Millions of homes to get energy efficiency displays

Energy information displays, which are the "face of the smart grid," will be installed in tens of millions of homes to help consumers save electricity, projects Pike Research.

The days of learning about your electricity consumption once a month are the on the wane.

Driven by consumer interest in energy and utility smart-grid programs, home energy information displays are poised to enter people's kitchens and living rooms in large numbers over the next few years, Pike Research forecast in a report on Thursday.

The research company predicts there will be 28.1 million users of energy displays by 2015. About half of the users will have actual devices, while more than 11 million will access that information from Web-based dashboards and 2.6 million from mobile phones, according to Pike Research.

The purpose of these displays is to guide consumers in lowering their energy consumption. Simply making people aware of their electricity use will drive people to make behavior changes to cut their utility bills and environmental footprint. Studies have found that a combination of more detailed information and utility-run incentive programs can help consumers shave between 5 percent and 15 percent off their bills.

For example, a display might show that electricity usage is above normal at a given moment and send someone to turn off unused electronics. Getting historical data and information on different appliance usage, too, can lead people to make adjustments. More advanced home energy management systems will allow a person to program heating and cooling and to participate in utility efficiency programs to cut energy use during peak times.

Still, since many of these products are still not on the market, it's not clear how effective they will be at improving home energy efficiency and whether consumers will continue to use them regularly.

There are already a number of home energy monitoring devices which can cost anywhere from less than $100 to a few hundred dollars. But the field is getting crowded with a number of providers from very different fields. The smart-grid stimulus program is expected to result in over 1 million homes getting these displays for free from utilities.

Both Microsoftand Googleoffer Web dashboards, although their functions vary. There are also dozens of companies, including a number of start-ups, which make devices or software to run on displays.

In many cases, information is gathered through a smart meter, which has a two-way communications link with the utility. But in many smart-grid programs, utilities are not making detailed energy usage available to consumers in real time, in part because of security concerns, says smart-grid executives.

Although the home networking standards are still in flux, many energy information display companies are developing gateways using home Internet connections to read existing meter data and software to provide efficiency recommendations to consumers.