The same software company that helps prevent kids from visiting "blue" Web sites has developed software that it says could help prevent blackouts.
California home owners and businesses with always-on, broadband Net connections can have their electric use automatically reduced in response to power emergencies or alerts issued by the state's electric system operator and all it takes is easy-to-install, readily available personal computer hardware and software.
"With the energy supply at critical levels in California, if enough homeowners and businesses voluntarily used GridGuard it could reduce the energy consumption adding available electricity to the grid and help eliminate the need for rolling blackouts," said Marc Kanter, vice president of Solid Oak Software, the Santa Barbara, CA-based software publisher that also wrote CYBERsitter, an Internet filtering application.
That may not be as much of a stretch as it sounds.
The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) has reported averted blackouts after consumers and businesses voluntarily and manually curtailed power use after low-level alerts forewarned of escalating power emergencies that could have led to blackouts.
GridGuard is designed to directly monitor alerts from CAISO, California's electric power grid traffic cop, and automatically reduce electrical consumption following energy alerts that warrant the cut backs. The software is designed to be used with broadband connections like T1, DSL and cable connections because it updates the power grid's status every minute. Dial-up modems are not practical for such use.
Announcement of the software comes on the heels of CAISO's announcement that it would follow a state-mandated plan to provide 48-, 24-, and one-hour notifications when there is a high possibility of rotating blackouts. Blackout bulletins and other emergency announcements are available via Web sites, e-mail, pager and by packet radio, a form of digital radio.
GridGuard takes the emergency alert system one step further by giving consumers direct access to official power bulletins. Theoretically that could speed up consumers' access to the information by removing the steps -- and time -- CAISO and other services typically take to deliver bulletins to Web sites, via e-mail and other electronic avenues.
In addition to the software, computer owners will need inexpensive and widely available X10-type power control modules and computer interface modules available from X10, Radio Shack, SmartHome.com and other home automation technology merchants.
(Buyer Beware: X10 recently gained notoriety as a purveyor of a new breed of spam, so-called "pop under" ads displayed unexpectedly as a extra Web browser page lurking behind others you are viewing. X10 offers a cookie recipe to disable the ads.)
With GridGuard and the required hardware, you can designate and hook up non-essential appliances, lights and other electrical devices to automatically turn off in response to current energy conditions. You can also configure the software to alert you by e-mail, pager or cell phone when conditions change.
"Obviously everyone here in California is concerned about energy consumption. Unfortunately no one seems to have any ideas about what can be done right now, today. We do," said Brian Milburn, Solid Oak's president.
Solid Oak says the price for the complete system of hardware and software costs less than $100 and takes less than five minutes to install.
"It is just a little harder than changing a light bulb. We think that this is the kind of technology that should encourage energy suppliers to offer rebate programs to cover the purchase cost in much the same way as they currently do with other energy saving products," adds Milburn.