U.K. energy company Centrica has confirmed it intends to bring new home energy management options to the U.S. market after making key investments this month.
Sam Salisbury, director of Centrica Innovations Labs, told GTM the company would look to test the packages in the U.S. later this year, with a view to commercial launch in 2020. The U.S. rollout would follow commercialization in the U.K. this year, he said.
Centrica recently announced two investments to shore up a connected-home vision built around Hive, the leading smart thermostat in the U.K.
The company put a multimillion-dollar sum into GreenCom Networks, a 10-year-old German firm specializing in white-labeled, energy-focused internet-of-things systems for utilities, energy service companies and device manufacturers.
SET Ventures, Munich Venture Partners and Cosmos also participated in what GreenCom called “a significant fundraising round.”
Centrica also made a smaller investment in Mixergy, a spin-out company from the University of Oxford's Energy and Power Group, which is touting a smart hot water tank concept that helps homeowners save energy and reduce power bills.
The backing, which Salisbury described as “between seed and Series A,” involved Centrica alone. The investments gave Centrica minority shareholdings in both companies, Salisbury said.
They are aimed at giving Centrica access to energy management and smart boiler technology as part of a wider vision to create homes that could consume 70 percent less power from the grid than at present, Salisbury said.
As part of this vision, Centrica is also looking to engender partnerships with solar and battery vendors in the U.K. and the U.S. Other elements in the Centrica smart home concept include residential EV charging points, heat pumps and connected appliances.
A series of smart home packages
Centrica is planning to roll out a series of smart home packages in the U.K. later this year, said Salisbury. One of the first, potentially for release in the first half of the year, is likely to be a residential energy storage system for homeowners who already have rooftop solar PV.
Other offerings might include a solar-plus-storage package and a more comprehensive system — incorporating intelligent boilers and heat pumps, for example — for customers looking to minimize the carbon footprint of their homes. “This is not one-size-fits-all,” Salisbury said.
Centrica has yet to decide how these packages will be sold, although Salisbury hinted that the company may seek to spread the cost of purchase and installation through some kind of long-term service agreement.
“The upfront costs are high,” Salisbury said, but “the costs of fossil fuels are only going up. We would like to fix the cost of electricity, and also fix it at a point which is even lower than it is today.”
To achieve this, it seems likely Centrica could use smart home energy management systems to benefit from demand response opportunities.
Over 4.5 gigawatts of flexible capacity
In the U.K., Centrica said in a press release, "the co-location of domestic battery storage alongside today's solar installations alone could enable over 4.5 gigawatts of flexible power capacity, one and a half times more than a new nuclear plant.”
Robert Buckley, head of retail and relationship development at U.K. energy consultancy Cornwall Insight, said this is "an important strategic move by a large provider. Centrica's move into this sphere is an important statement of intent.”
Centrica would, however, face “a real challenge” in marrying its high-tech home vision to its often low-tech domestic energy customer base, he said.
Nevertheless, Buckley said: "They have clearly seen this as an opportunity to develop, particularly as consumers are starting to become more aware of energy saving within the home."
Although it was not referenced in Centrica’s latest announcement, the company is also investigating peer-to-peer energy trading using blockchain.
And in November the power company announced a collaboration with another blockchain player, Verv, also aimed at peer-to-peer trading. Centrica Innovations had previously invested £1.9 million ($2.5 million at today’s rate) in the blockchain firm.