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'Smart Plug' Keeps The Company Vending Machine From Being An Energy Hog

Melinda Roeder
90.5 WESA
Boss Controls' "Smart Plug" regulates the use of energy, cutting the cost of energy bills by 30 to 50 percent.

The makers of a new “smart plug” claim it can save companies and organizations millions of dollars each year on electric bills.

Boss Controls is a Pittsburgh-based company that produces the plugs. They’re designed to go directly into a wall outlet. But unlike traditional plugs, these gadgets are programmed to turn themselves on and off.

CEO Greg Puschnigg said they’re designed to reduce energy usage during times when devices, such as vending machines, copiers, coffee pots and computers, are not being used.

“There’s about 50 electronic devices per person in the world, and that’s growing and those devices are plugged in and left on. And it’s almost impractical now to really, at the end of the day, go around and unplug everything and turn it off,” Puschnigg said.

Each Smart Plug costs about $99 and is pre-programmed. So the plugs are simple to use.

“It’s a single unit, sort of a power strip with surge protection built right into it. We schedule devices to turn off in those buildings, when people go home. We turn the devices off as well, so they’re not working overtime as we like to call it,” Puschnigg said.  

Puschnigg said energy cost savings with the Smart Plug is about 30 percent. That works out to about $60 billion a year in energy savings for small and medium size buildings across the country.

“What’s great about this is, it’s not just saving money and energy, but also reducing carbon emissions at the same time,” Puschnigg said.

Last year, Pittsburgh officials installed the plugs in some of the city buildings for a test phase. The city’s sustainability coordinator found that with each device connected to a Smart Plug, energy consumption

was cut nearly in half.

Now Boss Controls is targeting schools and large universities, like Carnegie Mellon, which has also installed some of the plugs.

“They have a lot of devices and a lot of buildings that have a lot of energy consumption. In some of the larger schools and universities across the country, full deployment of our devices can save them upwards of $5 million per year, per school or university. So it’s a huge impact,” Puschnigg said.

Each Smart Plug has a manual override switch, in case you need to use your device past normal hours.  They can be reprogrammed either at Boss Controls headquarters in Lawrenceville, or from any computer or mobile phone by an administrator with a password.

“They’re all connected through the cloud,” Puschnigg said.

The plugs are made in the Pittsburgh area, as well.   

“So TMG is manufacturing the products, and we are a local company. And we try to use as much local content in terms of the purchase parts as we possibly can,” said Teresa Huber, CEO of TMG Electronics in Cheswick, where the plastic coatings, circuit boards and software are pieced together.

“It’s a smart plug and so there’s quite a bit of technology that goes into it,” Huber said.

Boss Controls began marketing their plugs mainly in western Pennsylvania, when Puschnigg founded the company three years ago. Now it’s operating plugs across the country.

“We’ve also had a tremendous amount of interest internationally, where the cost of energy is much higher than in the U.S. So, the company expects to grow tremendously in 2016 and 2017,” Puschnigg said.

“It has so many great applications, whether it’s in universities, in businesses, and so were’ just anxious to continue to grow with the product and with Boss,” Huber said.

Boss also allows buyers to finance up to 100 percent of the cost.

“So it’s no cost up front to those schools and universities. And month one, they’re seeing a portion of the energy savings and we share the savings with them until it’s fully paid off and then they receive the rest of the savings,” Puschnigg said.  

In this week's Tech headlines: 

  • The Obama administration is looking to hire a chief cybersecurity officer. The newly created position is designed to coordinate cybersecurity among civilian agencies, military and intelligence counterparts. The job has already been posted and is expected to be filled in a couple of months. It’s part of a $19 billion increase in cybersecurity funding, included in the president’s 2017 budget.
  • The University of Pittsburgh has signed an agreement with Tsinghua University in Beijing, China aimed at boosting innovation and entrepreneurship. Students and faculty will share research and business plans for how to build successful startups.