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Control4 readies networked home energy system

Control4's home energy management system uses a home wireless network and tough-screen display to monitor electricity and let consumers participate in energy efficiency programs.

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LAS VEGAS--Control4's foray into home energy management was prompted by requests from utilities seeking a company with experience in home networking, according to CEO Will West.

The company, which does home automation software, at CES showed its Energy Management System (EMS) 100, a combination of a Zigbee-enabled thermostat and touch-screen energy controller for viewing home energy data and accessing other applications. The package is set for completion April.

Utilities approached the company because it already has a retail channel to help customers install home media networks and because Control4's technology can expanded with new features over several years, West said.

The idea of the EMS is to have a small display that will allow people to track their energy usage and find ways to reduce wasted energy by seeing how much energy different items use. With a smart meter-based system, consumers can also participate in utility energy efficiency programs where customers agree, for example, to have the thermostat on the air conditioner raised for 20 minutes.

The Control4 Energy Management System includes a touch-screen controller which talks to a smart meter thermostat via Zigbee. Martin LaMonica/CNET

Because Control4's technology is extensible, the energy controller can be a portal for different applications, such as deciding when to charge a plug-in electric car, or news and weather, company executives said. The controller shares information with the smart meter through Zigbee and can get information from a home Internet connection using Wi-Fi. The company launched an app store this week, which features two energy-related applications written by third parties.

Although home automation networks can be very sophisticated, West said that a person could start slowly by installing the energy system and then add other Zigbee-enabled gear to the same network, such as door locks or lights.

Control4 is in the process of working with utilities to install these energy systems as part of smart-grid trials. Later this year, Control4 plans to make a version available that can gather detailed energy data without the need for a smart meter, he added.

West predicts that utilities will drive adoption of these systems because they need a large volume of consumers participating in their peak-time energy efficiency programs. But the energy management application could also be embedded in entertainment equipment, such as TVs or smart phones. Control4 is also considering selling direct to consumers.