'Smart plugs' for stand-by power sippers

New York start-up ThinkEco introduces the modlet, an electricity-monitoring device to help shut down office vampire loads.

Many electronic devices left plugged in suck electricity from outlets even when turned off or in stand-by mode. The Department of Energy estimates stand-by power represents about 100 billion kilowatt hours of nationwide energy consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.

How many of those dollars are yours or your company's? That may depend on whether employees shut down their computers and other office equipment at day's end.

New York start-up ThinkEco has one strategy to finding out: the modlet. The "modern outlet" fits over a regular outlet and collects data on what electronic devices are using how much power and when. Accompanying software then allows office managers to program when to shut down the copier, the fax machine, etc., whatever device is plugged into the modlet.

The company says the energy-monitoring system can pay for itself within 6 months by encouraging energy-use reductions between 35 and 80 percent. After its pilot study, ThinkEco said one company expected to see $65,000 shaved off its annual electric bill. They didn't say how big the company is or how many modlets were at play in the savings.

According to CNET, the product will sell for around $40 when it becomes available in the spring.

ThinkEco President Jun Shimada in a statement:

You can make big changes that will save energy, like installing insulated windows, a more efficient HVAC system, or by switching to fluorescent lights. Recouping plug-load waste, though, requires finding savings through dozens and hundreds of small actions, which individually you may never notice...For energy saving actions that can't be automated, the modlet makes the connection for people between what they do and what is shown on the power bill. Just like posting calories in a restaurant doesn't force you to eat better, being able to see the numbers still leads to a natural improvement of behavior.

I'm not sure calorie labels improve everybody's eating habits, but for those people who care about their energy expenditures, knowing exactly what they are is a good step to decreasing them. And for those who don't care? Perhaps competitions between departments to be the most energy efficient would be inspirational. An office pizza party to sweeten the deal.

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Image: ThinkEco

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