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Belkin buys crafty power-tracking start-up

It acquires Zensi, which has developed a wireless device that senses where electricity is being consumed, giving homeowners clues for conserving.

Electronics and wireless equipment maker Belkin is getting deeper into energy management as it acquires a small company with technology that detects how electricity is used within a home.

The company, called Zensi, was founded by academics--including Shwetak Patel and Matthew Reynolds--who developed a system for sensing the amount of electricity used by various appliances, said Kevin Ashton, the former CEO of Zensi.

By interpreting electrical variations on a building's wiring, the system can detect when different appliances are turned on and off and can create a profile on electricity consumption. One device plugged into the wall could, for example, tell a person how much electricity a refrigerator uses or how much money was spent on stand-by power for a TV, explained Ashton, who is now general manager of the Conserve business unit at Belkin.

Getting that sort of detailed information and making it available in consumer-friendly ways is one of the keys to getting people to conserve more and waste less, according to studies. There are a number of home energy monitoring products coming to market but getting detailed data, particularly if a home doesn't have a smart meter, is a technical challenge.

Energy monitoring companies are also experimenting with ways to best present information to people so that it's useful. Ashton said it will probably take at least a year before Belkin introduces a product, but he believes that people will view the electricity consumption information in different ways.

"The idea that everyone is going to have a big screen that does nothing but tell them what goes on with energy, we don't think that's going to work," he said. Different devices, such as Web portals, small displays, or tablet computers like the iPad, offer other possibilities, he said.