Normally my market analysis has me tracking only pre-commercial cleantech R&D results — but this year I had to set up some necessary meetings at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, so I decided to make the most of it and see what commercial directions new technology is taking us. I was dreading going to Vegas – the hordes of people, trying to get from one show site to another, the bombardments of noise and music from some of the large stages, and of course, having to navigate my way through miles of blinking slot machines at my hotel.
Oddly enough, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the crowds were there, navigating the show was dizzying, and it was noisy as all get-up. Yet the show had something a bit different this year. For one thing, it represented an unprecedented cross section of international visitors, and I don’t recall ever having seen Las Vegas seem so cosmopolitan. Along with that, I saw the emergence of a major focus on energy efficiency and conservation that I had not seen previously (I am referring to the show products, not the hotels and casinos where energy continues to be wasted at mind-boggling rates).
Energy saving smart homes efforts have of course been around awhile, but the success of NEST thermostats, coupled with the over-hyped Internet of Things, seems to have sparked many similar kinds of simple and elegant control applications for remote monitoring of home functions. These products all can help with energy savings, from regulating HVAC activity automatically to VOC/air quality tracking with remote interfaces, and water conservation tools. Now all these companies need to do is agree on a communications standard…
All the IoT development has also spawned a host of low power devices and chips. Not just standard electronics ICs, but actual energy harvesting devices that capture energy from natural human motion, and co-generation systems that capture heat or solar energy for power. EnOcean, a developer of in-home wireless systems based on energy harvesting, demonstrated a range of simple switches that when pressed create enough energy to power inter-device communication.
French start-up Enerbee uses a microgenerator integrated with battery to capture unlimited motion-based power for watches, water meters and other IoT-type devices. Their goal is to eliminate the millions of one-time-use coin cell batteries used all over the world. It’s no surprise that many of the wearable devices will harvest power from human motion also.
Another French company, Hydrao, uses Bluetooth and colored lights in the showerhead and of course, an app, to provide homeowners the ability to track shower water use. Now they just need to integrate it with Kohler’s music-playing Moxie showerhead and they’ll have a compelling product.
On the commercial/industrial building side, Greek start-up Meazon offers building managers a simple small wireless device that plugs into an outlet in the wall. Deployed in different sections of the building, the device and accompanying software enable detailed mapping, monitoring and analysis of real time energy consumption of all connected devices, and provides alarms to show when and where energy use exceeds pre-determined levels.
Mountain View, California-based elichens’ optical sensors are used to monitor indoor and outdoor air quality. Among a range of target markets, the company is aiming for smart city applications where the sensors can be used to map and even predict air quality, VOCs and pollutants.
Fruition Sciences is a timely company that provides advanced vineyard monitoring tools that include sap flow sensors and analysis software. They actually wrap the vines and the system takes frequent samples to determine the optimum amount of water to provide, leading to water savings. And better wine!
Qarnot Computers develops and sells servers placed in residential homes to create free radiant heat while providing distributed cloud-based data processing services for corporations, research institutes and labs (See our feature coverage of that company).
Of course my personal favorite was Oree, a European group (well, okay, another French company – you can see where my interests lie) that handcrafts elegant wooden computer keyboards, trackpads, and styluses, as well as polished marble wireless chargers for smartphones. Take a look at their product portfolio here.
Yes, while I know the millions of products being produced for and hyped at CES doesn’t exactly make for a sustainable economy, it’s nice to see that some aspects of a more energy efficient future are catching on.