The amazing energy-saving box
Appeal Staff Writer
Bill Littlehales, of Incline Village, has invented a tool that could save you money on your power bill.
His Carson City corporation developed a half-pound box that can be plugged into a wall outlet to display the monthly cost of energy being used in the home. It looks small, but it could save you $30-$40 a month.
“It tells you how much you’re paying in real time – like a gas pump,” said Littlehales, 74.
It takes about five minutes to install, with no rewiring. Littlehales used his mechanical-engineering background to construct the Power Cost Display and a transmitter that is installed on the utility meter panel.
The home owner sets the kilowatt-per-hour rate into the box, which is 11.9 cents in Carson City, and watches the digital meter climb with each switch that is flipped.
Those who have it in their home, love it, and their friends are envious.
“It’s a topic of conversation,” said Dave Noble, assistant staff counsel for the state public utilities commission. He had a Power Cost Display system installed in his Incline Village home about three months ago as a test. “When friends are over, they all want to know what it is. They all want one.”
After he saw how much one 100-watt incandescent light bulb cost – $7 a month – he switched to compact fluorescent bulbs – $1 a month.
When Noble gets home from work, his display reads $100, which is after the heat kicks on. When his wife, Jennifer, uses the oven to cook dinner the display goes up to $300. After dinner it hovers between $180 to $250 except when the hot tub heat turns on, increasing it to $800. Thankfully, that’s only on for two hours a day. A microwave can cost $120 a month; a toaster $112.
“I’ve become much more aware because you can glance at it and you know right away if you’re using more than normal for the house,” said Noble, whose electricity bill is usually about $150. He’s seen it decrease to $130 since installing the system.
Roger Collins, a retired Lockheed Martin executive of 32 years, who lives in Kelseyville, Calif., believes this product is a cost-saving tool. He’s the chief executive officer for Energy Control Systems.
“This is a psychological devise for people who want to save money, billionaires may not care, but normal people will,” he said.
The inventor demonstrated the product recently using a space heater and two high-beam lights. He turned on the space heater and the digital meter flashed $113. That means, leaving the space heater on for 30 days will cost the home owner that much a month. Turn on one of the lights and the red numbers increased to $115. The 24-hour, 30-day display is the one that gets people’s attention most, Littlehales said.
“You just saved $3 right there,” he said, after turning off one of the lights. He turned off the space heater. “Or $113 right there.”
Customers save, the corporation profits. They think it could make about $1.9 billion in its life, based off new-home construction numbers in the U.S. They have invested $100,000 initially into the product and have no debt.
Energy Control Systems is revving up for a marketing campaign driven by one goal: They think this tool will lower power bills 15 percent to 25 percent at a time when energy costs are skyrocketing.
“It’s about giving people control of their energy bill,” said Michael Bertrand, a Carson City accountant and chief financial officer of the corporation.
Brown-outs and overburdened utilities could be a thing of the past, the developers muse.
“We’re aware of their product and what it does,” said Sierra Pacific Power Co. spokesman Karl Walquist. “The engineering folks want to make sure technically that it works properly and is compatible.”
The invention took about five years from design to working product. After several prototypes, Littlehales installed the latest version in his Incline Village home – and saw reductions in his power bills, even though he admits he’s “bad about turning stuff off.” He’s developed products most of his life and has had about eight patents, three on automated HIV detection devises. It took a dentist to get the Power Cost Display into homes.
Littlehales was getting a teeth cleaning when Dr. Richard Klein, owner of Sierra Cosmetic Dental Center in Carson City and Incline, asked him this question: “So, what are you doing these days, have you had any good ideas?”
Klein and Littlehales started up Energy Control Systems and took the product to Southern California Edison, an investor-owned electric utility. It has tested several similar systems, but has not committed to the Nevada corporation. They’ve also presented it to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission.
Littlehales’ patented, Underwriters Laboratories-approved unit will cost $380 retail. They hope to have it available in limited areas though programs with utility companies. They plan to install about 150 units in new homes built by Syncon in Minden. Syncon officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
One of the biggest challenges facing new products is mass distribution, said Dave Archer, managing director of Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology.
“If you can work with a big home builder, you can make one sale and they will put it in all homes, but with a store like Home Depot, first you have to convince them to carry your product and then Home Depot may say they want to carry it in all their stores. You’d have to ship out X-thousands of units,” he said.
That isn’t a concern for Littlehales. He expects to sell Energy Control Systems to a larger corporation.
• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.
How to save a buck (or a few) on your electricity bill
• Turn off lights and appliances when not in use. Don’t forget your computer – it can use as much energy as a refrigerator. Most new computers have “sleep” settings.
• In the cold months, set the thermostat to 68 degrees when home, and then back to 58 degrees when sleeping or when you’re not home for more than four hours.
• In the winter, open window coverings on the sunny side of your home to take advantage of “free heat from the sun.” Close the coverings on cloudy days or right after the sun sets.
• Use your dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer and cook as late in the evening as possible.
• Set your water heater to 120 degrees.
• Vacuum your refrigerator coils (underneath and in the back) and don’t obstruct the coils. They need air space to work.
• Keep your freezer as full as possible. You can place containers or plastic bottles filled with water in the empty spaces.
• Make sure food is cool and covered before it goes into the refrigerator.
• Clean the reflectors underneath the burners on stovetops.
• Unplug your televisions/VCR when you’re on vacation. Most new sets draw power even when they’re turned off.
• Use compact fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent ones. This will typically save $1 per bulb changed out (for bulbs running 4-6 hours per day) and reduce heat in your home.
• Plant trees and shrubs on the south and west side of your home. The vegetation acts as insulation and provides shading, reducing thermal gain in a building.
• Fix leaky faucets and install low-flow shower heads.
• Replace normal thermostats with programmable thermostats.
– Source: Sierra Pacific