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Finally, an itemized utilities bill

Posting in Energy

This sweltering New York summer, my utilities bill has certainly skyrocketed. And with all our other appliances and electronics whirring about, wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what we’re paying for on our utilities bill?

A Belkin gadget in the works will make it possible to see how much electricity we’re spending on the things we use at home. Getting a better look at how we’re using electricity could make it easier to conserve or to figure out when it’s time to replace old appliances. Technology Review reports.

The Echo Electricity is a small device that connects to the utility meter and monitors the “noise” emitted by electrical appliances plugged into wall outlets.

  • A sensor tracks the electromagnetic interference signatures that different appliances emit over power lines when turned on, off, or changed from one state to another (like when the fridge door is open or closed).
  • A Wi-Fi chip within the device uploads the data online, where machine-learning algorithms analyze it to see what appliances are on and how much power they’re consuming at any given time.
  • The data can be visualized with a demo app that displays details like what percentage of power is being used by your lights, microwave, television, or washing machine.

There’s a growing number of efforts urging us to save energy. And Belkin’s focus on making you see precisely what you’re spending your money to power will help it stand out.

Commercialization is a couple of years away, according to the company, which is asking data scientists to offer improvements to its machine-learning algorithms. (The best assistance will win $14,000.)

The device is currently being tested in U.S. homes, and Belkin plans to install 10,000 of them over the next year in places like military housing and hotels. Rather than selling the device straight to consumers, Belkin is focused on working with utility and cable providers, enabling them to offer itemized bills to their customers. Maybe one day, the gadget could be built in to home meters.

[Via Technology Review]

Image: Belkin

— By on August 1, 2013, 10:21 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure