PLAYA VISTA, CA — Electronics manufacturer Belkin this week released the latest in its Conserve line of energy-saving products, and in the process moved the smart grid from version 1.0 toward 2.0.
Belkin's new Conserve Gateway is a wireless router that connects to a home or business's smart meter, and gives users real-time insight about energy use through a web-based interface.
As relatively straightforward as that technology sounds, it hurdles one of the big obstacles slowing the smart grid's progress: The router makes a smart meter a tool as useful to residences as it is to utilities.
As utilities across the country rolled out smart meters for their customers, some areas have seen a backlash attributable to a combination of at-times faulty technology and poor education by utilities about the potential benefits of smart meters. In California in particular, but from coast to coast, politicians and individuals have begun putting the brakes on smart grid expansions.
Smart meters are currently part of the first phase of the evolution of the grid from centralized and disconnected to decentralized and interconnected, but the meters to date have primarily served as a way to ease utilities' ability to collect data. Rather than sending employees out to read every meter, smart meters simply transmit the data wirelessly.
Belkin's new router, however, brings that smart data into the building, giving residents or employees the ability to see exactly how much energy they're using at a given moment. Belkin has also designed the device to give utility companies the ability to push information to Conserve Gateway, offering advice or calls to action, like behavioral changes that can save customers energy and money every year.
The Gateway stems from research conducted by Belkin in 2009, when 81 percent of respondents said they would "make sure to reduce their household use of electricity that month if they noticed that their electricity bill was too high the previous month."
Additional ethnographic research conducted by the company showed that the average person is not particularly well versed in electricity matters, and that more information about actual energy use would help drive conservation.
"The most successful smart meter implementations will be ones that drive compliance and encourage people to understand their energy use and feel motivated to conserve," Kevin Ashton, General Manager for Belkin Conserve, said in a statement. "Our strengths in understanding people's needs and in user-centric design will help empower people to be smarter about how they consume."
More information on the Conserve Gateway, as well as other Conserve products including energy-saving wall sockets, gadget chargers, and power strips, are available at Belkin.com/conserve.