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EcoDog Seeks Solar as Back Door to Home Energy

Technology to help homeowners track and manage their energy consumption suffers from a fundamental barrier — people just don’t want to pay that much for it. It’s ironic, considering that efficiency offers a lot faster payback than, say, putting solar panels on your roof. But what if energy management can sneak into homes under the guise of solar power?

Over at my weekly update at GigaOm Pro (subscription required), I take a dive into just how home energy startup EcoDog is attempting to crack the home energy management market via the solar installer route.  The San Diego-based startup has been working for years on a high-end energy management platform for homes, but its first commercial product will be sold via solar installer partners as an integral part of household solar power systems.

EcoDog’s solar-linked system now costs about $1,000, CEO and founder Ron Pitt told me in an interview last week — very much on the higher end of more functional home energy management devices like Energy Inc.’s The Energy Detective or Powerhouse Dynamics. The platform attaches power monitors to every breaker in the house, then communicates via Echelon-based powerline carrier technology to a household gateway that connects via Ethernet to a home PC.

From there, EcoDog breaks out power use by major appliances and systems like air conditioning, along with information about how much power the solar system is feeding to the home, Pitt said. While the $1,000 price tag puts it on the high end for home energy management, it’s comparable to other home solar monitoring systems, he insisted — and as a part of an overall solar installation, it’s subject to the 30-percent solar investment federal tax credit, Pitt noted.

Indeed, while EcoDog’s “home energy watchdog” platform doesn’t allow any automatic control of power use at present, it does help homeowners pick and choose from a variety of utility pricing plans that might be available, Pitt noted. That’s a key factor for the higher savings it’s hoping to deliver its users — up to 30 percent in situations where the system can analyze, predict and instruct homeowners on how best to manage those more complicated pricing arrangements with their utilities.

Most homeowners now pay flat rates for power, but utilities will soon be implementing time of use and other variable prices on customers. However most solar-powered residential customers are already placed on tiered rate plans or other variable price plans when they sign net metering contracts with utilities. That makes them an early test market for managing flexible rates.

How well a solar-specific home energy management system will do remains to be seen, since EcoDog’s efforts so far have been relatively small scale. The startup has a partnership with Bend, Ore.-based solar distributor EcoVentures NW, and is also seeking to be included in a 2,000-home pilot project in Texas, though Pitt wouldn’t give more details.

The company raised about $600,000 in angel funding from investors including Tom Page, former CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric, Pitt said. The company had been reported to be seeking a $4.6 million round in 2009, and Pitt told me he’s currently seeking to raise a growth capital round in the single digit million-dollar range.

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Image courtesy of Ashden Awards via Creative Commons license.