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Tendril opens up home energy Web services

Developers can make "Energy Internet" apps that gather electricity data and control "smart" networked thermostats and appliances over a cloud-based development platform.

Hack away: Tendril's developer platform lets people write energy data-related apps for smart appliances and other networked devices.
Martin LaMonica/CNET

A home full of "smart" devices that can communicate still needs apps to give people a reason to use them.

Grid upstart Tendril today opened up a developer site to encourage the creation of applications that do something interesting with energy-related information. Tendril had already published some of the APIs for its cloud-based platform in a closed beta, but it is now opening up the service to more developers and adding documentation.

The Tendril Connect platform provides some of the plumbing to collect energy consumption data and present it back to consumers on different devices, such as computers, tablets, or smartphones. The software is very much like other cloud-based development systems, except it's focused on electricity information and a new class of networked devices, such as thermostats, utility meters, and dishwashers.

Connected appliances and smart homes will be one of the themes at the Consumer Electronics Show next week, where manufacturers will show different approaches to home monitoring and control.

Many initial applications done with Tendril Connect analyze energy use trends and recommend how a consumer could save money by, for example, running a dryer or dishwasher at off-peak times, said Tendril Chief Technology Officer Kent Dickson.

Over time, smart home applications could automatically make decisions by coordinating control across many devices, he said. If there's an emergency pricing period because of high power demand, the system could decide to shift the clothes dryer into low-heat mode and charge an electric vehicle later, Dickson said.

"There's huge potential, but these apps are not going to be like Angry Birds--it's not consumer applications that you really become engrossed in," he said. "If we, meaning application developers, are doing this right, it will be more or less invisible to us."

Tendril's Connect software and in-home devices, such as meter gateways, are used by utilities as part of smart-grid projects. When programming, developers use sample data. To deploy an application and get access to consumer energy data, they need to go through Tedril and utilities' privacy policies, which in most cases requires consumers to opt in, Dickson said.

The company is trying to attract individual developers to write energy-related applications, as well as attract programmers at utilities and manufacturers of thermostats and appliances. One customer is Whirlpool.

Saving money and energy by shifting when big appliances run requires electricity prices that vary with the time of day and demand, a system that does not exist in many states. One application of smart appliances that could have broader appeal is remote diagnostics, through which repair technicians ping appliances to determine problems and recommend fixes.