Beyond Energy Monitors

July 14, 2010

Energy monitoring systems that report your home’s energy use in real time are just starting to roll out in a big way—and already manufacturers are looking beyond providing just energy or electricity usage data.

Why is that?

“Energy information is boring,” says Alex Laskey, president of Opower, which provides electric utility customers with energy usage reports. “People don’t want real-time data. What they want are insights and analysis that help them save.”

Opower isn’t alone on the sentiment. Several energy monitoring systems on the market or being introduced—from the likes of Intel, Cisco, Tendril, Powerhouse Dynamics, Control4 and others—provide energy-saving recommendations to homeowners, alerts that appliances may require servicing, and other non-energy features and functions.

Intel’s “Home Dashboard”—note that it’s not called “Home Energy Dashboard”—features a clock on its face and functions such as a video messaging with a built-in camera to keep users coming back to it.

Cisco’s tabletop energy monitoring touchscreen is also cloaked as a clock, and the company is looking to make recommendations to homeowners. “Energy management should be one of many applications in the home,” says Larry O’Connell, consumer energy product manager of Cisco’s Prosumer Business Unit. “It should be a non-intrusive service in the home and part of something else.”

Intel and Cisco, however, will offer its energy management systems first through utility smart grid programs and through big service providers like ADT (security), Comcast and Verizon, all of whom are planning to roll out affordable home energy monitoring systems. Systems for retail may follow later.

Tendril, a company also marketing energy management systems to utilities, plans a retail rollout in 2011, and agrees that energy management products should not stand on their own. Tendril cites a research study that found that those interested in energy monitoring systems did not want another dedicated screen in their homes.

Tendril also plans to provide recommendations to users. “We don’t present data. We present usable information. Your fridge is using more energy. Maybe time to service?” says Scott Ballantyne, vice president of marketing for Tendril.

Ballantyne says Tendril’s software platform will understand users’ patterns, so it can report that a home is using more or less energy at a given time.  “We’re learning how to deliver the right information at the right time to the right person.”

Powerhouse Dynamics, whose circuit-level-based eMonitor is being sold through custom electronics and solar system installer channels, sees alerts as adding value to a home energy management system.

“A car tells you all kinds of things going on with engine and the vehicle. But think of a house, and you don’t have that. We want to track appliances and send alerts, like when a well pump or a sump pump dies.”

Powerhouse Dynamics and others are looking to read how much power a circuit is using—say the one for an old refrigerator—and reporting to the homeowner that the appliance is using an increasing amount of electricity and that it may be time for servicing or replacement. “We’ve added diagnostics of other problems,” Flusberg says. “One that we just added was the result of a customer experience. The defrost cycle of his refrigerator was kicking off, so we wrote an alert for that.”

“If you give them a dumb interface [with only energy usage data], people make a change for about two weeks. A big part of the way we designed [Intel’s Home Dashboard] was to keep them coming back and keep interacting with other things, like the video messaging,” says Ryan Parker, director of marketing for Intel Embedded and Communications Group.


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