What’s the state of home energy management? Given the rise of connected home technologies and the growing number of service-providers that are helping bringing those technologies to market, it’s a topic we’ll be exploring more often in the coming months.
Navigant Research just hosted a webcast on the topic, looking at the state of the home energy management market, discussing some of the new players in the market, some of the new technologies on offer, and where the market will go from here.
Neil Strother, a senior research analyst at Navigant, started the discussion by saying that there’s one main driver for consumer adoption of connected-home technologies: Although home energy management (HEM) product manufacturers and service providers promise greater convenience, increased security, and saving on energy bills, people are primarily interested in saving money.
And although these technologies have been around for more than a decade in some form or other, Strother said the market is still in its early stages, and uptake among consumers is slow.
Case in point: The Nest smart thermostat, which many credit with bringing this aspect of home energy management to the masses, as about 1 million thermostats as of March 2014, or about 1 percent of the market. Despite this small market share (and quick rise for a four-year-old company),Nest Labs was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion earlier this year.
So there’s plenty of room to grow for the connected home. Strother presented a slide that shows both a menu of options for HEM technologies as well as the evolution of company approaches: from utilities using paper bills to compare one customer’s home energy use with neighbors’ bills all the way up to a network-connected home energy management system that communicates with local utilities to reduce energy demand during peak energy-use times — in other words, demand response, which can keep utilities from browning out or firing up their dirtiest power plants, and save their customers money by reducing power during the most expensive rate times.
There are a number of companies across industries that are trying to gain a foothold in this potentially huge market, Strother said. Most prominent are the security companies — ADT, Vivint, Alarm.com, among others — and telecoms like AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner. Some of these companies are partnering with utilities as a way of tackling a complex project and bringing different strengths to bear.
Retailers are similarly trying to build on their existing relationships with customers to expand into home energy management. The home improvement chain Lowe’s has partnered with AlertMe on its Iris HEM platform, and rival Home Depot has begun selling smart lighting, thermostat and other energy management technologies in its stores, though it has yet to develop a full platform or partner with a service provider for energy management services.
The cost for these products and services has been an obstacle to growth, Strother said. For example, broadband companies with HEM platforms are offering comparable plans for between $45 and $50 per month, plus an additional $200-$350 one-time cost for the hardware. So until customers see the benefits of home energy management, the market will likely only grow slowly.
Real-World Savings from Connected Homes
Each of the presenters during the Navigant webcast offered some real-world examples how much energy use can be reduced through home energy management technologies, particularly using a demand-response program.
Strother offered the example of NV Energy’s mPowered program, which provides homeowners in Nevada with a free smart thermostat, online access to manage their thermostat, and an energy optimization service. The program saves NVEnergy customers money while also reducing the load on the grid during peak-demand times. Strothers said that participants in the mPowered program reduced their air conditioner use by 12 percent and their overall electricity use by 6 percent over the year.
Scott Hublou, a senior vice president at EcoFactor — a smart-thermostat service provider, which also helps administer the NVEnergy mPowered program — offered the example of a study his company conducted on HVAC performance in customer homes. Using EcoFactor’s pattern-recognition software on 10,000 homes, the company was able to monitor heating and cooling patterns over time, and when the software detected irregularities in HVAC performance, EcoFactor would dispatch service technicians to check the systems.
Hublou said the system had a 98 percent accuracy rating when identifying problems with home heating and cooling, and correctly identified needed repairs early, saving significant money on major repairs down the line. At the time the EcoFactor system identified the problems, 68 percent of the homeowners hadn’t noticed any issues, and 80 percent of those fixes were cheap repairs. As an additional benefit, Hublou said that 65 percent of the repairs made resulted in overall energy efficiency gains in those homes.
Finally, Lela Manning, the Energy Programs Supervisor at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) explained the utility’s Manage-Act-Save program, which is currently in the first phase of an extended home energy management and demand response project. As of 2013, the utility has launched an online game-like tool to encourage family members, friends and neighbors “compete” to save energy — earning points, badges, bragging rights and eventually monetary rewards like gift cards in the process. (We offered a look back in January on how utilities use gamification for energy savings.)
And just as these pilot projects show the potential from home energy management, they are also spreading awareness about the technologies involved, and helping to expand the market at the same time.
Smart thermostat photo CC-licensed by Aaron Paxson on Flickr.
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