September 29, 2011
| by Steven Castle
We all may have home energy management systems than can monitor and automatically control our energy usage earlier than we think.
A couple of recent developments should pave the way for real energy monitoring, management and control systems to get into more homes sooner.
First and most obvious, retail giant Best Buy will start selling home energy management products next month in three test markets: Chicago, Houston and San Francisco. Products should include smart and programmable thermostats and outlets, energy monitors and possibly a home security and alarm system.
Best Buy should be able to offer affordable, a la carte energy management products and expose millions of people to the benefits saving energy in a home. Smart surge suppressors can be sold in conjunction with audio/video and home office equipment, and plug-in modules to control and monitor lights, devices and appliances shouldn’t be far behind on people’s wish lists. Best Buy has been mum on what products will be offered, but some great candidates should include ThinkEco’s modlet smart outlet, TrickleStar smart surge devices and a host of products using wireless Z-Wave technology, including Mi Case Verde’s Vera controller and Aeon Labs’ devices.
Don’t think Best Buy will stop at piecemeal solutions. Best Buy says its Geek Squad already performs home energy surveys and is positioned to help roll out energy management home are networks (HANs) and smart grid systems for utilities. Several home energy monitoring/management systems and solutions are becoming much more affordable as well. This could turn out to be very interesting.
The Power of the Electric Car
The second and less obvious REALLY BIG THING in home energy management could be a decision by the U.S. Department of Energy to put more effort and funding behind plug-in electric vehicles (EVs). The DOE released a report this week that concludes that it should give greater emphasis to the transportation sector (meaning automobile fuel economy) and devote its greatest effort to the development and deployment of electric vehicles.
How does that help spur home energy management?
In a roundabout way, the electric vehicle may turn out to be the best thing that ever happens to home energy management. Here’s why: Electric utilities fear EVs. They’re afraid that we’re all going to get them, drive them home and plug them in to charge at the same time each night—and that will be huge drain on the power grid. Utilities don’t want this, so they will promote smart charging, or charging your electric vehicle at different times, like later at night when changing Time of Use electricity rates will be lower.
Flexible Time of Use rates are likely to be enacted by many electric utilities as they roll out their smart grid programs in the next few years. These rates will change throughout the day, depending on whether it is a peak load period, so it could be more expensive to run energy-intensive devices like electric vehicle chargers and other household appliances during peak loads in the late afternoon and early evening, when many people are returning home. This should also spur the market for smart appliances that can receive pricing signals from a two-way communicating smart meter or an Internet connection and delay washing a load of dishes, for example, until the rates go lower. Users will be able to preset these conditions and override them when needed.
OK, but what does this still have to do with home energy management systems? Think about it: You get home, you want to plug in your electric vehicle to charge for the next day, cook a dinner, wash the dishes, maybe do a load of laundry, but the electricity rates are high, so you can “load-shift,” just like you time-shift TV shows to watch later with a DVR. You may want some sort of in-home processor to receive all these signals from the utilities, know your preferences and charge the car, run that dishwashing cycle or wait until the rates drop later at night. And you may want to control it with your smartphone or tablet.
And that, folks, will constitute a home energy management system, whether the processing is done in a device within the home or in the cloud.
Oh, and the utilities may want to do something called vehicle-to-grid (V2G), where they tap into the collective power source of our electric vehicle batteries during these peak-load periods to help power the grid. Or maybe you’ll want to tap into your home’s EV batteries to help power the cooking of dinner. An intelligent energy management home processor and network would be ideal for this.
Your energy management network could also be monitoring your electricity, gas and water use; dimming your lights and cutting power to other devices around the home when they don’t need it; and setting your thermostat back a degree of two to help you save on heating and cooling costs, without you ever knowing it. Except when you look at your lower monthly bill.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates