EcoDog Expands as Developer Puts Energy Watchdog in New “Eco-Savvy” Homes

3/12/10Follow @bvbigelow

When I had breakfast recently with Ron Pitt, he pointed out that there are only about 100 or so major, investor-owned utilities in the United States—but there are roughly 70 million owner-occupied single-family homes.

So why, in the name of God’s greenhouse gases, are so many venture-backed startups focused on developing cleantech innovations and smart grid technologies for sale to utilities?

It’s a rhetorical question, but Pitt has a point. “People keep wanting to turn the smart grid into the next Internet,” he said. “I keep hearing people talk about ‘What is the next killer app?’” But Pitt, who has a lot of experience in software development and in the solar electric market, said there is no open control of the power grid, and the smart grid—unlike the Internet—does not want to be free. As Pitt puts it, “SDG&E [San Diego Gas & Electric] could care less about enabling new technologies that allow entrepreneurs to make money.”

Pitt’s skepticism may go against the current, especially since the Obama Administration awarded more than $3.4 billion in grants last fall to spur the development of smart grid technologies meant to trim utility bills, reduce blackouts, and promote renewable energy. Most, if not all, of that money went to utility-led projects.

But as the founding CEO of San Diego-based EcoDog, Pitt has put his money where his opinions are. As we reported last summer, EcoDog’s principal product is Fido, a home energy-monitoring device that connects to a home circuit breaker to monitor energy use on each circuit and send real-time information to help homeowners cut their energy costs.

"Fido" keeps watch on your electric grid

"Fido" keeps watch on your electric grid

So far Ecodog has been funded entirely by Pitt and Tom Page, the former chairman and CEO of San Diego Gas & Electric and its corporate parent Enova (now Sempra Energy). In a separate conversation, Page told me he views EcoDog as the only smart grid device “that delivers actionable information to the customer. Everything else goes back to the utility. Wouldn’t you really rather have that information [about energy use] go back to the people who can actually do something about it?”

Indeed, EcoDog’s technology was named best in show at the GadgetFest contest that San Diego’s CommNexus industry group held last November at Qualcomm—and one reason I met with Pitt was to get an update on the five-year-old startup.

Pitt has been developing the home energy watchdog since 2005. He previously worked as general manager and chief technical officer for Trace Engineering, a leading supplier of electronics for the solar market. Before that he spent eight years in the uninterruptible power supply industry, where he worked in software development and small systems development.

He told me the company has begun to generate some revenue. The company’s first Fido devices were sold to Brookfield Homes, for installation in the new “eco-savvy” homes of the builder’s Rockrose at the Foothills development. Brookfield plans to hold an official grand opening for the new development on March 27, saying Rockrose is the first new home community in San Diego to offer every new home with an energy efficiency rating that is 35 percent better than the California Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential Construction.

Pitt told me EcoDog also is in the process of moving its headquarters from a 1,500-square-foot office in Vista, CA, into a 7,500-square-foot facility in San Diego’s Sorrento Mesa. He also said the company, which had just two employees a year ago, is now up to 10.


Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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