By Jennifer Giacoppo on Jan 10, 2011

Smart Plugs: A Buyer's Review

ThinkEco Modlet

The ThinkEco Modlet combines wireless power monitoring with a remote access system that allows easy access to home power usage. Photo: Jennifer Berry, Earth911

Across the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, “smart” plugs were all the rage for reducing and monitoring household energy consumption.

While their features vary by manufacturer, essentially, smart plugs are outlet units that plug into regular household outlets to prevent vampire power drain, monitor energy usage and generally reduce the overall costs to run various electronics.

While Earth911 didn’t hit every smart plug purveyor, we did visit four booths in the Sustainable Planet TechZone to check out the features (and price points) of some up-and-coming products.

ThinkEco Modlet

The ThinkEco Modlet (“modern electric outlet”) uses wireless communication to connect to a USB hub that plugs into a home or office computer. The system then monitors and records electricity usage from all Modlet’s in the area to a platform that can be accessed online to manage power consumption from any location.

Modlet can learn when to automatically shut down power to outlets by monitoring historic usage patters of the gadgets plugged into it.

A starter kit, which includes two Modlets and a USB receiver, costs $50.00, with additional outlets in packs of two priced at $44.95. According to Thinkeco, the money spent on each outlet can be recouped in six to nine months.

The company is taking orders now, with products shipping some time in the second quarter.

Smart Plug/Freelux

Freelux smart plugs

The Freelux system can use radio waves to monitor and control home energy usage. The black box is the monitoring station that gathers usage information. Photo: Jennifer Berry, Earth911

Similar to the Modlet, the Smart Load Switch Plug by Freelux allows access to usage patterns and money spent to power various electronics via an online platform.

By entering your cost per kilowatt hour (supplied by your electric provider), the smart plugs will report how much money is being used by your gadgets.

Using radio signals, each plug can be turned on or off individually and automatically if desired, or Zigbee or wi-fi connectivity options are available.

Usage alerts can be sent via email as well, making any unusual usage patterns easier to spot.

Starter kits, which include two plugs and a network hub start at $100.

Watts Clever

Watts Clever power strip

The Watts Clever model is to make energy management simple. The "control" slot in this strip allows an easy way to allow or stop power flow to connected devices. Photo: Jennifer Berry, Earth911

Watts Clever takes a simpler approach to home energy management. Its Easy-Off Sockets operate via remote controls, offering a one-click option for turning plugs on and off.

The company does make wireless power monitoring systems, but the ease of use of the remote-control click may be more appealing to a crowd that is not interested in more advanced features.

Among other products, the company also makes smart power strips that have “control” slots for easy turn-off.

For example, let’s say the strip was being used on a home entertainment system that included a TV, DVD player, cable box and sound system. The whole configuration revolves around whether or not the TV is turned on, so this plug is placed in the control slot. When the TV is turned on, power is supplied to all other devices. When the TV is turned off, power is cut to these peripherals.

A set of two outlets and a remote control start at $15, while a power strip runs about $40. For the lower price point, it’s not a bad bang for your buck.

BITS Limited

BITS Limited power strip

BITS Limited utilizes a "control" socket on its power strips, and also manufactuers smarter charging platforms. The company is also working a new model that will use Portland cement to further protect devices from power surges. Photo: Jennifer Berry, Earth911

BITS Limited‘s approach to the smart strip is simple to understand and implement in the home. Using a similar “control” setup as described above, kicking vampire power drain from large devices and their peripherals (printers, scanners, DVD players, etc.) is as easy as turning off your computer or television.

BITS also manufactures energy saving charging strips, which are designed to turn off their outlets when all connected batteries and battery chargers are completely charged.

Configurations and sizes for the smart power strips and chargers vary on size and purpose, but prices start at $29 for smaller setups.

The company will even accept its own broken or spent power strips for recycling. BITS also has a strong focus on reducing materials used in the creation of its products, as well as reusing whenever possible.

Related articles:
Greenpeace Rates Greenest Electronics at CES, Calls For Improvement
First Look: Ford Unveils Its New, All-Electric Focus

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