Sitting at the crossroads of utilities, telcos, smart meter makers and retail stores is 4Home -- ready and willing to pounce on everyone's needs. The connected home services company is positioning itself to provide easy-to-use energy management software applications to consumers via a wide range of customers.
While Verizon might want a simple interface for cell phone users tracking their energy use over its planned 4G LTE network, meter manufacturer Sensus may have other ideas about what kind of portal will be the best for their customers.
"We don't care about the technology being used, except that it's an IP network and web-friendly stuff," said Jim Hunter, CTO and founder of 4Home.
ControlPoint, the software 4Home has created to be all things to all people, is essentially the same widgets that can fit into different skins across unique interfaces, using any hardware from phones and set-top boxes to PCs and energy portals.
A recent demo of ControlPoint software proved that the different skins could be flexible enough to meet a variety of needs for customers while still being easy enough for any consumer to use.
The example of a skin that a utility might offer had tabs across the top of the screen for cost, usage alerts and prepay. I could check how much energy I was using, in kilowatt hours or dollars (this seems to be a common feature, as real people don't measure things in kilowatt hours), set up alerts to notify me via email or cell phone when my usage exceeded a set limit (again, dollars or kWh), and manage payment options. The widgets that tracked usage were big, colorful graphs that were easy to understand.
Each month showed usage as a bar graph by day (with a thin line superimposed to show historical use patterns), and then I could click into any given day and drill down to see hourly usage, and if available, time-of-use pricing. The colors were for time of use pricing were self-explanatory -- red is when you're paying the most. The screen never gave too much information at any given step, so it would be easy for the less-than-tech-savvy crowd (read: my father) to use.
Other demos had only touch-screen widgets for thermostats and lighting devices, so someone on an iPhone or touch pad, for instance, could turn down their lighting panels or thermostat -- which would look almost identical on the screen as it would if you were standing in front of it. It made me wish I had a digital thermostat to begin with (or control of my heat for that matter), so I could download an app to adjust it from anywhere in the house without having move. Ah, someday. I forsee thermostat wars between smart phone-carrying kids and dollar-conscious parents.
But it's not just utilities that 4Home sees as potential customers (although the company has recently met with about 75 different utilities). Besides its smart meter partners, Echelon and Sensus, 4Home is gunning for big-box retailers like Best Buy to take its software and run with it. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company recently closed $6.8 million in Series B funding in April.
"From our perception, we see big-box retail as a really big opportunity for consumers to retrofit their homes with energy management solutions," said Nate Williams, Chief Marketing Officer of 4Home.
"You really don't have a complete solution unless you address the TV," he added. "We think that the two most important are TV and mobile phones. Penetration rates are so high and TV is one of the places that consumption is going to happen."
Williams said 4Home is expecting several major partnerships in the retail market this year to bring its ControlPoint to consumers. Expect to see software to turn on your HD TV and see how much energy your home theater is using. Then, you can use that same software to track energy use in other areas of your home.
"We don't have any hardware and we can go on any software," said Williams. "It can be used by any major consumer electronics brand."