Products geared at using electricity wisely at home are coming from many directions, covering everything from home energy monitors to smartphone apps to manage electric-vehicle charging.
Does the home need another screen for managing electricity? A number of smart-grid technology companies are developing dedicated energy dashboards that tell people how much electricity they are using, program heating and cooling, or that reflect changing electricity prices. This device, called the Vision from start-up Tendril Networks, is organized around a clock and was designed by famed design house Ideo.
It may not look like much more than a cell phone charger but this device, called the Nucleus from General Electric, is meant to be a hub for a home energy-information network. Inside are radios for communicating with a smart meter and smart appliances through Zigbee and the home network with Wi-Fi. With an energy information network in place, consumers can see how much energy connected appliances are using or get a data for the whole home from a free GE Web site from a PC. GE plans to introduce the device, which can store three years worth of data, for under $200 next year. With smart appliances, or devices connected to the network with smart plugs, people should also be able to program appliances to take advantage of off-peak rates or turn them on and off remotely.
One way to get home electricity data into consumers' hands is through a smart meter and utility network, but a home broadband connection offers another route. Microsoft partnered with the maker of the PowerCost Monitor to use Wi-Fi to transmit electricity usage from a meter and view it on the Web using Microsoft's Hohm Web application. Once online, people can check real-time and historical energy data from any Web-enabled device. As with many of these monitoring products, the idea is that giving people more detailed information about electricity use makes it easier to take steps to conserve.
Cisco has developed a home energy "controller" which it will be testing with consumers through utilities, including Duke Energy later this year. This $900 touch-screen device shows consumers how electricity is used in the home and alerts them when higher prices are in effect. It also connects to other wireless devices, such as a smart thermostat, to let people program a home to be more efficient. Cisco envisions that the system will be used for many applications, including managing electric-vehicle charging and storage.
A lot of home energy-efficiency technology is already available and being used. This a networked thermostat from Comverge which manages demand response programs for utilities. As happened this summer, utilities sometimes struggle to keep up with electricity demand due to the high air-conditioning load. A demand response program changes the settings on thermostats in hundreds of locations, effectively acting as a virtual power plant to meet the added demand. The programs are voluntary and people are compensated for participating in them. This thermostat has lights to indicate whether a home is in a peak period and communicates with Comverge through a small wireless gateway. This type of demand response technology was used to avoid blackouts in New York during this summer's heat waves.
Panasonic has a very broad approach to home energy, which includes home energy monitoring, low-power electronics, and home appliances. At the CES earlier this year, it showed the green home of the future which included solar panels from its subsidiary Sanyo, batteries for energy storage, fuel cells, and a home energy management system which you can control from a TV, shown here along with a diagram of the different pieces to a greener home.
Appliance companies have made their goods more energy efficient. But now they are looking at making them "smart" to improve energy and water efficiency further.
This screen is a prototype application from Whirlpool which would let a consumer see how much various appliances consume and to schedule tasks to take advantage of off-peak rates. The company expects to bring out smart appliances, which can communicate over a home network, in 2012.
Some people think that the advent of electric vehicles will drive demand for home energy management products. Charging an electric vehicle sucks up about as much electricity as a whole house, so people will be motivated to use off-peak rates and use tech tools to ensure they have sufficient charge.
Here is a smartphone application written to manage charging for the Chevy Volt. Ford partnered with Microsoft so that Microsoft's Hohm Web application can be used to manage electric-car charging, along with other home energy consumers.
There are already a number of real-time energy monitors available, which provide a dashboard onto your whole home's electricity use. This device called the Energy Detective tracks electricity consumption and production from solar panels as well. Google partnered with the product's producer so that people can see electricity data on Google's PowerMeter Web application.
One company pursuing a less gadget-centric approach to home efficiency is OPower. Rather than fancy energy dashboards or Web portals, its focus is providing paper reports to consumers with their utility bills. To generate personalized reports, though, the company crunches a lot of data to present recommendations and comparisons to neighbors. It is also introducing a Web portal to complement the paper reports it offers through utilities.
Many companies expect to get detailed home electricity information through a smart meter's wireless radio. But there are different ways to get that information from meters or from a home's circuits.
Powerhouse Dynamics is selling a device which attaches sensors onto a home's circuits at the breaker box to get detailed information. The monitoring data is presented to consumers on this dashboard, which helps people save electricity. The company also plans to offer e-mail alerts to identify if there are problems and recommendations for efficiency.
Intel is one of the many tech companies which has long sought to introduce more home automation and with energy, it has another shot. Here is a prototype energy dashboard device, which is essentially a small computer which would hang on a wall. Intel engineers envision that the device would run a number of applications. People can check energy usage, program a thermostat, and do other tasks such as leave video messages for family members, track solar energy output, or even have reminders to water plants.
One route to bringing home energy-efficiency technology to homes is through home-automation systems which control lighting or security systems. Mi Casa Verde has developed a device called Vera that uses the Z-Wave wireless protocol to communicate with devices. People can manage home energy settings, such as alerts or changes in response to peak power rates, on a PC using this application.