“The average consumer doesn’t have this knowledge, and much of what they assume is inconsistent with what is really happening, as I found out,” he says. “We live in Seattle, where we don’t much use air conditioning. So that’s not a big factor for us. In other parts of the country, it might be. Some people think the dishwasher uses the most water, but actually it doesn’t. Dishwashers are usually pretty efficient. Number one is the toilet, followed by showers and washing machines.
“For different people, it’s different things,” he adds. “That’s why this technology is useful. People live their lives in different ways, and energy and water use are very specific to the home itself, and to the family itself.”
Patel created his own company aimed at commercializing the devices; in 2010, Belkin, a major manufacturer of computers and consumer electronics, acquired Patel’s startup. He still consults with the company, helping with technology transfer.
“A division within Belkin called Conserve is in charge of this technology and is working with Commonwealth Edison to use these devices, and putting them in peoples’ homes, “ Patel says. “They also are working with Best Buy on the retailing. Depending on the pilot, the hope is to make the devices commercially available in 2012.”
He expects eventually most consumers will be able to afford them. “It’s not going to be like buying a computer,” he says. “It will be more like buying a couple of video games.”
Furthermore, he predicts that the data generated by his invention will encourage consumers to buy more energy efficient products, and manufacturers to make them.
He still checks his own household monitors frequently. And he is considering turning in one of his cable boxes. “Also, you can be sure that the next time around I’ll make a different decision about what device I use to run my TV,” he says.
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