Smart devices first appeared less than 30 years ago, but “smart” became a new normal only recently. Today we already have everything from smartwatches to smart refrigerators, so it only seems logical to automate our houses too.
Actually, we already have that too. For obvious reasons, it isn’t as popular as smartphones. However, without us even noticing, this technology is slowly but steadily taking over more and more homes.
But what is the purpose behind this innovation? Can it really help save the planet?
To find some answers, the Cybernews investigation team reached out to the CEO of PowerX, Manuel Schönfeld – an expert, wildly passionate not just about saving some time or money, but about helping our planet see a better future.
Let’s go back to the very beginning of PowerX. What has the journey been like over the years?
Well… I founded PowerX two years ago, and as you can imagine it already feels like a lifetime! When the company started in 2020, I had no idea that just a few months later I’d be on the last plane to Germany as the entire world started to lock down.
We had to design and prototype hardware, write millions of lines of code, hire a team, and raise money, all while under total lockdown. Looking back it’s crazy to think we did it, but we did and we have a very bright future ahead.
Can you introduce us to the PowerX Suite? How is AI incorporated into your products?
PowerX is a suite of software and sensors that helps homeowners better understand and significantly reduce their utility usage. We like to say we help you save money while saving the planet. There are three core sensors and a hub they connect to. These sensors monitor your electricity usage, your water usage, and your water heater usage. They’re very easy to install and connect to the Hub via a technology called LoRa which allows them to be placed anywhere, so no need to extend wifi to your basement.
The sensors are just the start, as the software is where the magic happens. Our system fuses the data from the sensors to not only generate the full story of your home’s utility usage, but also is able to make smart recommendations to reduce your utility bill, alert you to potential issues like leaks and shorts, and also automatically optimize your water heater to save you money and reduce your emissions without having to lift a finger.
What myths and misconceptions surrounding smart home devices do you notice most often? What do you think they are based on?
I think the biggest myth is that smart homes are actually smart! Most smart devices are simply remotes or timers, few things are making your home really smart.
That’s where we really differentiate ourselves, we don’t want to make a home smart as generation 1 timer-controlled smart plugs do, we want to make it brilliant. We want to provide the homeowner with unparalleled knowledge about what’s actually happening inside the four walls, not just what a meter stuck to the side of the house is saying.
How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Did you add any new features as a result?
I think these past two years have contained enough global events to last a lifetime. But for PowerX it’s been three primary areas.
The first is that climate change is intensifying. In the United States, we are seeing record temperatures and severe weather, there is barely any water left in the Southwest. All the while, utility bills, gas, water, and electricity are all skyrocketing, meaning consumers are literally paying for it. People are desperately looking for ways to reduce their utility spending, which is even more vital now due to record inflation rates and fears of recession, while also trying their best to cut their carbon footprint. Luckily, PowerX can do both, and at our price point, is a no-brainer to put money back in people’s pockets.
The second was the pandemic and associated logistical crisis that we’re still working our way through. Being a start-up is hard any day of the week, being a startup that also makes complex hardware, adds another wrinkle entirely! Now imagine all that but during the worst logistical situation in a generation… Let’s just say: I had a lot less gray hair two years ago. But you know what? It’s been very valuable, it taught us a lot of great lessons. We’ve become super flexible, lean, and speedy with our decision-making. We’re able to rapidly prototype, test, and get the final version to the factory much faster than before. The constraints have dramatically improved our performance.
The third is the War in Ukraine. It comes with both risks and opportunities. On the one hand, we have many Ukrainian employees, amazing engineers, and even a testing lab in that country. Operating in Ukraine, naturally, has become much more difficult. On the other hand, much of the world has to completely reorganize its energy supply. That’s a huge opportunity for startups like us as at scale, a solution like PowerX can make a massive contribution to ensuring a better balance between energy supply and demand. All without customers noticing a thing.
Are there any smart home devices that you think require extra attention or special security measures?
I think anything you attach to your home is something you have to be careful with. I’m German and Europe, and Germany in particular, takes data privacy very seriously, so that ethos was built into PowerX from the start.
As the world gets more connected, what safety tools do you think everyone should have in place to keep their homes and networks safe?
When it comes to your home people need to think beyond the front door and the windows. You have a massive tank of hot water in your basement that costs thousands of dollars if something goes wrong, and you have more and more electrical systems with more complexity than ever before.
Billions of dollars are spent on leak and electrical insurance claims each year. We need to think about our whole homes the way we think about that front door.
What predictions do you have for the future of technology in the energy sector?
The energy sector has been very stable and slow-moving for decades. In the past years, several external factors have shaken it to the core. Climate change, the need for sustainable energy sources and the transition from fossil fuels, the war in Ukraine and the need to rethink the global energy infrastructure, an aging grid infrastructure, the rise of electric vehicles and a battery economy, and so on.
This will make it imperative for the energy sector to become much more nimble, more innovative, and move at a faster pace than it's ever experienced.
My prediction is that to achieve this they will lean heavily on energy and climate-tech start-ups.
What other aspects of our lives do you hope to see secured and enhanced by technology in the near future?
We need to think about our whole home the way we think about the front door of our home, our bank accounts, etc. We can’t just rely on walking down to the basement once every few weeks to make sure there isn’t a leak. We can’t just read the utility company’s website about conserving power. Homeowners need far more sophisticated, yet accessible, systems to make better decisions, and it can’t just be for new efficient homes.
In the Northeast alone the average age of a home is 63 years. Imagine how inefficient those structures are. And the cost to retrofit these homes from the ground up? Astronomical. So we do need technology like PowerX in the near future that helps these homeowners without breaking the bank.
Would you like to share what’s next for PowerX?
Our goal is to help homeowners get a handle on their utility usage, save money, and cut their emissions. That’s our North Star and there’s a lot of skies out there to play in. The built environment is one of the, if not the, largest contributor to climate change. And there is no silver bullet to fixing that. And that makes PowerX so attractive.
You start with the water sensor today, the software learns more and more about your usage, makes smarter and smarter recommendations and optimization, then you add the remaining two sensors, then we come out with something new that monitors and optimizes other home functions. Then we partner with others, and all of a sudden what started off spending a couple of bucks to monitor your water has scaled to create a highly efficient home. Without the need to take out another mortgage to pay for it.