The secret to unlocking hundreds of billions of dollars in savings and the ambitious goal of the mass electrification of American homes may start with a simple socket.
At least that's what Whit Fulton, the founder and CEO of ConnectDER thinks.
For the last twelve years, Fulton and his team have been trying to make home electrification easier and cheaper by using a humble device called a meter collar to slash the costs of solar and electric vehicle charging installations.
For homeowners who want to electrify, one of the unexpected stumbling blocks is their home's existing electrical system.
Older homes (and Fulton estimates there are probably 45 million of them in the U.S.) simply don't have the capacity to handle an electric vehicle, solar power, or the other myriad newly electrified devices that can reduce long-term costs (and emissions).
That's the problem Fulton and the ConnectDER crew designed their meter collars to solve.
For decades these devices were used to protect home electronics from surges associated with lightning strikes or power distribution failures at utilities. Now, they can help homes handle the additional power demands associated with electrifying everything.
And Fulton claims the ConnectDER collar can shave what would be a $3,000 installation job (at the low end) to $600.
"Thirty percent of solar jobs die on the vine because they have to do a panel upgrade and it’s another $3,000 to $5,000 on a job," said Fulton. "Homeowners are saying: 'I want an EV. I want to be able to charge at home. I want my solar panels.' And this monster block that most people don’t know about rears its head," Fulton said.
For Fulton, ConnectDER is just another step in a career steeped in technology and energy.
As a kid growing up in a family of inventors engineering was in Fulton's blood, he said. And from an early age he grew up hearing about the effects of fossil fuels on the environment.
"I’m a hippy dippy kid from Western Massachusetts from the early 80s and acid rain was imprinted in my brain," he said. "So getting rid of coal plants was tucked into my head. I was either going to be a writer or do something in clean power or sanitation development."
An earlier foray in "cleantech 1.0" at the startup company Gridpoint got Fulton thinking more deeply about the physical limits of adding new electric assets to buildings.
"The actual installation costs on this were killing us," he said of the early Gridpoint solution, which involved a giant battery and inverters about a decade before Tesla's powerwall solution. "We had to wheel this thing down to the basement and… you realized that the built environment in the US wasn’t built to optimize for distributed assets."
On one of those installation trips, Fulton saw a meter changed out at the site... and the seed for ConnectDER was born.
"The meter is going to be the low-cost intervention for every home," Fulton said. "If you think about smart circuit breakers... They add value but don’t solve the problem of plug and play connectivity.. There’s nothing else that’s as cost effective pound for pound for [building] assets."
For now, ConnectDER is concentrating on collars that help with the addition of solar energy assets. But the next step is to add electric vehicles and storage to homes as well.
Fulton sees the ConnectDER solution becoming even more valuable as more EVs offer the ability to provide power to homes.
"By 2026 vehicle to home is going to be table stakes for every EV sold," Fulton said. That's going to change the equation by making rolling energy storage assets available to every home... and they're going to want that for backup power in the event of an emergency, according to Fulton.
What's more, ConnectDER's technology offers an opportunity to bring the benefits of lower cost electrification to the underserved communities.
"A lot of people who have less money live in older houses or smaller houses with 100 amp service panels," said Fulton.
Now, with a contract in place with Siemens and new funding from investors earlier this year, the company has to get the word out to utilities.
"Our biggest issue is getting utilities to approve the product," Fulton said.
ConnectDER has 15,000 devices spread across 17 states already and is working on getting California and Texas to approve its use as well.
Working with regulators takes time, but the potential for saving hundreds of billions in installation costs across North America to make the switch to electric power seems worth it.