The Case of the Home Energy Boom: 3M Invests in The Energy Detective


Updated: Looks like this is the weekend for some unusual firms to dabble in the increasingly hot home energy management (my take on how Apple could jolt the energy management space here). Minnesota-based manufacturer 3M (s MMM), which makes such disparate products as post-it notes and medical supplies, and more recently renewable energy and batteries, said it has invested in Energy Inc, the makers of the home energy management device The Energy Detective (TED), through its New Venture Business. Energy Inc. is well-known for being the first gadget partner to connect with Google’s online energy management tool PowerMeter.

Terms of the investment were not disclosed but 3M New Ventures, which is based in Seefeld, Germany, said it made the investment because of Energy Inc.’s “high speed of innovation and entrepreneurial approach to serving customers,” in the “fast-growing energy monitoring market.” When companies don’t disclose the size of the investment, most of the time it means it’s pretty small. Update: According to this filing the investment was $2 million.

It’s unclear to me just what 3M plans to do with the Energy Inc. investment. 3M sells both utility electrical transmission and distribution equipment as well as technologies for consumer electronics like touch screen systems and also communications products. But in a statement 3M said synergies with its other businesses would have a “high commercialization potential.”

The investment seems like a way for 3M to experiment in the increasingly hot market of home energy management products. Computing giants like Google (s GOOG), Microsoft (s MSFT) and Intel (s INTC) have been developing energy management tools, startups have been building energy dashboards in droves, and smart grid players like Silver Spring Networks and GridPoint have recently bought their way in.

Energy Inc was actually founded back in 2001, before energy management was a hot topic anywhere. President and CEO of Energy Inc, Dolph Rodenberg told me in an interview in October that about 40 percent of its sales come from utilities, though declined to name its utility customers, while the majority of its sales come from the direct to consumer market.

Energy Inc.’s TED 5000 is the device that works via Google PowerMeter, and it costs abut $200. All the attention from Google’s partnership means that the TED5000 has been constantly sold out and on backorder for months. Rodenberg told us that the company was in the process of raising funds back in October, but not via the traditional venture capital route. I’d speculate that the PowerMeter link only helped with this financing deal.



Alex, I think you’ll see that display devices have a noticeable effect on the mass market when they are actually GIVEN AWAY to the mass market.

Devices like TED are really only going to be purchased by early adopters as those are the only types of people that would be willing to spend $200 on a device that simply spits out your energy consumption. I am sure that these same people will use a device like TED to the fullest so that they can rationalize their purchase. So I agree that perhaps some of their claimed energy savings are unique to this user group.

When a utility provides a display device for free to their customers as part of the Smart Metering rollout, the mass market will not have the same behaviours as the TED users, but they will react to things such as TOU pricing. A simple LED on the other side of the room that is flashing red when the price of power is high, might be all that we really need to get that 5-10% peak usage reduction that the utilities are aiming for.

Then we can work on proper Energy Management to solve the rest of it… But to get the mass market to appreciate energy management, we have to take baby steps to get there and that starts with monitoring.


open4energy has been concerned for some time about how electricity monitoring, which we agree will increase energy awareness, will actually translate into electricity savings.

I have been following a blog by Tom at fivepercent. He has a number of postings on how the family use the information from their TED 5000. Theory is one thing, but here is a real early adopter. In his case I am going to admit that the information they have obtained has been used to take saving actions and reduce their energy use.

I am still not convinced that they needed a monitor to take the actions they have.

I join Katie in wondering why 3M want to invest in a company selling a device which is going to have an interesting time transitioning from meeting its early adopter interests, to being a component of the average homes electricity management.

In my opinion this was the ideal quick way for 3M to get linked to Google’s PowerMeter. Now this has every probability of being in most homes if Google’s ability to deliver a free useful software widget is anything to go by.

A smart marketing move indeed, particularly if they have aspirations to enter the home energy management market. I guess we will be updating our lists of energy saving (as opposed to energy monitoring) devices soon!

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