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Tendril: Smart grid meets Zigbee home networks

Tendril Networks releases its system for tracking energy usage in the house. Its twist: network-enabled devices that talk to advanced meters installed by utilities.

Start-up Tendril Networks on Tuesday announced the details of its networked in-home energy displays, a sign that smart grid technology is crawling into the marketplace.

Basic in-home displays show consumers how much electricity they are consuming at a given moment. More sophisticated systems, as Tendril Networks has developed, are designed to give consumers more options to save energy by collecting information over time and to communicate with the utility through networked meters.

Tendril's in-home display can show how much a home is spending on electricity at a given moment. Tendril Networks

The company's product, called Tendril Residential Energy Ecosystem (TREE), is a combination of software that works with utilities' back-office systems and a line of devices that use the home area networking standard Zigbee.

The display, Tendril Insight, shows usage information in real time by reading information from so-called advanced meters installed by utilities. The company also sells a gateway device and a network-enabled thermostat.

The set-up will allow consumers to not only see usage in real time, but also make adjustments to save money, according to Tendril Networks CEO Adrian Tuck. For example, you could choose to run the dishwasher at an off-peak time to get a cheaper rate or to completely shut down (without stand-by current) a large TV at certain hours of the day.

The company intends to get its devices into the market primarily through utilities; Tuck said he expects the company's gear will be in tens of thousands of homes this year and just under one million next year.

Tendril Networks provides consumers with Web access to see their electricity usage and to compare it to similar households. Tendril Networks

By the middle of next year, it will sell hardware products directly to consumers with advanced meters at a cost of between $30 and $50, Tuck said.

Ultimately, the vision is to have Zigbee-enabled appliances communicate directly with a thermostat or in-home display. But that's likely a few years away because of the expense associated with smart grid technology and because Zigbee, although a standard, has yet to be universally adopted by the industry.

Boulder, Colorado-based Tendril Networks, which raised $12 million in venture funding in March of this year, is one of several smart grid companies targeting the energy efficiency market.

Tuck said the company is looking to differentiate itself by using the Zigbee standard which will allow people to get software updates on their devices. Also, it intends to take a more consumer-friendly approach than existing smart grid pilot tests, which tend to focus on the benefits to utilities.

"Most in-home displays take information from the outside meter, but because ours are networked devices and because we're talking to the utilities' back office, we know what the price plan is and we can present it in dollars and cents," he said.