Beyond Energy Monitoring
Energy monitoring marketers love to tout the study that found people save 5 percent to 15 percent just by having immediate feedback on their electricity consumption. But now they’re wondering what happens after that initial two-week period when people are running around the house shutting off their big energy hogs. Is it like going on a diet, and soon reverting back to our old, gut-busting ways?
That’s what they think.
Energy monitors [alone] don’t work, because energy information is boring,” says Alex Laskey, president of Opower, which provides electric utility customers with energy usage reports. “People don’t want real-time data. What they want are insights and analysis that help them save.”
Opower provides customers with comparisons with others in their areas, and has found that the social psychology of people wanting to fit into a group or community is a powerful motivator. Many of those who see that their energy use is above normal feel an incentive to start saving.
“Energy data alone is not enough to motivate consumers,” says Stephen Harper, Intel’s global director of environment and energy policy. To that extent, Intel’s Home Energy Management System doesn’t just do energy. It provides other functions, including a video message board via its built-in camera. Intel doesn’t think people will use a dedicated in-home display (IHD) just for energy use. In fact, the face of Intel’s dashboard is a clock, with a color-coded energy forecast for utility pricing by the hour.
Control4’s energy monitor, too, will offer weather and additional functions, besides just information about a home’s electric consumption.
Like Intel, Cisco’s countertop touchscreen comes cloaked as a clock. And both companies will first look to roll out their offerings through utilities and service providers (ADT, Comcast and Verizon), before offering systems directly to homeowners.
Some energy monitors are even pushing recommendations, based on how much energy an appliance or a device uses. The Energy Management Solution from lighting and home control company Vantage, for example, can even estimate how much money a home will save by using occupancy sensors that trigger lights and other devices to turn on and off.
“We’re looking beyond energy management,” says Martin Flusberg, the CEO of Powerhouse Dynamics. “A car tells you all kinds of things going on with engine and the vehicle. But think of a house, and you don’t have that. We want to track appliances and send alerts, like when a well pump or a sump pump dies.”
Powerhouse Dynamics and others are looking to read how much power a circuit is using—say the one for an old refrigerator—and reporting to the homeowner that the appliance is using an increasing amount of electricity and that it may be time to service or replace it. “We’ve added diagnostics of other problems,” Flusberg says. “One that we just added was the result of a customer experience. The defrost cycle of his refrigerator was kicking off, so we wrote an alert for that.”
“Ultimately, no one’s going to be looking at these things in real time,” Flusberg admits, “but real time allows us to alert people in real time.”
The Killer App
The ability for an energy monitoring system to send alerts could be a big crowd pleaser. But ultimately, home control will be the killer app by allowing homeowners to set their own parameters for devices around the home. For example, when the temperature of a room rises above a predetermined setpoint (measured by a temperature sensor) the home control system can close the motorized drapes. This integration of home control and energy management automates your energy use. Adjustments throughout your home can be handled by the control system’s processor, so you save money without having to think about it.
“Our goal is that [homeowners] don’t come and look at our dashboard—that they’re comfortable that our system is monitoring their home, and they come to us when we send alerts or opportunities for appliance rebates and a monthly report card,” Flusberg says.
Ultimately, energy monitoring and management systems will be “set it and forget it.” Their functions will be transparent to users, and require direct contact only when the system sends an alert about an appliance or the home’s energy use.
Remember that little dream sequence we started with? That you don’t have to do much of anything to save energy? That’s already happening. Our energy-saving dream is here.
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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