Trilliant has launched a home energy platform and established relationships with 16 home energy device partners, claiming that every single one of them will be able to run their devices on Trilliant's network right out of the box. These are common claims in the smart grid industry, but Trilliant may have a chance to try them out earlier than most.
That’s because the Redwood City, Calif.-based smart grid networking company has two key utility customers in the vanguard of connecting their smart grid systems to home energy sensors and controls.
The first is Hydro One, one of the biggest utilities in Ontario, Canada, where the provincial government has mandated that every residential customer be moved to time-of-use electricity rates that change throughout the day and have some kind of technology to be able to plan for and react to that use.
The second is British Gas in the U.K., where national mandates will require utilities to roll out millions of smart meters amidst a deregulated power market where customers have the option to change their retail electricity provider every month -- a potential nightmare for meter vendors, but a gold mine for proving whether a company's “interoperable” and “plug-and-play” system really lives up to those monikers.
Trilliant named 16 partners for its new “Consumer Engagement Solution” platform, including some well-known home energy startups such Ambient Devices, Aztech, Digi International, Ecobee, Energate, Energy Aware, MMB Research, Radio Thermostat Co. of America and Tendril, among others. While it didn’t announce any utility customers, Rob Conant, Trilliant’s chief marketing officer, noted that Hydro One and British Gas did operate in “unique regulatory environments” that could make Trilliant’s offer more tempting.
It’s important to remember that smart grid-to-home technology is still in its infancy, despite all the hype about smart meters telling your home thermostat how to save money by changing the air conditioning setting. In fact, Ontario is the only place in North America where the masses of utility customers are actually using technology that reacts to power prices that change throughout the day -- and Trilliant’s network accounts for just over 1 million of the 3.1 million customers hooked up to time-of-use rates as of this summer.
Ontario may be the first jurisdiction in North America to turn to smart meter/smart thermostat hookups en masse, but it won’t be the only one for long. Top U.S. smart meter networking startup and IPO candidate Silver Spring Networks is backing up Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s commercial-scale rollout of time of use rates, aimed at delivering 70 megawatts of peak power use reduction in the coming year or two.
That program will hook up Silver Spring-enabled smart meters to smart thermostats from Energate, one of Trilliant’s partners which is also involved in supporting Ontario’s time-of-use rate program. Indeed, Trilliant’s list of interoperability partners is far from exclusive -- most of the home energy players in the industry are partnering with as many networking, metering and grid system management players as they can, and vice versa. Silver Spring bought home energy dashboard startup Greenbox for a rumored $20 million last year, but it’s also partnering with home energy vendors like Control4, Tendril, Onzo, Radio Thermostat and others.
Still, every smart grid-to-home energy controls project that’s been done so far has been done as a standalone project, in a way “meant to experiment with customer behavior in a territory,” Conant said. “We have, and could continue, to integrate in a one-off fashion.”
But moving to the partner-platform model launched Monday “allows a lot of companies to pre-integrate with our system” in advance, he noted. That’s important in a world where technology standards for how different smart grid devices and networks can talk to one another have yet to be set, even if most systems are being built in anticipation of them. Smart Energy 2.0, a system for home energy commands that works for ZigBee, Wi-Fi and HomePlug, isn’t expected to be complete until late 2012, for example.
In the meantime, smart grid-home energy management connections are going to be put under a lot more strain in deregulated markets like Texas or the U.K. British Gas, for its part, is asking Trilliant to supply its distributed intelligence in nodes that will be connecting to meters that can be changed out by customers as often as once every 30 days, or as often as they decide to switch retail power providers.
That kind of interoperability will put heavy pressure on utilities to make sure they’re able to support a variety of end-user devices, Conant noted. It’s also driving a lot of innovation in offering interesting rate programs to customers, along with non-energy products like home security or automation systems, like the ones Verizon has just started selling to its U.S. customers.
GTM Research has covered how embedding energy management in different home devices could open up the home energy market. But that kind of flourishing, modular-style energy-smart home model can only succeed if connecting different devices is as easy as getting home PCs to connect to the home Wi-Fi router is today. While Trilliant still has a lot of work to do to prove its interoperability claims, it’s a good challenge to take on -- and the industry as a whole will want to pay attention to it.