Control4 to supply monitors in smart-grid project

Home energy displays, which let consumers view energy use and program the thermostat via a home network, are set to be tested in a Texas smart-grid project.

Control4 Energy Systems, one of a growing number of home energy display providers, said Tuesday it will supply energy monitors in a planned smart-grid project in rural Texas.

The home energy monitor--a 5-inch-wide monitor that resembles a car GPS unit--will display electricity usage in real time and provide consumers the ability to program a thermostat, according to Will Holford, the public affairs manager at Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.

The system works by using Zigbee wireless networking within the home to connect the monitor to the thermostat, which communicates with the utility via a smart meter. Other providers in the project, which the utility hopes to begin work on in the second quarter next year, include smart meter provider eMeter and Silver Spring Networks, which provides a networking card for the meter.

Control4, which is perhaps better known for its home media management systems, raised $17.3 million in July to expand into the energy monitoring business .

Control4's display for managing home energy along with home media. Control4.

Home energy monitors, or in-home displays, are a key piece of the more advanced smart-grid programs being pursued by utilities. By providing more data and ways to program appliances, utilities hope that consumers will be able to find ways to shave back on consumption.

The most useful systems are those that allow people to program heating and cooling settings, say smart-grid experts. For example, a person could let the thermostat temperature change if electricity prices go above a certain price at peak times.

Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, serving a region between the outskirts of Austin, Texas and Houston, said it chose Control4 Energy Systems because it's a simple interface for providing feedback on usage and for programming air conditioners, which is one of the biggest monthly budget items for homes in that area, according to Holford.

"We think our members have a right to know how much energy they are using at that moment and how much it is costing them so there is no longer a surprise at the end of the month," he said.

The Control4 system could potentially manage different devices in the home, such as big appliances such as dishwashers and pool pumps, by using "smart switches" that allow a device to communicate on the home area network, said Susan Cashen, vice president of marketing at Control4 Energy Systems.

Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative plans to give the devices to consumers for free and pay for it through rate changes. When sold separately, the bundle costs about $200, Cashen said.

Updated at 9:38 a.m. PDT with corrected spelling of electric cooperative.

 

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