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Control4 pitches app store for energy display

Control4 to release software developers kit and tools for utilities to run demand response programs to ratchet down electricity use during peak times.

In an effort to sell its home energy systems, Control4 is taking a page out of the iPhone playbook by designing a sleek device with a dedicated app store.

The home automation company on Monday is announcing at the DistribuTech utility conference that it has developed a Flash-based software developers kit for its EMS 100 home energy management display and the Advantage software that runs on it. The hope is that utilities or energy retailers in deregulated markets, notably Texas, will create customized applications to help consumers cut electricity bills.

Control4's home energy management system is designed to signal to consumers when peak-time electricity prices are in effect. Control4

The EMS 100 is a small touch-screen display that provides details on electricity use and gives consumers a way to program Zibee-enabled devices, such as a thermostat, lights, or an appliance connected to a wireless plug. It's one of several home energy managements displays being developed, some of which will be rolled out through utilities.

With the Control4 system, people can participate in utility-run demand response programs to lower electricity during peak times. For example, a person could choose to let an electric hot water heater adjust the temperature setting during "peak events," such as a hot day when the air conditioning load is high and the grid is generating capacity. In return for turning down the hot water heater, the consumer can get a rebate or reduced tariff.

On the back end, Control4 has written its software so utilities can manage these demand response programs. When added together, these "peak shaving" programs have the potential to save a significant amount of energy. California has 15 to 20 days a year when its demand exceeds its capacity, so these programs, either with businesses or consumers, can obviate the need to build new power plants.

"For utilities to be able to benefit, they need these devices out there in scale," said Richard Walker, president of Control4 Energy Systems Division. "This would be a quick way to scale."

Studies have shown that providing detailed information on usage can help people cut electricity by 5 to 10 percent. Coupled with automation, such as demand response and programmable thermostats, consumers can get savings of over 15 percent, said Susan Cashen, the vice president of marketing.

Outside developers could create applications for the device to, for example, provide tips on lower energy usage or create applications for news or traffic. The software development kit and application store are scheduled to be available this summer.

Control4, which makes home automation equipment for media systems, has not signed on any utilities so far to install its gear. But on Monday it said it has signed on Lockheed Martin which plans to use the EMS 100 system as the customer-facing portion of energy-efficiency applications for utilities.