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Local company stems peak-time power trouble

| Friday, Sept. 28, 2007

About 1,500 California homeowners are using a Pittsburgh company's technology to save electricity when it's most needed -- yet still keep their houses cool.

BPL Global Ltd.'s demand management system has been installed in volunteer households that get their power through the South San Joaquin Irrigation District in Manteca, Calif., an hour east of San Francisco.

The agency calls the program EasyGreen and tells customers they'll likely have smaller electric bills and can get gift cards for each air conditioner enrolled.

Here's how the system works: A controller box is placed on the air conditioning unit. Inside, a sensor about the size of a room air freshener plugs into a wall and tracks temperatures.

During peak demand times for electricity, when the power grid is under strain and prices are highest, Downtown-based BPL's central system sends a signal to "shed" non-essential demand by turning off the connected home air conditioners.

That doesn't mean inside temperatures will rise to the 90s on a sweltering day. BPL's system allows homeowners to set a limit, 78 or 84 degrees, that turns the cooling system back on.

BPL said its demand management system can shed excess load in less than five minutes. California mandated that regulated electric utilities have the ability to curtail 5 percent of their peak loads by this year, to prevent brownouts and blackouts.

This is the first test for BPL's system. And while the power supply is more plentiful in the East, "If we can find a way to reduce demand, that is attractive to a utility. We are in discussions with a lot of utilities" including some in Western Pennsylvania, said Mark Rupnik, the company's senior vice president and general manager.

Thorne King, chief marketing officer, said California homeowners are joining the program for its environmental benefits, as well as their own cost savings. "If you don't build the next power plant, then you reduce the amount of greenhouse gases," he said.

Manteca homeowners were told they could save $300 a year by setting 78 degrees as their trigger to turn their air conditioners back on, after a load shed. Those who set a peak temperature of 84 could save $600.

Wizzard creates Internet TV channel

The Wizzard Media division of Oakland-based Wizzard Software now has a featured channel on Internet TV site

Video podcasts of "The Quincy Jones Show," "Tiki Bar TV," "RipCurl," "Lynchland" and "The Movie Review" are featured on the Wizzard Media Channel., recognized as among the top 10 streaming video sites by Nielsen/NetRatings, draws more than 18 million users a month.

Podcasting sends multimedia files over the Internet for playback on personal computers and mobile devices. Wizzard Media said it distributes 80 million podcast downloads each month, more than any other network, through media aggregators such as Apple's iTunes or now, Veoh.

Wizzard Software CEO Chris Spencer said the company's partnership with Veoh will increase audiences for some of the best video podcasts available, strengthening the industry and attracting advertisers.

The relationship, he said, "will further position podcasts as a mainstream source of entertainment."

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