problem, the key to what makes PlotWatt interesting is that the startup can monitor the energy consumption of individual appliances without using monitoring hardware. Other startups are selling sensors or smart plugs that can track the energy consumption of unique devices, but PlotWatt says its smart algorithms can determine this type of detail without any hardware at a greater-than-90-percent accuracy level.

No hardware means a more capital-efficient business model, and it also means customers can more easily adopt the technology, PlotWatt Chief Executive Officer and founder Luke Fishback told me in an interview. The company’s team spent over two years developing the algorithms that can produce that type of accuracy. Gadget giant Belkin bought a startup called Zensi a few years back that created algorithms that can do something similar by listening to the voltage noise of appliances.

PlotWatt, based in Durham, N.C., isn’t initially targeting residential homes. For now it’s focused on selling its algorithms to restaurants and fast-food chains that are looking to use metrics to reduce their energy use, determine faulty appliances, or monitor how workers are using the energy-consuming tools in the restaurant. (Why did Betty say she got to work at 8 a.m. if she didn’t start the cooker up until noon?) Fast-food chains have low margins and are looking to optimize their systems every way they can.

The company already has pilot programs with several of the top 10 national restaurant chains, says Fishback, adding: “They love metrics.” Selling to fast-food chains first means PlotWatt can bring in revenue while the smart-meter and smart-grid markets mature.

While less than 4 percent of the world’s 1.5 billion electricity meters were smart in 2008, that figure is surpassing 18 percent in 2012 and  is expected to jump to 55 percent by 2020, according to Pike Research. Smart meters can commonly deliver data to homes and utilities in up-to-15-minute intervals.

Eventually PlotWatt will focus more on the residential market, which Fishback calls “the sleeping giant of the smart grid.” The company could sell its algorithms to utilities or other service providers, or it could team up with device makers. Picture a Nest thermostat telling you to turn your lights off.

PlotWatt recently closed a Series A round of $3 million from existing investors, including Felicis Ventures and Acorn Ventures. Fishback tells me the company will use the funds to start to ramp up commercial deployments, and the team plans to hire sales, marketing, and business-development execs.

Smart-energy algorithms could provide a crucial tool for helping people, homes, businesses, and factories become more energy-efficient. Other companies that have developed energy-data algorithms include Opower, Tendril, Nest, Viridity Energy, and others.

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