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This company has built one home energy sensor to control them all

Robert Marshall, president and chief executive of Earth Networks, at the company’s Germantown, Md., office in 2012. (Evy Mages for The Washington Post)

The plethora of electronic devices in your home may plug into the same walls and draw electricity from the same source, but each has a unique signature or fingerprint that helps distinguish it from the rest. To a sophisticated sensor, the refrigerator, the curling iron and the TV look quite different.

Those fingerprints can also unlock energy information about the entire home, one company claims.

Earth Networks, a weather data analytics company in Germantown, Md., has created a smartphone-size sensor that adheres to the front of your home’s breaker box and plugs into a nearby wall socket. After that simple installation, chief executive Robert Marshall said, the sensor can track the energy consumption and usage patterns of each appliance and device in the home.

The homeowner can then use that information to determine where energy could be conserved, whether devices have been left on unintentionally, or whether an appliance appears on the verge of failure. Action is up to the homeowner, however. Once the sensor has detected the dryer vent is clogged or the coffee maker was left on, it’s up to you to remedy the situation the old fashioned way.

But as connected home technology becomes more popular, Marshall expects that will change.

“This unlocks the connected home. The connected home is going to continue to progress, but slowly. Once you know that you’ve left your curling iron on, you should then get a smart [power] switch and it will automatically turn off,” he said.

The concept of a completely automated home — one that brews your coffee in the morning and powers off your lights at night — has yet to be fully realized for most American households. Despite the attention these technologies have received, these tasks are still part of a very manual routine for most homeowners.

That’s beginning to change, albeit gradually. Consumers have begun flocking to individual smart home technologies, with voice-activated assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home becoming especially popular in a short period of time, according to ABI Research. The market research firm estimates that 600 million smart home devices will ship in 2021, up from 40 million devices just six years prior.

But having even a few smart devices does not a smart home make. Marshall predicts most household appliances will remain disconnected for the foreseeable future, and his company’s sensor could start to bridge the gap between those dumb devices and a smart home, he said.

“Everything is so disjointed right now,” Marshall said. “There’s not any one platform that understands the home in detail.”

The Earth Networks sensor was developed in tandem with Oakland, Calif.-based Whisker Labs, a start-up that Earth Networks has now acquired for an undisclosed sum. Marshall expects the sensor will be available to business partners, such as utility and insurance companies, early next year, and will go on sale to homeowners toward the end of 2017. A retail price has not been set.

While relatively few consumers may know the name Earth Networks, millions have interacted with the weather forecasting app WeatherBug that the company operated until last month. Earth Networks sold the brand for an undisclosed sum to add money to its coffers and focus more intently on its data business, Marshall said.

Earth Networks runs the largest private network of weather sensors in the world, providing key climate and atmospheric information to governments, businesses and other large institutions. That means processing large volumes of data in real time, and delivering it in a way that’s easy for its customers to understand and act on. In that way, the new home energy sensor isn’t a stretch for the company, he said.

“We’re now monitoring the energy in your home using that same core competency,” Marshall said.

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