People Power Launches into Crowded Home Energy Monitoring Field

If any one thing can be learned from the deluge of events, conferences, articles and blog posts on the emerging Smart Grid, it’s that home energy monitoring companies are the sexiest startups in the space. Consumer-facing, colorful and sleekly-designed, they are more appealing than clunky meters or cryptic networking and software startups. But the household monitoring field is getting crowded, with Tendril, Control4, EnergyHub, SilverSpring’s Greenbox, OpenPeak, Gridpoint and still more duking it out. And today it got even more so with the launch of People Power.

Peddling an open-source home area network platform — the open-source aspect being a key difference from many of its rivals — the company has said that its focus on serving consumers exactly the information that want will distinguish it from the rest — something that almost every other company in the space has said when asked the same question.

People Power will draw data from all home appliances and power-sucks into a central online portal where users will be able to view how much energy they are using, where, and how much it is costing them. It has also mentioned that it will be churning out various sensory devices that can be attached to appliances to monitor their energy use. This sounds a lot like British AlertMe, which does something similar, but perhaps not exactly.

Right now, the challenge for companies hoping to transmit energy data from appliances is that not all home devices, like refrigerators, washing machines, etc. come with ports or the uniform technical specs needed. Some startups are working on sensors that can be stuck to and report from any power-using device.

For now, People Power has introduced affordable devices like “GreenVent” to measure HVAC systems, “GreenHeat” to keep tabs on water heaters, “GreenSentry” to turn electric meters into smart meters, and “GreenDog” to gauge clothing dryer energy use. It also makes a special power strip that can measure how much energy is going to TVs, computers and other wall-plug electronics. The idea is that these sensory devices would learn people’s patterns over time, and eventually be able to turn appliances off and on at certain times in order to trim electricity use and bills — a very similar proposition to smart thermostat company EcoFactor.

Based in Palo Alto, Calif., People Power does have several advantages. It has teamed with top-tier researchers at UC-Berkeley and Stanford to work on a longer-range open-source wireless network that it has dubbed the Open Source Home Area Network (OSHAN). The service would be free to download online. The company says it hopes that the open-source structure will help it gain traction and inspire others to build applications on top of the platform, making it an even more valuable tool.

People Power has to make sure this happens in order to stand a chance even among its startup competitors, not to mention General Electric, Google and Microsoft, which are each hard at work developing their own home energy monitoring services. General Electric has joined forces with Tendril to make appliances that funnel energy data into web portals, while Google and Microsoft have launched consumer-facing energy dashboards PowerMeter and Hohm, respectively.

So far the company has raised an undisclosed first round of funding from New Cycle Capital and several angel investors.

By Camille Ricketts, Venture Beat, November 9, 2009.

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