Shwetak Patel is revolutionizing home energy use, and people are noticing. Patel was just awarded a MacArthur Fellowship — affectionately known as a "genius award" — for his work creating user-friendly ways for people to monitor and control their utilities consumption. In other words, this is what certified energy genius looks like.

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To allow residents to track their energy usage down to the level of individual appliances and fixtures, Patel's distinctive approach leverages existing infrastructure — such as gas lines, electrical wiring, plumbing, and ventilation ducts — and requires only a minimal number of small, wirelessly connected sensors attached to the central hookup of each of these utility sources. When coupled with a machine learning algorithm that analyzes patterns of activity and the signature noise produced by each appliance, the sensors enable users to measure and disaggregate their energy and water consumption and to detect inefficiencies more effectively.

People can install Patel's monitors on their own — no professionals required — and can interpret the results on their own too, reading off not only how much energy they're using but which of their appliances are the biggest hogs. This makes the complex problem of tracking energy consumption as simple as, say, making sure you have enough space on your iPod.

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