Consert

wants to put real-time home energy management within the customers' grasp – and give utilities some extra tools to make its higher price worth it.

The Raleigh, N.C.-based startup emerged Monday with news that it was working with IBM on linking up 100 homes of customers of the Fayetteville Public Works Commission, with an aim of reducing overall home energy use by up to 40 percent.

That's more aggressive target than the 10n percent to 15 percent usually claimed by makers of home energy devices that allow people to see how much energy they're using and adjust accordingly.

How does Consert plan to do it? Like many of its fellow home energy startups – Greenbox, Tendril, Control4, EnergyHub, eMeter and dozens of others – Consert uses ZigBee wireless communications to hook up a host of load sensors in the home to a gateway device, in this case a "smart" thermostat or Web-enabled platform (see RF Mesh, ZigBee, Top North American Utilities' Smart Meter Wish Lists).

That device then links to a smart meter, Consert Chief Development Officer Roy Moore said. It also links its gateway devices to the Internet, in the Fayetteville case with Verizon wireless broadband, he said.

Unlike some of its competitors, Consert can also control the major household loads like air conditioners, water heaters, pool pumps and refrigerator compressors that it links to, Moore said.

And another differentiation Moore drew between Consert's technology and some others is that Consert's is real-time, rather than done in 15-minute intervals or greater.

"Real-time means seconds for deployment," he said. "It is truly real-time measurable and verifiable... other solutions don't meet that criteria."

The value of real-time power down capability, along with being able to measure just how much power reduction is occurring, could be quite useful to utilities as they seek to make homes more reliable sources of demand response (see The Elusive Smart Meter-Demand Response Combo).

There's a tricky line to walk in making such demand response both useful for utilities and acceptable to homeowners, Moore said. People want to be able to control how much hotter their homes get at peak times, but on the other hand, often they're not home to notice or respond to requests to turn off items.

Consert's solution is to have homeowners preset how much power they're willing to shed versus how much money they want to save on their power bills on average, Moore said. That allows Consert's system to automatically power down "ghost loads" that are running to no purpose, like ACs and water heaters when no one is at home, he said.

In areas where customers pre-pay their bills, the system could adjust loads to make sure that payment keeps the light on through the end of the month, he said. That same kind of extra functionality pertains to another North Carolina home energy networking startup, Sequentric, which is reported to be testing out its system with Duke Energy (see Sequentric Working on Duke Pilot Project).

But all that functionality comes at a price quite a bit higher than some of its competing systems – about $200 to $250, not counting the smart meters that will be involved. Moore said.

It might give utilities and their customers pause. While some home energy control makers are banking on selling direct to consumers, initial studies indicate that most people don't want to spend much more than $50, if anything at all, for the ability (see $48: A Threshold Price for In-Home Energy Management?)

That, in turn, is likely to push utilities to cover some or all of the cost of installing devices at first, as they're the ones seeking to reap the benefits of lower peak demands and prove to a wider audience that the savings can justify the cost.

Consert, for its part, is also trying out its system with the N.C.-based Wake Electric Membership Corporation and North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

IBM is also working with Consert on those projects, providing the middleware for Consert's interaction with the utility, something it's also doing with dozens of partners under the rubric of its Solution Architecture for Energy and Utilities Framework, or SAFE, platform (see IBM, Cisco Look to Tie Up Smart Grid Partners).

North Carolina State University is seeking to use Consert's real-time power reduction data to apply the energy it saves to generating renewable energy credits under the state's system for rewarding renewable power and energy efficiency, Moore added.

That could be another benefit of actually tracking the watt-hours with real-time date, he said, compared to other systems that send signals to power down air conditioners and appliances but don't individually verify the power reductions.


Interact with smart grid industry visionaries from North American utilities, innovative hardware and software vendors and leading industry consortiums at The Networked Grid on November 4 in San Francisco.