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Tapping into home energy circuit to monitor energy usage

Posted: 25 Jun 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Curb  home energy  circuit breaker  hardware system  ADC 

A home automation start-up has developed a technology that helps you identify the energy hog in your home. Curb has unleashed a hardware system that attaches to a home circuit breaker to monitor energy consumption.

"We took a different path from other home automation products. Most are point solutions that monitor or control air conditioners, or a specific light bulb or outlet," said Curb CEO Erik Norwood. "We take it one step higher to the nervous centre of the home, the circuit box, and give that centre a brain."

Curb sensors

Curb sensors snap onto the wires of an existing circuit breaker. (Source: Curb)

Curb's box clicks into a home's circuit breaker and can measure voltage as well as the current going into different circuits in the home. Information drawn from the breaker calculates a real-time spending breakdown by appliance or home zone, usage trends over time, and provides tailored recommendations to save power. That data can be communicated in real time or stored in Curb's on-board memory or SD card.

Curb's flagship device, the Curb Home Pro, monitors 18 different circuits, with two dedicated to the main breaker to note total home consumption. Current transducers (CT clamps) snap onto circuit breaker wires and are 99.5 per cent accurate, Norwood noted.

The box can gather 18,000 samples per second on each circuit, which is enough to distinguish between appliances and provide usage information on a smartphone app. The Curb device uses a Freescale i.Mx28 processor running at 454MHz, as well as additional digital signal processing chips. Curb also uses ADCs from Analog Devices and Qualcomm powerline communications.

Curb communicates via Ethernet over power line back to a home router, which allows users to substitute electrical wires for a CAT 5 cable. Norwood said Curb has kept future standards in mind and designed its boxes with a connectivity module so users can comply with Zigbee, Wi-Fi, Thread or other communications protocols.

"Nobody has really solved this thing...we wanted to keep Curb flexible because I don't think we're going to see massive [standard] adoption quite yet," Norwood said.

Although Curb has been tested in more than 175 homes and business over the past 18 months, the company recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to drive interest. Norwood said Curb will also announce a partnership to further its ecosystem, but declined to comment further. Such a partnership is necessary to drive home automation, he said. "There's a few companies out there trying to do everything themselves, which conceptually might make sense. What we're going to find is the most effective solutions are from companies that are focused on doing one thing extremely well, then opening up their system through an API and working with other companies in a very direct and valuable manner."

Although Curb is not partnered with Nest, Norwood envisioned a system where data from Curb helped control a Nest home thermostat. The security camera on Nest could provide an additional layer of data for Curb users, who could monitor energy use when a home is empty.

- Jessica Lipsky
  EE Times

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