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Best Buy to sell home energy management gear

Best Buy will demo new grid technologies designed to improve home energy efficiency and give consumers remote control of thermostats and appliances.

WASHINGTON D.C.--Best Buy plans to start selling home energy management products in stores later this year, creating a channel to introduce consumers to emerging grid technologies.

The consumer electronics retailer in late October will start a trial in which three stores will have dedicated areas to demonstrate and explain a range of home energy technologies, said Kris Bowring, senior director and platform lead for home energy at Best Buy, at the GridWeek conference here yesterday.

GE's Nucleus home energy management hub is expected to be one of the home energy products sold and demonstrated by Best Buy at stores.
GE's Nucleus home energy management hub is expected to be one of the home energy products sold and demonstrated by Best Buy at stores. GE

The choice of products has not yet been finalized but there will be a variety, ranging from simple whole-house energy monitors to a combination of a home security service and smart thermostats. The products are geared at helping people improve home efficiency and get remote control to their homes from a Web portal or smartphone, Bowring said.

Best Buy has been researching home energy with consumers for about two years in preparation for the rollout, which will take place in San Francisco, Houston, and Chicago.

"This technology is coming. It's here. The energy monitoring and management--the understanding and capabilities are there. In fact, some of the systems deliver more information than the utilities could ever dream of," said Bowring. "It's going to be important."

The goal is to make home energy products approachable to more than just a small niche of users, such as consumers who are already very energy-conscious or cutting-edge technology adopters, he said. In doing research, Best Buy found that consumers didn't have a good understanding of how their energy usage compares to others or whether their homes were operating efficiently.

"Consumers were saying, 'I want to be energy efficient. I just don't know if I am. What is the pay-off for solar panels?'" Bowring said. "Once we started showing them products, they began saying this might have value."

One of the most desired features is the ability to remotely control the home, such as adjusting home thermostats, lights, or appliances. Another key is the ability to program a thermostat using a simpler user interface, such as a smart phone app or Web page, Bowring said.

One of the products expected to be part of the trial is General Electric's Nucleus energy management product. Priced at about $150, Nucleus is a simple gateway about the size of a cell phone charger that collects energy usage information and lets consumers control thermostats and connected appliances.

Other products likely to be part of the energy management offering are smart outlets. With those, people can go around the house to measure the power of different appliances. Through a smart thermostat, smartphone, or PC, the outlets can also be used to set schedules for lights or electronics.

A more high-end offering that would require Best Buy installation would be a combined home alarm and security system with a remote controlled thermostat. Some Best Buy stores are already offering home energy audits and surveys for consumers

Best Buy's move into energy management shows how different types of businesses other than utilities are getting involved in home energy management. But Bowring said that Best Buy intends to have a utility presence in stores to give consumers specific advice for making energy management products work appropriately.