IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Smart tech can help with heat wave blackouts

The heat wave smothering the East Coast is straining sanity and the electric grid. While waiting for smarter grid systems, this is the perfect time to help avoid blackouts with your own smart tech.
Image: HP Monster Digital PowerCenter
The HP Monster Digital PowerCenter ($50) has surge protection to keep a computer, monitor, printer and other equipment safe from powerful energy surges and spikes. It automatically disconnects equipment when there is a dangerous power condition and sounds an alarm.Monster Cable Products, Inc.
/ Source: Discovery Channel

It's so hot, scrolling through the list of National Weather Service heat advisory areas will give you a hand cramp. The heat wave smothering the East Coast is straining sanity and the electric grid. While waiting for smarter grid systems, this is the perfect time to help avoid blackouts with your own smart tech.

Smart power strips have a series of dedicated outlets, depending on what you're plugging in. Electronics that shouldn't be shut off go in certain outlets, while ones that can be turned off go in others. Several models in the $40 to $80 range are on the market now, as the Wall Street Journal's Katherine Boehret pointed out recently: the Bits Limited Smart Strip Power Strip, HP's Monster Digital PowerCenter and iGo's Power Smart Tower.

Then there's the next step — systems that can make dumb appliances into smart ones. Earlier this year at the Greener Gadgets Conference, several startups showed off their concepts for smart outlets and plugs while Home Automation Inc. president and CEO Jay McLellan described using low-power processors to monitor and control energy usage in the home.

The Austin-based company GreenSwitch makes a whole home system that replaces standard outlets with smart ones that are connected wirelessly to a central "GreenSwitch" that can actually shut everything off when you leave the house.

To find out where the real energy culprits are, Google's PowerMeter might be one of the easiest options. Several utilities have formed partnerships with Google so their customers can use the free online application to get details about their energy use. For everyone else, several energy tracking devices work with PowerMeter, including ones made by the Energy Detective and Current Cost.

You can also go old school by setting thermostats to no lower than 78 degrees F, unplugging nonessential appliances, delaying the laundry until after 10 p.m. and reducing phantom loads by shutting off power strips whenever possible.

And finally, there's the really lazy option: shut off and unplug everything, and then retreat to a public place that has air conditioning. Don't be surprised if you contemplate sleeping there, too.