Whirlpool, Direct Energy assemble home energy system

Will home networks get smart to energy management? Whirlpool and Direct Energy team with a display maker and Best Buy in a big to automate savings.

A group of companies at the Consumer Electronics Show plan to show off a networked home energy management system for reducing consumer energy bills.

The demonstration will include network-aware appliances from Whirlpool, a two-way thermostat from Lennox, and a touch-screen central control point made by OpenPeak.

Energy retailer Direct Energy plans to test out the combination with about 40 homes in the Houston area in an effort to entice consumers to use tools to ratchet down their home energy use. Best Buy's Geek Squad will do installation of the home network system.

The Direct Energy home energy management pilot will use OpenPeak's OpenFrame touch-screen display as a central control point and real-time energy use display. Open Peak

Adjusting how appliances are run can save $30 to $50 per year per appliance, according to Warwick Stirling, Whirlpool's global director of energy and sustainability. Jobs can be programmed to run at night, or multiple heavy loads, such as charging an electric car and running a dishwasher, can be prioritized to take advantage of off-peak rates, he said.

Through the OpenPeak device, consumers can control appliances as well as heating and cooling. It will also display real-time energy use and act as central hub for a wireless home network.

Direct Energy plans to gather energy data and provide recommendations on how consumers can cut energy use, said David Dollihite, vice president of product development at the company.

"We don't want to give people technology to manage energy but try to integrate energy management into their existing lifestyle with things they actually enjoy doing," he said. For example, Direct Energy could recommend a thermostat change which a consumer could quickly act on without sacrificing overall comfort.

The company chose the Houston area in part because it has already begun a roll-out of smart meters which can communicate information from the meter into the home. But Dollihite and Stirling said that the system can use an Internet connection to gather energy information if a smart meter is not installed.

Once information is available on Direct Energy's servers, consumers can access the data from multiple points, such as a PC, TV, or smartphone.

Dollihite said it's still not clear what sorts of companies will emerge as providers of energy conservation services, which have had very limited uptake by consumers in the past. He predicted that service plans will evolve as cell phone plans have, where consumers have a choice between paying upfront for equipment or a monthly fee for ongoing energy conservation services.

"This is the beginning of an energy ecosystem, which we hope is an attractive platform for other market participants to build to with ancillary services," he said.

 

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