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iControl adds home energy services to broadband

Start-up iControl is developing a home automation system that includes energy management along with home security or broadband services.

Would you be willing to pay for home security services if they could also help cut your electricity bills?

In a nutshell, that's what start-up iControl is pitching to consumers with its energy management software and home automation gear. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company is also working with utilities to get its energy management system installed as part of smart-grid trials.

On Tuesday, it said that its home automation equipment can now use the Zigbee wireless protocol to communicate with two-way smart meters.

Will home energy management enter through home automation networks? iControl Networks

It's part of the company's plan to enter the field of home energy efficiency, where there are dozens of companies already vying for business. The path it's taking is either through security service companies, utilities, or broadband suppliers, such as cable companies or phone companies, said CEO Paul Dawes.

iControl's technology is software for managing home area networks for home security. It also makes reference designs for Internet gateways and networked thermostats manufactured by third parties. The system allows a person to set up a network of security cameras which can be controlled by a touch-screen device.

With some additional equipment, the system can also be used to monitor energy usage and help homeowners cut energy usage, said Dawes. He expects these services will be offered for free as part of monthly security services, which cost about $30 to $35 per month. Security company ADT said that it plans to use iControl's software system to include services beyond home security, he added.

iControl's energy management system will also work with smart meters installed by utilities. Using a Zigbee-based gateway box and a networked thermostat, the system can get data via the smart meter which can help cut consumers' electricity bill, Dawes said.

For example, the meter can signal when cheaper rates are in effect or when there is a demand-response program in effect. In those cases, appliances on the iControl network can be scheduled to take advantage of those lower rates.

By buying some additional equipment, a consumer could program lighting and heating and cooling using the system, but the company is mainly working through utilities at this point.

"We don't see consumers willing to pay a recurring fee for energy management. They're willing to spend $50 for some energy management solution. What's going to change is when utilities go to time-of-use metering (where there are different prices at different times). Then, the economic incentive is much higher," Dawes said.

iControl is expecting that telecommunications and cable providers will start offering Internet-based home security services and then home energy management. But at this point, it's not clear how those companies will make money in energy management, Dawes said.