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Summary:

As a rule, power strips are pretty boring-looking. Consisting of a bar of electrical sockets, often surrounded by a tangle of cords, their look can be described as utilitarian at best. But that’s begun to change over the last few years, with companies like Belkin and […]

ve-2As a rule, power strips are pretty boring-looking. Consisting of a bar of electrical sockets, often surrounded by a tangle of cords, their look can be described as utilitarian at best. But that’s begun to change over the last few years, with companies like Belkin and Power Sentry offering more stylish designs for the lowly strip.

Now Visible Energy, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup that presented at our Green:Net conference last week, hopes to corner the market on stylish strips with a new line that aims to be both good-looking and intelligent. The strips include energy-management software and electronics that will automatically record appliances’ consumption, storing such data for up to two months, and enable users to control those appliances via their iPhones, iPod Touch devices, or computers. (The company only has support for these devices available so far.)

The company plans to ship its first three products by the end of this year, CEO Marco Graziano told us this week. The first of these, called UFO Powerstrip, is a flying saucer-shaped disc about 11 inches in diameter with a rubber top that flips up to reveal four sockets in different colors, and space for hiding cords. The single-socket Monostrip, meanwhile, is both suitable for larger appliances and can fit into tighter spaces than the UFO. The third, the Load Monitor board, connects to homes’ electric panels to monitor their circuit breakers.

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With these products, Visible Energy hopes to reduce wasted standby power (also known as vampire power), the electricity that some appliances and electronics — including computers, DVD players, cell-phone chargers and microwaves — eat up when they aren’t in active use. Power vampires are estimated to consume anywhere from 7 percent to a whopping 40 percent of household electricity.

One solution is to plug the vampires into power strips and switch them off when they aren’t needed, but all that switch-flipping can be a pain. Visible Energy’s strips will enable users to control all the switches remotely, so they can turn several — or all of them — on or off at once. The strips can also be used in conjunction with timers, so that appliances are automatically shut off at pre-determined times.

The strips could not only help customers to use less energy during peak times, but also enable them to participate in demand-response programs, in which ratepayers get discounts for helping utilities prevent outages. Having more information about a home’s electricity usage will also lend itself to applications that recommend energy-conservation measures. And because Visible Energy can update its products’ software over the Internet, it will have the flexibility to add new applications, Graziano says.

Visible Energy was founded a year ago by the entrepreneurs that started Internet appliances company Teknema, which Ravisent bought for $15 million in 1999, and home automation and security startup MyCasa Network, which raised $5 million before running out of money in 2005. So far, the Visible Energy team has seeded the company with an undisclosed amount of funding; it’s now seeking a six-figure amount in its first equity financing round. It plans to use the cash to hire more people, increase its manufacturing and expand its product line.

cost-screen1The company plans to sell its UFO strip in U.S. retail stores, but it will pursue a different strategy in Europe, one involving distribution partnerships and a pilot project it is developing with an unnamed power company. Visible Energy has also partnered with an unnamed Taiwanese manufacturing partner, which is tooling up to begin mass UFO production this summer, making “tens of thousands” of units by the end of the year, Graziano says. It’s already released the Energy UFO iPhone application; it’s available for free at the iPhone App Store.

One of the company’s main challenges will be bringing enough products to the market at attractive prices, Graziano says, adding that it would like to offer a full range of home options. Visible Energy also faces competition from companies like Tendril, Agilwaves, Greenbox and Green Energy Options, which could make it hard to stand out in the notoriously fickle consumer market.

  1. I think this looks pretty cool.

    But, I don’t get how it gets the information from the UFO to the iPhone? Does it use WiFi to connect to a router, put the information on the internet and then have the iPhone download it? Or does it connect directly to the iPhone using Bluetooth or something like that?

    And what is the expected price?

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  2. I have been waiting for this kind of thing since I first learned about the scourge of “phantom power”. I can’t seem to buy a single electronics device that actually turns OFF. Everything I own seems to be on “standby”

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  3. @FK: The UFO powerstrip connects to the home network using power line communication. The iPhone uses your WiFi router/access point to communicate through a powerline adapter (that we provide) to the UFO powerstrips.

    @Solar Power Lad: Among other things it provides some smart ways to deal with phantom power.

    It will go into production in the summer and will cost to the public less than $200. The exact price depends on a number of factors beyond our control and will be determined once we go into volume production. Like all consumer electronics products, it should be expected to cost a little bit more at beginning of its life cycle.

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  4. hi Marco, it would be nice if it included an infrared port also, so that a Universal Remote Control could be programmed to turn on appliances via the powerstrip. In this way, it would be possible to control TVs, hifi equipment, etc, without having to leave them running on standby.

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  5. [...] The new UFO powerstrip (Photo courtesy of earth2tech) [...]

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  6. [...] companies and startups are trying to develop other alternative ways to cut vampire power. Visible Energy has created smart plugs and smart strips to eliminate wasted power and Green Plug envisions its smart adapter technology embedded everywhere. [...]

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  7. [...] Energy’s iPad app is a tweak of its iPhone app that is connected to its Energy UFO product, which it launched at our Green:Net conference in 2009 (Green:Net 2010 will take place on April 29). The Energy UFO product includes smart outlets that [...]

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  8. [...] office equipment will be switched off for longer periods, use a power strip, or energy UFO, to avoid vampire appliances slowly draining electricity. Belkin makes a series of devices that [...]

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  9. [...] office equipment will be switched off for longer periods, use a power strip, or energy UFO, to avoid vampire appliances slowly draining electricity. Belkin makes a series of devices that [...]

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