A lot of the talk in home energy management is all about the startups: Opower, Nest, EcoFactor, Tendril, EnergyHub, to name a few. But the relatively nascent market, which still relies on buy-in from utilities, as Nest’s recent announcements illustrate, is also attracting some old standbys in the utility world.
The global giant Schneider Electric, for example, works across the entire electric ecosystem, from solar inverters to transformers to data center efficiency. But there is one key area where the multinational firm didn’t have foothold until recently: the home.
“What we’re doing in residential is really strategic and significant,” said Yann Kulp, VP of strategy and business development at Schneider Electric.
Schneider Electric is rectifying the hole in its portfolio with an update to its Wiser home energy management platform, which was quietly released back in 2011.
The hardware and software platform includes an in-home display, internet gateway, smart plug, load control device and smart thermostat that connect to an online and mobile platform.
If you’re thinking that gateways and in-home displays are so 2011, you may be right. But for smaller utilities, like municipals and cooperatives, one-stop shopping for demand response offerings could be attractive.
The grid giant has partnered with Calico Energy Services for its Wiser offering, so that it can sell an entire demand response solution to utilities that might not have a demand response management system on the backend.
Other companies, like Tendril and Energate, have turned to broadband as a channel into the home. The trend in 2013 is attracting the utilities that do not have plans for smart meters at this time. Schneider is not alone amongst large players when it comes to connected home; Siemens is partnered with Tendril and General Electric has its Nucleus platform.
Schneider has a pilot with a Northeast municipal utility, although it won’t name names. The company is also working with contractors and builders, including KB Homes. Although home energy management is relatively new, Schneider already has a deep portfolio of energy controls for the commercial and industrial sector and has partnered with startups like BuildingIQ to bring additional intelligence to its efficiency offerings.
Many of the functionalities are similar to other offerings: a web portal to see energy use, get energy tips, control the thermostat from a mobile device and compare energy usage to peers. The gateway connects to the home’s router and the hardware within the home communicates over ZigBee.
There are some additional features that could be attractive to utilities. For utilities that still want an in-home display (despite the low time-to-kitchen-drawer) or control of the hot water heater or pool pump, Schneider can offer all of that. For consumers who want to control certain plug loads, there are smart plugs. The thermostat currently sells for about $200, with the gateway, load controls or smart plugs selling for about $100. However, Schneider said those prices are dropping significantly in coming months.
The load control module, which would be necessary for hot water heaters or pool pumps, would require professional installation. Although the load control module would not have to be part of the package, the gateway is necessary even if a homeowner only wants the smart thermostat. The need for a second device, even if it’s cost-competitive with other offerings on store shelves, could be a deterrent for the average homeowner. However, Kulp noted that most of the sales would be through partners, and not necessarily direct to customers.
Although Schneider isn’t offering the sexiest product in the market, or necessarily the cheapest, it is hoping its longstanding relationship with utilities will make it a contender as a home energy management partner. “There’s a richer value proposition than just a thermostat,” said Kulp. “As part of the larger Schneider organization, we’re well positioned.”