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TalkingPlug Uses RFID-Enabled Power Outlets for Energy Management

The system, developed by a company named Zerofootprint, places passive high-frequency RFID tags into the electric plugs of appliances and other devices.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
The use of RFID differentiates the TalkingPlug system from other home-energy-management systems currently on the market. Some of these non-RFID systems monitor individual outlets, Montgomery says, but are not designed to uniquely identify the appliance or devices plugged into the outlets—nor can they track the appliances or devices as they are moved from one outlet to another in the user's home, or elsewhere.

But the TalkingPlug system also comes with a higher price tag than a similar energy-management system—initially, it will likely cost $50 per two-plug outlet. Dembo told reporters at a Monday press conference that his company hopes it will be able to lower costs to approximately $35 per outlet, through partnerships with utilities or manufacturers of appliances and other products powered by house current. The tags will cost very little—about 10 cents per plug cover, Dembo says—and the gateway may run in the $20 to $30 range. But consumers with smart meters installed at their homes could use them as a gateway for the TalkingPlug data as well, then utilize the Velo software to access the usage information through the local utility's site.

The TalkingPlug system would enable ratepayers to participate in demand-response programs, even if they do not yet have a smart meter in their homes. The more that response programs draw demand from participants, the better a utility can lighten demand for power during times when demand generally spikes.

"We are looking for technology partnerships to bring the cost [of the TalkingPlug] down," Dembo says, "and we are in discussions with consumer electronics manufacturers and utilities that are looking to be early adopters [of the system]." Electronics manufacturers could access their products' TalkingPlug data via the Internet, he adds, and use it as a means of improving customer management, by mining consumers' usage data for clues as to why a particular device or appliance is malfunctioning. If it were not drawing the proper current for that type of device or appliance, for instance, the TalkingPlug data would reveal that fact.

For consumers, the return on investment into the plugs would come, theoretically, through lower monthly energy bills, as well as through participation in a demand-response program, if their utility offers one.

The system is currently designed only for U.S. power systems, for 110-volt outlets. According to Dembo, Zerofootprint also plans to make outlets for 220 volts available to consumers in the United States and other countries.

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