SAN FRANCISCO -- At the Intel Developer Forum in September, Intel execs first began to strongly indicate that the chipmaking giant would move into the burgeoning market for home automation and energy management.

Power control was very limited in homes, Andrew Chien of Intel Labs pointed out, leading to excessive power consumption. Worse, it was controlled by analog components: Digital technologies could do a far superior job.

John Thomas, senior marketing strategist at Intel, made the connection much clearer at The Networked Grid conference sponsored by Greentech Media today. Intel has concluded that energy management will be the application that will allow home automation to go mainstream, he said.

Customers also seem to want it. In a survey conducted in six countries, 61 percent of respondents said that they would be interested in getting home energy management systems. Fifty-one percent said they would also pay more for consumer electronics with embedded capabilities to tie into home energy management systems. Two-thirds of the respondents said they would be influenced by incentives and rebates.

Most, though, also said that they would be willing to pay $300 or less for a home energy management systems, which the acronym-loving company calls a HEMS.

Why should Intel care? Home automation and energy management is a classic "New Uses-New Users" paradigm for Intel. Those four words have been the basis for the company's marketing plans since the early 1970s. To expand the market for its processors, Intel has worked to increase the attractiveness of computers and other devices that incorporate them. In the late '90s, that meant investing in internet sites that, ideally, encouraged consumers to upgrade. A push on WiFi paved the way for a tidal wave of notebooks in the early part of this decade.

By hammering out standards in home automation and touting its effectiveness, consumers will flock to TVs, thermostats and home gateways that contain Intel silicon, the theory goes. Thomas pointed out that Tendril, which makes home automation equipment, has created a widget that hooks into TVs containing an Intel microcontroller for getting Internet data to TVs.

Home automation for energy management, Thomas added, is more effective than other mechanisms for reducing power consumption. Giving consumers information about time-of-use pricing can reduce pricing by 8 percent, according to a survey touted by Thomas. Providing dynamic pricing signals can reduce it by 13 percent. A smart thermostat can reduce power by 27 percent. An automated home system can reduce it by 43 percent, he said.