Wattvision Shows The Power Of Simple, Realtime Energy Monitoring

Screen shot 2009-12-10 at 1.24.44 PMIt’s freezing cold in San Francisco right now (which is to say, 50 degrees). As such, I’ve been using my heater like a madman trying to stay warm. I know that’s going to hurt when I get my electricity bill at the end of the month, but I have no idea how much it’s going to hurt. A Y Combinator startup, Wattvision, launching in beta today, wants to solve that problem.

The idea is simple: Wattvision wants to give you a realtime picture of your home (or office) energy consumption. But to do this, you need a device that can tap into your power meter. That’s where the Wattvision WiFi Sensor comes in. But the good news is that you don’t need an electrician to set this up for you. If you have a digital power meter, you can very easily attach the Wattvision Sensor and you’re all set. From there it will send your data wirelessly to the web, where you can monitor it. And if you have an iPhone, Wattvision has also created an iPhone-optimized version of their site so you can watch your home energy consumption on the go.

Screen shot 2009-12-10 at 1.24.49 PMSo the first big question is: How much does this cost? The Wattvision Sensor is normally $199, but alongside the beta launch, Wattvision is offering to give a $50 discount to the first 100 TechCrunch readers that use the coupon code “wvbetaTC“. In a world where many tech startups cling to the idea of “free,” $199 may seem like a hard sell, but this is actually very cool stuff. Take a look at Wattvision’s main page to see a realtime example of how easily you can monitor your power usage with this device. Done the right way, this could actually end up saving you more than the $200 you spend on the device. It’s interesting data, and you can compare it to data from others in your area. You can also tweet out your consumption results or send them to Facebook to enable some interesting social pressures.

There will also be a pricing model based on how much data you want to see. But for the beta launch, Wattvision isn’t focusing on that just yet. And if you order a sensor now, you’ll get the home standard plan (the 2nd-tier plan) for free for six months. The different plans mainly involve the speed at which the monitoring data comes in (15 seconds versus 8 seconds, for example) and how far back you can view your consumption history. Also in the higher tier plans you will have options to get alerts send to your email or phone, and the ability to have multiple accounts. More on these plans can be found here.

But the second, and potentially bigger question is: How can Wattvision compete with companies like Google and Microsoft which are also getting into this field (with PowerMeter and Hohm, respectively)? When I asked Wattvision co-founder Savraj Singh about that, he had a good answer:

We’re taking the bet that people and small businesses are interested in their live energy use–now–and they want something that works with their existing electricity meters.  The big players are taking the long-route — getting partnerships with power companies and banking on the coming smart grid deployments.  Unless your power company is on board, you can’t get those systems today.  And the fastest you can get data from the latest smart grid technology is, typically, every 15 minutes.  Wattvision updates every 10 seconds, and will also be compatible with the smart grid when it arrives. We’re also a for-profit endeavor, which means we’re hoping to stay sharply focused on customer needs, whether consumers or businesses, and excel at things like customer service and satisfaction.

Y Combinator’s Paul Graham goes on to note that he likes the idea of a small startup moving faster than the giants. “It’s like Apple back in 1976,” he tells us. That said, “we think those guys are doing great work and we’re keen to find areas where we can collaborate,” Singh also noted.

Find out more about Wattvision in the video below. And again, use the “wvbetaTC” code if you’re interested in getting your hands on one of the first devices at $50 off.