Driving Energy Home

10/17/2012

The “connected home” can mean many different things to many different people. For some, connected home means M2M (machine-to-machine)-enabled security systems, or home-automation solutions that allow you to control lighting, appliances, and other home systems remotely via a mobile device. Still others believe the concept of connected home centers around energy management and control.

Saving money is one value add that will always appeal to the average consumer. For this reason, M2M technology solutions that help consumers and businesses reduce their energy consumption and save money on utility bills may be a key factor driving the connected home forward.

In fact, as consumers become more aware of their energy-use patterns and various ways they can harness connected devices and technology to live more efficiently, they will begin looking to incorporate energy-management solutions into their daily lives.
 
“There has been a growing increase in awareness and concern related to energy consumption,” says David Mayne, director of business development, Digi Intl., www.digi.com, which offers an open, standards-compliant platform for deploying energy services to utilities. “These concerns range from economic (saving money) to environmental (saving the earth). This awareness, combined with the continued adoption of smartphones and other connected technologies, will increase consumers’ expectations related to interacting with their home.”


Digi’s goal in the space is to offer a platform that can solve the challenges of mass deployments of energy services by delivering tools that simplify device installation, provisioning, remote upgrades, and monitoring services to utility customers.

Mayne believes service and solution providers will continue to perfect methods of driving efficiencies that are automated, minimally impacting a consumer’s lifestyle. Together, increased consumer awareness and technology innovation will drive increased adoption of energy services in the home.

The latest data from IDC Energy Insights, www.idc-ei.com, agrees. The IT market-intelligence firm suggests North American utilities will respond to consumer demand by spending more than $577 million on home energy management solutions by 2016.
IDC suggests the market will experience a much more rapid rate of adoption as consumers become more engaged in their energy use, and as utilities comply with “regulatory mandates for home area network development”—a critical component of the emerging smart grid.

Casey Talon, senior research analyst, Smart Grid Strategies, IDC Energy Insights, adds, “As customers become increasingly aware of the benefits they can gain from (home energy management), utilities aim to transfer a share of the investment to the retail market and incentivize participation without investing in devices and behind-the-meter components.”

In other words, Talon suggests consumers will be able to use rebates and other financial incentives to help offset the cost of smart-energy equipment, such as smart thermostats. “This arrangement is mutually beneficial to electric utilities and their customers because the utility can ramp up participation in home energy management and customers can purchase more economic energy-management devices,” Talon says. 
 
Ultimately, the goal of these solutions is to shift consumption behaviors in response to signals from the smart grid, realizing economic benefits for consumers and businesses. Digi’s Mayne believes we will start to see this come to fruition within the next 3-5 years. And yet, he says, many challenges remain.
“The biggest challenge utilities face is a lack of experience in delivering, managing, and supporting devices,” says Mayne. “ … These types of services will be critical for widespread utility adoption.”

IDC also outlines some potential hurdles the market will face before smart energy really reaches mainstream adoption. For instance, the firm suggests utilities in North America will need to develop a poignant business case for home energy management in light of “tepid adoption” of various pilot projects, along with the cost barrier to entry, among others.

However, as more consumers become aware of their options around smart energy, managing home energy use will be a key component driving the future of the “connected home.” Whether it’s a simple remote control solution for appliances and thermostats, or a smart meter provided by the local utility, intelligence is coming home, and the consumer is helping to bring it there.





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