Is Onzo the iPod of Cleantech?

Design can go a long way toward getting consumers to buy gadgets — the iPod being the quintessential example. Could a little startup out of the UK called Onzo do something similar for home energy management?

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The London-based startup just picked up £2 million ($4 million) in financing from Sigma Capital Group and Scottish and Southern Energy, each of whom put up £1 million and a company representative to sit on Onzo’s board. More importantly, SSE, one of the region’s largest utilities, has placed an order for £7 million worth of Onzo devices and services and exclusive rights to Onzo’s products and services in the UK and Ireland.

Marketing your product as an improvement over what’s currently available wouldn’t be too hard, as most energy and carbon-use monitoring systems are confusing or just plain boring. And Onzo’s simple, user-friendly device bears not a small resemblance to the iPod.

The gizmo, called simply “the Onzo,” collects and logs data about your home’s electricity use as a sort of “dashboard for your home,” the idea being that by giving homeowners the tools to understand their energy use they can make better conservation decisions. Onzo plans to start rolling out its products and services later this year.

Feeding information to the sleek, iPod-esque device is a bevy of advanced metering infrastructure gadgets, including a wireless PC dongle, individual appliance meters, clip-on sensors and a web interface where users can chart and track their energy use.

While the Onzo’s inner workings are a little mysterious to us, the company has assembled a lot of well-known partners to help design the chic energy display. LShift, which has worked with T-Mobile and Vodafone, is doing software development. PDD, which has done design work for Sony Ericsson, is doing product design. And More Associates, which has built energy information systems for Solar Century and Sanyo, is working on Onzo’s energy visualization technology.

While this recent deal firms up Onzo’s market presence in the UK, their job posting for a position in “U.S. and Canada b2b sales” may indicate Onzo is getting ready to jump the pond. Stateside startups in energy visualization technologies, like Lucid Design Group, might have some British competition coming.

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