Power strips with a mind of their own

Blog posted by Joshua Lang

The modern home is becoming ever more cluddered with devices that needlessly consume standby power. The obvious, but rather daunting solution is to unplug such devices when they are not currently in use. Companies such as BITS LTD and Wattstopper, however, have been developing increasingly more elegant, alternative solutions to this common waste of energy.

The Wattstopper power strip includes six "controlled" power outlets and two "uncontrolled" outlets, as well as a motion detector. The uncontrolled outlets provide continuous power at all times, while the controlled ones are linked to the motion detector and provide power only as long as there is movement detected nearby (within a 120 degree radius of the apparatus).

This setup is ideal, for instance, for use with a desktop computer. The actual computer can be plugged into one of the uncontrolled outlets--in case, for example, you have reason to leave your computer running while not there--while all nearby accessories such as speakers, lamp, monitor, cell phone charger, space heater, fan, etc. are plugged into controlled outlets. Power to the controlled outlets is automatically cut after the motion sensor detects no movement from a programmable period of time from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. The Wattstopper carries a price tag of $90.

The Smart Strip from BITS LTD operates on a different principle. It internally monitors the amount of power being drained by devices and is able to identify when they are actually turned on or off. When connected devices are turned off the strip automatically cuts power to their respective outlets, eliminating potential standby power drain. With a modest price tag of $32 to $35, the Smart Strip purports to pay for itself in as little as six weeks.