Curb Energy: Real-time Monitoring of Home Energy Usage

By Mike Krell - August 26, 2014
  Every now and then in our home town of Austin, TX we get the pleasure of visiting with a new start-up. Such was the case a few weeks ago I visited Curb Energy in the Capital Factory. In the Human IoT world of home automation we think of the panacea of every device being a smart device. We also know the inherent barrier to entry, it’s going to be a long time until we replace all our appliances, lights, switches, thermostats, etc., with something that can connect to the web (and to each other). But what if you could simply and easily retrofit your entire house right now, what information could you have, what would you do with it? That’s the problem that Curb Energy is out to solve.

Curb’s goal it to take every source of energy in our homes, and give us real-time feedback on it. What is draining energy in your house right now? How about later today, how about earlier this morning? How do you know that your brand new Nest thermostat you just bought and installed is actually saving you money? Knowing exactly what is costing us in our homes will allow us to make changes that have real effect on both the environment and our pocketbooks.

Curb Real-time Interface  Curb Controller

Curb Energy Box and Real-time Interface

So how do they do it? First is the hardware. Curb actually attaches to the electrical panel in your house, allowing you to monitor energy use for devices attached to each breaker in the panel. Curb’s hardware controller box sits next to or inside your electrical panel, and uses simple to install clamps that measure electrical current to monitor energy usage. These clamps (the blue things in the photos) are easy to install and do not require actually disconnecting or rewiring any breakers (although if you want to monitor devices that are not separately wired to breakers, then that would require real electrical work). The real secret of Curb’s hardware is its sampling frequency – Curb tracks energy usage second-by-second to get the kind of useful insight that enables people to change their behavior and companies interested in the Big Data analytics possibilities. Curb’s hardware is interesting, but not really unique. As a matter of fact, Curb would like to open up their hardware platform and create sales and distribution partnerships to allow others to manufacture the hardware, or allow for the DIYers, if people want to go that route. For all you Makers out there Curb has proposed a session for SXSW Interactive 2015 devoted to making your own home energy meter.

Inside the Box

The real play for Curb is in the cloud with a Monitoring IoT segment application [see our Moor Insights & Strategy IoT segmentation model here]. Curb sends the gathered information to a sophisticated analytics engine that breaks down usage by circuit (or by device) and presents the information in a format you can actually understand. Eric Norwood, the CEO of Curb, demonstrated turning the lights on in his home remotely, and we watched the changes real-time in the Curb GUI in front of us. As an interesting aside, Eric related a story of one of his engineers calling him at work one day to tell him that he had left the refrigerator in his home open (both the compressor and the light had continued to run since the door was open). The system had triggered an alarm that was looking for unusual usage. Think about the power and the savings if you could actually continuously monitor your home energy profile – and see where your dollars were spent. If you will be in Austin next Friday, Erik will be presenting at this month's meeting of Austin’s Technology Advisors Group. So what’s the value of all this information gathered on energy usage in the home? On the surface it allows people to monitor and adjust energy usage in real-time – saving dollars. But if you think about it for a bit, the big data side of this is much more interesting. Curb can gather energy usage reports on all the appliances in your home. It could notify you that your refrigerator is running poorly, tell you it’s time for a new one – and then deliver an ad for Kenmore. Not only that, but I’m sure appliance manufacturers would be interested in the gathered data on the actual energy profiles of not only their installed devices, but the new ones as well. Home automation is a crowded world. Right now Curb has some fascinating ideas about how to gather data and make it available in real time. It’s going to be interesting to watch Curb and how their model moves and shifts as they look to help us all do a better job of monitoring our home energy usage.
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