Verizon wants to help you automate your thermostat, your window shades and anything else that can be networked to save energy, all through the new broadband home router it is offering its FiOS customers.

While Verizon isn't setting an official timeline for when it will start supporting energy management capabilities like these, sources in the home energy management industry say it could be by the end of this year.

And it's possible that other telecommunications giants competing for homeowners' phone, TV and broadband Internet business may be eyeing the same strategy (see Telecoms Eyeing Home Energy Management?).

That potential move into homes – along with moves to serve as the primary communications platform for the two-way communicating "smart meters" that utilities are deploying by the millions across the nation – indicate that telecommunications giants are getting serious about being part of the "smart grid" (see Your Electrical Meter Becomes a Cellphone).

One thing that phone carriers could do for this market is bring it speed. Utilities are notoriously conservative and move slow. Telcos, if they see this as a way to drive incremental revenue and curb customer churn, could move quickly.

But just how a Verizon home energy management system might work – and which companies it would partner with to make it happen – aren't subjects the company is ready to talk about yet.

"What we'll probably do is invent, or buy from somebody, energy management software that gets loaded into the broadband home router, that either connects wirelessly or with real hookups to the equipment in the home," Jim Smith, Verizon director of media relations, said Wednesday.

That could include "the thermostat, and the window shades, and all those things that can be driven using IP messaging across the home network," Smith said.

"What we do and when we do it is hard to say," Smith added. Verizon's new routers became available late last year and are now in "hundreds of thousands" of homes, he said.

But given that a Verizon executive set early next year as a timeline for deploying "home energy monitoring and control applications" in a February interview with the Website Telephony Online, it's likely that Verizon is now hard at work.

Of course, telecoms aren't the only non-utility players seeking to help homeowners save energy. The list ranges from high-end home automation system makers like Control4 and equipment makers like Black & Decker to Internet search giant Google (see A Broadband Smart Grid? and Google Gets Into Home Energy Management).

"Lots of vendors, large and small, are becoming aware of the tremendous opportunity in home energy management," Eric Dresselhuys, vice president of markets at smart meter networking provider Silver Spring Networks, said in an email on Wednesday. "Use of open standards will continue to draw new participants and new business models to the space."

But the question for all of these entrants remains: How will they compete or cooperate with the utilities? After all, making homes "smart" about energy measurement and controls is part of many utilities' long-range plans – and they will have the smart meters to offer homeowners real-time energy usage data and conduits for participating in money-making energy efficiency programs (see The Smart Home, Part I).

"Ultimately, I think it would be great to see utilities and telecom providers cooperate to leverage exiting broadband and cellular networks to offer some sort of energy management service," said Ben Schuman, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities. "But that would require an unprecedented degree of cooperation."

And without utilities on board to offer energy-saving incentives based on data they can analyze, and variable pricing based on when they're trying to ease the demand for power on a strained grid, "I don't think customers would save as much money," he said.

Still, Schuman said he wouldn't be surprised to see companies like Tendril Networks, Greenbox and others that are offering home energy monitoring and control hardware and software to get involved with telecoms.

"I think a lot of the startups in this space are frustrated with how slow utilities are to move, and are looking for other avenues, including going directly to the customer," he said.

Verizon's Smith wouldn't say whether the company was in talks with vendors or utilities about forming partnerships.

"We all realize there's going to be some commonality of function and purpose," he said. "But we're not standing lock-armed with anyone on that yet."

Tags: energy, grid, home, meter, smart, verizon