I have seen the future of home energy management—and it is completely automated.
Or as automated as we can make it. Though maybe not in the “traditional” sense of tying together a bunch of disparate systems—heating and cooling, water heating, lighting, appliances and electronics.
But in a smart sense—with at least some of the smarts coming from the cloud.
One of the pioneers of our set-it-and-forget it future is a company called EcoFactor. Its SaaS (software as a service) connects to off-the-shelf, two-way communicating home thermostats and relies on thousands of data points to micromanage a home thermostat and save homeowners “nickels” of energy here and there. Those nickels add up.
In trials the company has conducted with numerous service providers, EcoFactor claims it has reduced energy bills by 17 percent, which it says average about $30 per month for homes with a single thermostat and about $55 per month for those with multiple thermostats.
How It Works
The company gathers data points including the outside weather, a home’s heating and cooling system and the thermal characteristics of a house.
EcoFactor “talks to” the thermostat every 60 seconds, and based on all its data, makes tiny adjustments to the set point of the thermostat. It might turn it up a half a degree or more, or turn it down, depending on all the variables. EcoFactor might do this 70 to 80 times a day, or 1,300 times a month, or 14,000 times a year. (Yes, we know the math doesn’t quite add up, but the nickels do.)
Hublou says the program can determine the thermal characteristics of a house and the state of the heating or cooling system by using the two-way communicating thermostat as a sensor. “With two-weeks worth of data, I can start understanding the thermal characteristics of the home. How does the weather affect inside temperature?” With this answered, EcoFactor can determine the thermal envelope of the home and how well it retains or loses cool air and heat. “Then, how does the HVAC system respond to that?” With this info, EcoFactor can judge the relative state of the heating and cooling systems and begin to make those very minor adjustments, only customized to how your home and HVAC system work.
Toward a Smarter House?
Imagine this principal being applied to other home systems. It almost seems like Jetsonian dream: A truly smart house that can make its own decisions and save you money! Only the brains aren’t in the house, but in the cloud.
We’ll also see smart grid services that can delay your smart dishwasher cycle to later at night when the rates are cheaper. Though in that case, the decision-making brains will be in the dishwasher. And we’ll want smart energy management for smart charging electric vehicles at a combination of our most convenient times and cheaper energy. In this case, the smarts could be in the cars and chargers or in a processor serving as a home energy management system. That system might even decide to use your car’s battery to help power the kitchen if the solar panels aren’t drawing energy and the rates are high.
A lot of this hardware and software may be moved to the cloud as well.
EcoFactor is not stopping at the thermostat. The company started there because that’s where the biggest energy savings are in the home.
The next big energy hog on the list? Water heating. “Companies are diligently working on retrofitting water heaters to have RF [radio frequency-controlled] shutoffs,” Hublou says. And he thinks EcoFactor’s cloud based software can provide the algorithms to help automate that. Then there’s lighting, and electronics and appliances, retrofitting pool pumps and other high energy users. The efficiency list goes on and on.
Next Up: Cable?
EcoFactor’s plan is to distribute through utilities and service providers such as cable companies, telcos and security providers. Hublou says EcoFactor will have some big announcements this fall concerning partnerships, though it may not include ADT and Comcast/Xfinity that are already rolling out security and home systems with some basic home energy management.
In a utility rollout with Oncor in the Dallas area, EcoFactor subscribers are paying $9 a month, and Hublou says the company expects service providers to price the offering similarly.