Making Home Energy Management Smarter -- and a Lot Easier

Naturally, this year's version of the giant consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, known as International CES, has a green component. And one of the stars in this category at CES is an ensemble put together by several companies aiming to help people save energy at home.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%%The group includes appliance maker Whirlpool (WHR), energy retailer Direct Energy, home energy-monitor maker OpenPeak, thermostat and controls company Lennox International (LII), and electronics superstore BestBuy (BBY). These players have assembled an enticing blueprint for an energy-efficient home featuring appliances that talk to each other and interact to save energy and a slick interface that will let homeowners remotely turn appliances and other electricity users on and off (via VentureBeat Green).

OpenPeak's home energy monitor (pictured), called a dashboard, shows users in an easy-to-understand graphical interface just how the power is being used. Lennox brings an innovative new thermostat that's far more efficient at regulating energy use for home heating and cooling while maintaining comfortable room temperatures. The blueshirts of Best Buy's GeekSquad will install the system at 40 test homes. All together, the systems is called the Home Energy Manager (HEM). Direct Energy is putting the project on top of its energy customer network for this test run, which will likely use smart meters by Itron (ITRI), an OpenPeak partner.

Information Leads to Conservation

The theory behind this approach is simple. Appliances can fairly easily be coordinated to use less energy during peak load times, when power costs the most. They can also be restricted and regulated so that a home with considerable renewable energy generation (solar panels on the roof, etc.) can tweak consumption patterns to minimize energy purchases from the grid.

Further, home energy-management companies theorize that giving people real-time information on their power usage and the ability to control that usage remotely will make it much easier to change energy consumption. This makes sense, considering that the primary energy-use feedback mechanism now is a monthly electricity bill that offers zero detail or usage breakdown by appliance or category or time of day.

Since conservation alone could reduce power consumption in the U.S. by nearly 25%, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Co., making it easier for people to conserve seems to be a no-brainer. To that end, Cisco (CSCO) and General Electric (GE) are teaming up to build networked appliances and a host of home energy-management products. They plan to work with utilities and roll out systems to the general public, particularly in the increasing number of areas where homes and apartment buildings have smart meters.

The HEM showcase at CES appears to be one of the more elegant implementations of home energy monitoring and management, with the snappy graphical home-monitoring system and the slick Whirlpool appliances that can easily tap into existing types of network-management tools. The OpenPeak overlay will allow homeowners to program specific appliances to run at certain times, to move home temperatures up and down and to have a unified view of home energy consumption and trends. The system does everything but close the refrigerator door -- and that's probably in the next iteration.
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