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This smart outlet uses AI to help you lower your electric bill

You’re wasting a lot of energy. Currant can help you figure out where.

This smart outlet uses AI to help you lower your electric bill
[Photo: Currant]

Plug your devices into a new smart outlet for a week, and it will use AI to find patterns in your energy consumption–and then suggests a schedule for your gadgets to help you save energy.

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The outlet, which also graphs energy use in real time and helps you find the most energy-sucking appliances and gadgets in your home, is the first to use artificial intelligence and machine learning.

[Photo: Currant]

“The key for us here is to make the whole thing as easy as possible,” says Hasty Granbery, founder and CEO of Currant, the startup making the new Currant Smart Outlet. “If you trying to persuade somebody to do something that’s good for the environment but requires a lot of effort on their part, they’ll tend to do it for a while and then they’ll kind of fall off in doing it.”

Four years ago, Granbery started tracking his own electricity use–armed with a low-tech electricity meter and a spreadsheet–after getting an electric bill that said that he was using more power than his neighbors. He started discovering which devices used vampire energy, like a toaster oven that used almost three watts of power while on standby. “We were spending more money on it not toasting things than toasting stuff,” he says.

[Photo: Currant]

The DIY analysis helped his family cut their electric bills, but it was hard to keep up. The new device is designed to make the process simpler. If the outlet is in his kitchen, for example, it can automatically turn off the toaster oven at night or during the day when the family is at work.

[Photo: Currant]

Unlike some other energy monitors that use a sensor on a fuse box and then try to identify all of the devices in the home by their electronic signatures, one Currant Smart Outlet can only track the two devices that are plugged in. But Granbery argues that devices that work at the meter level can’t detect appliances that pull a low amount of power over long periods, so the outlet is more accurate. The outlet can also be moved from room to room to identify the biggest power users and what to change. (It’s also possible to buy multiple smart outlets to cover the whole house, though at $59.99 a pop, that would be pricey.)

Some changes the app identifies may be simple–a fridge, for example, will waste energy if the back and bottom aren’t vacuumed regularly. “An average refrigerator becomes about 40% less efficient over five years if you don’t vacuum it,” says Granbery. “It’s exactly the kind of insidious problem that we want to tackle that because it’s just a small change every month. You don’t notice it in your overall electric bill.”

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Small changes, including turning off always-on devices, do matter. Each year, electronics and appliances in the U.S. use around $19 billion worth of electricity, or the output of 50 power plants when consumers aren’t actively using them, according to a 2015 study. “The goal here is that this is a small step in a much larger strategy of tackling world energy usage,” he says. “It’s a tiny lever and it’s a sort of a humble thing, but it can have a massive effect.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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