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A/C on demand: Smart outlet provides remote control

In New York City, Con Edison will distribute 10,000 smart outlets to convert air conditioners into remotely controlled appliances.

ThinkEco's smart outlet has a wireless radio that allows plugged-in devices to be connected to the Internet and remotely controlled. ThinkEco

Con Edison is betting that a modest smart outlet can help prevent the grid from crashing during a heat wave. The same gadget will also let people remotely control their air conditioners.

The New York utility said last week it intends to distribute 10,000 smart outlets from startup ThinkEco to residents in large apartment buildings as part of its peak power reduction program called CoolNYC. A regular air conditioner plugs into the smart outlets and allows for remote control of thermostat settings from a smart phone or Web browser.

People can choose to participate in Con Edison's CoolNYC program through which the utility adjusts air conditioner thermostat settings to lighten the load on the grid during times of peak demand. The 10,000 smart outlets, called modlets by ThinkEco, can trim 5 megawatts from the grid, or the equivalent of about 5,000 homes.

The "modlets" provide a notification to people in CoolNYC that their air conditioner settings have been adjusted temporarily. Participants in a program, which currently uses a different type of controller, get a rebate from the utility.

In addition to peak power shaving, the modlets turn a regular air conditioner into a smart appliance, giving people the ability to turn it on and off from an Internet-connected device and adjust the settings.

ThinkEco's modlets are available to consumers but the has mostly targeted corporate customers which use them to power down office electronics on a schedule.