Smart Plugs: An End To The Smart Meter Safety Debate?

Technically speaking, there are many advantages to swapping analog utility meters for digital smart meters. Smart meters provide real time feedback to the utility company about energy consumption, reducing costs and generating valuable data that can be used to promote conservation. However, many people feel that smart meters are dangerous for human health and an invasion of privacy.

Building a smarter grid is the only way to establish an infrastructure that can handle 21st century energy demands while preparing for a future shift to renewables. Unfortunately, public fears about smart meters are persistent, despite the fact that they’ve already been rolled out across much of the United States. Could there be another way to gather the same real-time information about energy use without the perceived threat of high frequency radio waves? Researchers in Europe are convinced that they’ve discovered an alternative: smart plugs that communicate with each other through the power grid.

eSmart plug developed by Losinger-Marazzi in Gland

Image via EPFL

The idea for the eSmart outlet fixture was born in the electronics lab at The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.  Instead of a smart meter, these small modules are fitted behind existing electrical outlets throughout a home or business. Rather than transmitting data via wireless signal, the smart plugs communicate with each other through the power grid.

“Other systems exist,” says Laurent Fabre, co-founder of the start-up, “but this technology from the Electronics Lab at EPFL has the advantage of ensuring implementation that is both simple and fast, all without creating additional electromagnetic waves.”

Interconnected plugs transmit their data to software that displays real-time expenditures of water, heat, and electricity on a touch screen. An indicator turns red when consumption is abnormally high. The display responds as soon as a unit is turned off. In this way, smart plugs are actually better than smart meters, because they deliver instant feedback to the resident, as well as the utility.

Currently, the company is in the process of installing its smart plug system in 450 apartments in the Eikenøtt ec0-neighborhood, developed by Losinger-Marazzi in Gland. Training sessions and discussions with residents will be organized to follow the impact of the eSmart system on the energy behaviors of individuals.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog


  • Reply October 23, 2012

    R Levy

    I’m curious how these interconnected smart plugs (1) transmit data via software without a wireless connection, (2) address the cyber security and privacy issues inherent in moving “plug load” end-use data to a utility, and (3) address what has to be a significant cost for installation and hardware versus a traditional digital meter?

  • Reply October 25, 2012

    Alex Lester

    How about a smart plug that does not just communicate data, but modifies the operation of the device plugged in to reduce the peak usage in real time. The best “smart grid” rather than an excuse to charge the customer more.

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