Under $100 At Fry's: The PowerCost Monitor

Here’s the latest indicator that home energy management devices are going mainstream fast this year: Canadian Blue Line Innovations has started selling a $99 energy management device called the PowerCost Monitor at big box retailer Fry’s Electronics this week (check it out here).

The news comes on the heals of Apple reportedly filing patents suggesting its been eying energy management, and 3M’s new interest in energy management through its investment in Energy Inc, which makes The Energy Detective. Earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show there was a spate of home energy management announcements from both large electronics firms and startups.

The PowerCost Monitor is interesting because at under $100, it’s one of the lowest-cost home energy management devices we’ve seen yet that is widely available. The Energy Detective (TED), which was the first gadget partner of PowerMeter, has been sold out for months on the TED web site. And the device costs closer to $120 for the older TED models and at least $200 for the newer models. AlertMe has been selling a home energy management kit for months now that costs £69 ($112) plus a £30 annual subscription ($50) (they dropped the price from last year).

The PowerCost Monitor comes in two parts, a sensor and radio device which fits onto any electricity meter, and a display, which picks up the wireless signal of the home’s electricity data emitted by the sensor/radio. It can be so cheap because it’s so incredibly simple. Blue Line Innovations says the device can help users reduce their electricity consumption by 6-18 percent.

Will getting its price point below $100 put the PowerCost Monitor at the front of the consumer energy management pack? When I interviewed Savraj Singh, the founder of Y-Combinator startup Wattvision, which makes a gadget like the PowerCost Monitor, last year, he thought that a super cheap cost was the answer to winning in this market. According to a survey from Greentech Media last year consumers are likely to pay closer to $48 for such an energy management product.

But clearly distribution into the direct to consumer market will also hold a key for this market. That avenue has been tricky for small startups, which is why Blue Line Innovation’s deal with Fry’s is interesting.

Blue Line Innovations was founded back in 2003, and already has over 100,000 PowerCost Monitor’s in the field today mostly through utility installations. The company told me this morning that over the last months it has been shifting its primary focus to the consumer. Analysts like Gartner’s Zarco Sumic told us that in the long run “The vendors that will dominate will be the ones who know how to market, sell and meet the needs of the consumer space. It is a consumer technology play. It is not a utility play.” However in the short term, many analysts, like Pike Research’s Clint Wheelock, have maintained that the utility is still the dominant distribution channel.

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