The nagging cousin of the home electronics world — home energy consumption products — are finally getting some attention from the cool kids. This morning Belkin, known for its slick wireless electronics and Apple (s AAPL) accessories, announced that it has acquired a stealth-mode startup called Zensi that makes technology for sensing and monitoring electricity use. The price of the deal was not disclosed.
Belkin called the purchase “a greater commitment” to “energy management,” and said it would fold Zensi’s technology into its “Conserve” energy management product portfolio, which includes gear like a power strip for the office that automatically shuts off power consumption ($40), and a wireless remote wall strip that can connect with the power strip ($13). Zensi’s former CEO — now general manager of the Conserve business unit at Belkin — Kevin Ashton tells CNET that it will probably “take at least a year before Belkin introduces a product,” based on Zensi technology.
While the acquisition itself was a minor move for Belkin — small team, likely small price — it represents an interesting move from the perspective of how important energy management will be to gadget makers. Belkin cites survey data that suggests that consumers are becoming more interested in conserving energy and saving on their energy bills. The recession no doubt played a role in nudging consumers and businesses to pay more attention to energy-related budgets.
But it’s really unclear at this point how interested consumers will be in buying products, and engaging with services, that focus specifically on home energy management. Right now the home energy market is a nascent ecosystem that’s made up of: utilities that are trying get their customers to consume less energy, startups building smart energy software and energy dashboards that will manage energy data in the home and help customers consume less, large manufacturers dabbling in connected appliances (where Belkin fits in), and investors looking for ways to make money.
Consumer-focused companies seem to be eying this market, though are not yet being too aggressive. Broadband service providers have been looking at the market of selling energy management services to consumers (though I was expecting more attention in early 2010), including Verizon (s VZ), and Comcast (see Broadband Service Providers Are About to Ride the Home Energy Wave). And recently startups have been developing applications for the iPad that can control home energy consumption (see How the iPad Could Disrupt the Home Energy Management Market).
Will Zensi help Belkin break out as the first mainstream gadget maker to embrace energy conservation? Well, who knows what the upcoming Zensi/Belkin product will look like, but Zensi has a strong academic background, which could deliver innovations on an interface. The company was founded by entrepreneur professors from the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering department of the University of Washington. Co-founders include Shwetak Patel (University of Washington), Matthew S. Reynolds (Duke University), Gregory Abowd (Georgia Tech), and Ph.D. candidate Erich Stuntebeck (Georgia Tech).
More on home energy management from GigaOM Pro:
Image courtesy of Belkin of their Conserve line.