As an energy consumer, how much would you spend per month on home energy management? Do you want another electronic box and control panel in your home? Do you want to spend any time this week managing the energy consumption of your dishwasher and clothes dryer? Do you want an information stream detailing your energy usage? Is energy management in your home something that you care about?
Reporting from an Agrion event in Palo Alto, California, I find myself at another panel in an endless series of panels addressing the never-ending quest for the killer app in home energy networks. Scores of firms are still searching for the value proposition in home energy networks and trying to figure out how anyone can make money and a real business in this space. And despite all the talk, they still haven't found it. Add that to the residential demand response illusion. And the search for the residential smart grid killer application.
Here are some of the comments from the panelists:
OPOWER, Nadeem Sheikh, Director, Client Solutions: The consumer is already deluged with data. It's incumbent on us to give consumers actionable information, not just data. Energy is 6 to 7 percent of our energy expenditures -- the same as it has been since the 1970s. Coming back to adding value: where does the consumer benefit?
"People already have a lot of devices and they don't want more -- peer pressure is much more effective than an onslaught of data."
iControl Networks, Letha McLaren, VP Energy Products: iControl ties home energy information through the home security network and ties energy to safety and peace of mind. They look to make it part of the home management system. The firm is a software-as-a-service company.
Control4, Eric Smith, Chief Evangelist: Our goal was to be the OS of the home and we got pulled into home energy management. Consumers will get bored with that display. C4 doesn't believe that ZigBee is the way to talk to the meter. Their core business model is to license technology to consumer appliance manufacturers. Consumer electronics players want to put radios in all of their devices and add energy functionality to audio or AV systems. Smith has been looking for the killer app in home automation since 1989. His current answer is that there is no one killer app.
4Home, Jim Hunter, Founder and CTO: The missing piece is usability. If it's not usable, people won't use it. Think about the consumer, first and foremost. The utility mentality sees customers as meters, not people. The in-home display must deliver more than just one piece of information. The customer base is extremely varied, ranging from high-interest to low-interest. Radio is not going to reach far enough -- even if it's a mesh. We need a physical-layer-independent protocol. It needs to work over multiple connectivities. 4Home is a software company and does not sell directly to customers.
Enphase Energy, Bill Rossi, CMO: It's pretty confusing for the home owner who is trying to figure out what GE or Google or Microsoft are going to do for home energy management. If I am engaged with my security company, I am much more likely to work with them. Enphase has a network of about 2,000 solar installers, and Rossi thinks that the route to the home might be through those solar installers. Enphase is still wrestling with where they fit into the home energy network space; they look to leverage their existing gateway that already sits in the home. The next thing to look at is water, according to Rossi, identifying a commodity even more irrationally priced than electricity and even less suited to consumer interaction.
We welcome your comments on what will compel you interact more with your energy usage. Do you want more data? Would you spend more on an appliance because it was smart grid-enabled with a mesh-network radio that spoke to your smart meter?