It’s no secret that people don’t use their smart thermostats. They’re not really that simple to program, and most homeowners just put the device in ‘hold’ mode. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sprinkle in some behavioral analytics, some smart set-and-forget options, and the ability to control it from your iPhone -- and now we’re talking.
Or at least that’s the word on the
street carpeted conference floor at GridWeek 2011. Opower, which sends its energy reports to millions of homes, announced a partnership with Honeywell to marry the wireless thermostat with analytics. Currently, Ogi Kavazovic, Vice President of Strategy and Marketing at Opower, acknowledges that, for the average person, smart thermostats “are too much work for too little gain.” Add in some of Opower’s analytics, however, and then it is transformed into “automated behavior,” he says.
Honeywell’s web-based programmable thermostat will integrate Opower’s software, which will measure, analyze and report a home’s electricity use. The companies will each be able to leverage each other’s utility relationships to get the product out there.
The move is no small deal. Until now, Opower had championed the hardware-less route to utilities’ hearts. Providing reports and alerts via snail mail, email, web portals and phones has garnered the company dozens and dozens of utility contracts.
But by layering their offerings, ranging from just mailed reports up through hardware solutions, Opower is focusing on how to provide services for the next generation of utilities that are looking down the road in the next 10 years. But don’t think Opower is switching gears away from its bread and butter. “We anticipate a whole new level of adoption for our core product,” says Kavazovic. “We’re developing a new front end for the utility.”
Opower isn’t the only player in home energy management company that has partnered with Honeywell. The building management giant also partnered up with EnergyHub, which has both hardware and software solutions for the home, last year. But Opower, like other companies, has also diversified into the software-as-service business and in that space is hardware-agnostic, so expect to see more announcements in that space soon. (But not during GridWeek.)
Opower and EnergyHub are not alone in stratifying their solutions. Some other players, like Tendril, have already moved away from pilots that always include a hardware component to full deployments that might not put in a single thermostat in the first few years.
The news from Tendril out of GridWeek is that the company is partnering with home energy management company ecobee. It’s also seeing increasing interest from utilities, not just for its Energize software, but also for hardware -- where it makes sense. “We’re parachuting in to help segment the market” for utility customers, said Adrian Tuck, CEO of Tendril.
The partnership with ecobee to integrate its smart thermostat on Tendril’s platform, Tendril Connect, adds to a growing list of partners, including Whirlpool and Siemens, that Tendril is working with. Tendril has always believed that for some consumers, control is necessary -- and not just information. While utilities might not buy smart meters for two million homes, they might do so for the 250,000 that enroll in a demand response program, or for those who have the biggest loads that could be curbed with more detailed information and control.
The thermostat news doesn’t end there. Sprint announced on Tuesday that the Proliphix IMT-550 thermostat will now be available with Sprint’s wireless connectivity. The product is for small and medium commercial, with a focus on national chains. Opower and Honeywell also noted in their announcement that their partnership could be extended into the small commercial space.
Some Sprint retail stores have also been testing SmartLabs’ Insteon products, which use a mesh system. Insteon, which helped some Sprint retail stores save nearly 30 percent on energy bills, will also now have Sprint connectivity built into its products.
Although small commercial is a tough nut to crack, everyone seems keen to give it a go. Silver Spring Networks also announced on Tuesday at GridWeek that its latest version of CustomerIQ is now available whether or not customers have a smart meter. The updated platform is also now available to small and medium commercial customers.
There is still a long way to go just to be able to provide people with some basic view of their consumption. A survey released by Silver Spring Networks on Monday found more than half the people with smart meters and access to data looked at it more than once a month. But some progressive utilities are already looking further out -- envisioning the real savings that will come when the right customers are paired with the right technology.
And if you think accessing the home and getting people to engage is just a pipe dream for a bevy of startups, consider this: Comverge is on the verge of signing up its millionth residential customer for demand response through utility programs.
More from GridWeek to come, including trends in segmentation (it’s true: not only are consumers not just ratepayers anymore, they're not even one readily identifiable entity).