As Summer Heats Up, M2M Cools You Down
Can M2M make us smarter with our home-energy usage? The opportunity certainly exists for intelligent systems to help us control our homes better, but the question remains: What does the future hold? With big name players exiting the market, does it leave a void or opportunity?
According to estimates by the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), half of the energy used in homes goes to HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning)—more than water heating, major appliances, and lighting combined. To put it in perspective: If a homeowner is able to reduce their HVAC energy load by just 15%, that would mean a 7.5% reduction in overall energy usage, which is like eliminating lighting all together.
What’s more is that most experts, including the EPA, estimate advanced thermostats with programmable features have the potential to reduce homeowner energy usage by 20%. By simply programming specific temperatures based on whether you are home, away, or sleeping, you can immediately see savings. Seems like a no-brainer, right?
Not quite. While using the memory function of a programmable thermostat can save a homeowner energy and money, the catch is the homeowner actually has to take the time to program the thermostat. And research shows that just isn’t happening. In fact, one homeowner study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California reports 90% of its research respondents admitted to rarely or never setting their programmable thermostats to a weekend or weekday program. In fact, the research found half of the respondents actually had their programmable thermostats set to “long-term hold,” a mode that maintains a constant temperature at all times and completely overrides any energy-saving features the thermostat could offer.
This has left developers wondering what it will take to get consumers to take the next step toward in-home energy management. The technology is there, but what will change their behavior? In today’s connected environment, it would be tempting to say the answer is data. Give the consumer information about their energy usage and surely they will see their waste and make immediate changes. However, early attempts from big names like Google and Microsoft proved that once again, it’s not that simple. Last year, Microsoft shut down its home-energy monitoring service, Hohm, and Google did the same for its energy-monitoring tool, PowerMeter. Both Web-based services required consumers to manually input energy usage data—an idea both Google and Microsoft admitted didn’t take off as fast as they had hoped it would. In other words, consumers didn’t want to take the time enter the data. Or they just didn’t care.
But the industry is learning from its mistakes. Several developers are building on early attempts at smart home energy management by blending the worlds of programmable thermostats and Big Data. Using connectivity and data analytics, these companies are simplifying data collection and then attempting to make it meaningful to the homeowner, whether that’s through a bar graph on a smart phone app or a colorful icon on the thermostat itself.
For example, EcoFactor, www.ecofactor.com, is one company that has introduced smart thermostat solutions offering homeowners a fresh look at energy data. EcoFactor is combining data collection with home automation to do all the work for the homeowner. The question is will such an approach resonate better with consumers, and more importantly, translate into better results? The answer to that question will likely hinge upon whether or not data can truly change consumer behavior, or, given advent of home automation, if it is even necessary.
EcoFactor, which presented at the Connected World Conference this past week in Santa Clara, Calif., is making some noise in the home automation space. This week it was announced Xfinity Home from Comcast has added EcoSaver from EcoFactor, a new cloud-based energy solution that learns heating and cooling patterns of the home.
Could this be going directly at products like Nest, which seem to have capture consumer attention? The Nest, www.nest.com, thermostat is available at retailers and has made a strong marketing push to the consumer market. But Ecofactor could have found a more ideal entry point by working with big name service providers and utilities to distribute its solution.
What will this do to shake up the market is anyone’s guess. But as we enter the hot summer months across the country, there is little doubt consumers will be looking for that ideal home energy solution. M2M could be the answer, in more ways than one.
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