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Cisco enters home smart-grid fray with energy display

Networking giant introduces a device for monitoring home energy use and cutting utility bills which will be offered this summer to Duke Energy customers in North Carolina and Ohio.

Cisco Systems on Tuesday introduced a home energy management system, which it will test with customers of utility Duke Energy and which it plans to offer to other utilities.

The two companies said that Cisco will supply a home energy "controller," a countertop touch-screen display that allows people to monitor electricity usage and to program home energy to reduce waste and take advantage of off-peak pricing.

Duke plans to pilot-test the devices and related back-end services for a year starting this summer with customers in Charlotte, N.C., and in Cincinnati who already have smart meters installed.

Cisco's home energy controller, a touch-screen display for monitoring energy and cutting energy waste. Cisco

The controller will act as a hub for home-networked devices, which can report their energy use and be controlled from the display wirelessly. Existing appliances can be connected using two-way thermostats or smart plugs, which talk to the controller via the Zigbee protocol. Cisco said it plans to support other wireless protocols over time.

The device will also allow people to participate in demand-response programs, through which the utility offers a rebate for cutting electricity usage during peak times. For example, a dishwasher could be timed to run in the middle of the night or a water heater could be turned down temporarily to lighten grid load during a hot day.

Cisco plans to sell the $900 product bundle to utilities, which will make it available to consumers as an energy efficiency tool. Duke and Cisco said they plan to work with manufacturers of appliances and electronics so that they can connect other gear into the home automation network.

Although a number of utilities are moving ahead with installation of smart meters, there's growing recognition in the industry that meters need to be coupled with home energy management tools so that consumers can take advantage of the real-time capability of two-way meters.

Duke said that the Cisco home energy controller is designed to be easy to use and not require a significant amount of time or attention.

"Customers want to save money on their energy bills, but it has to be easy. With Cisco's proven expertise in Internet Protocol-based, open system networks, we're confident our collaboration with them will result in a solution that provides customers back-of-mind simplicity and real, back pocket rewards," Gianna Manes, Duke Energy senior vice president and chief customer officer, said in a statement.

Cisco and Duke last year announced a deal through which Cisco will be the networking technology provider for Duke's smart-grid program, providing both in-home energy management and back-end data center and networking technology.

The entry of networking giant Cisco into the crowded home energy market, although anticipated, is likely to make life more difficult for a host of start-up companies that make similar home energy management tools. In many cases, those display suppliers plan to work through utilities or broadband providers to bring these products to consumers.