Tendril Dials Up Cell Phone Energy Tool

tendrilmobilevantagesmall Energy management startup Tendril thinks consumers will want to control their home energy consumption via their cell phone. The Boulder, Colorado-based company already has an iPhone application, but at the DEMO conference this afternoon Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck plans to show off a mobile application called Tendril Vantage Mobile that the company says can be downloaded by most web-enabled phones.

Home owners can use the mobile app, which is now available to customers of select utilities, to see their home energy consumption in real time, view dynamic pricing changes, and control connected appliances and thermostats remotely. Tendril is working on adding text-message updates, more graphs like those the company features on its web site, and carbon footprint info.

OK, so it’s a nice idea and a slick-looking tool, but at this point it can only going to be used by a very small number of early-adopter energy-geeks. That’s partly because it has to be used in conjunction with Tendril’s home energy management product, which is largely being used in only a few pilot trials with utilities. Tendril has one commercial rollout with Houston-based utility Reliant, and is planning more soon — but utilities are notoriously slow moving and at this point are the gatekeeper to greater adoption. Tendril could one day offer its product straight to consumers, but it is opting for the utility-route for now.

The other reason that Tendril Vantage Mobile won’t likely see much use for quite some time is that consumers are still just starting to use the mobile web to do things like search, IM, and use social network services. So a more complex service like managing energy consumption via mobile will remain far too complex for the average cell phone user. In addition mobile applications are notoriously hard to get consumers to download, and without some kind of partnership with a cell phone carrier or phone maker (most of which aren’t as friendly to third-party developers as Apple and its iPhone are), getting the software onto the customer’s handset will prove difficult also.

But beyond those technical and market hurdles, Tendril has actually done something very cool. The Tendril Vantage Mobile was developed based on a mobile platform API that it is now opening up to third-party developers. That means developers will be able to create alternative mobile applications using Tenrdil’s energy data. It’s a similar strategy to the one Google is taking with its online energy management tool PowerMeter, and Google plans to offer that API to third parties in the future. Offering an open API can lead to more innovation, and potentially a tool that could prove popular enough to even help proliferate Tendril’s home energy management system.