Parks Associates Blog

Monday, April 06, 2009

What's Hot? Residential Energy Management

During difficult times, the true optimists find the silver lining and recall that great opportunities are borne out of change. There are great opportunities in technologies for residential energy management now rising from the ashes of the global economic meltdown.

Parks Associates has been tracking home automation including energy management solutions since the late 80’s. Many solutions have come and gone, lacking sufficient support for mass adoption. If your average monthly energy bills are north of $300, then a little quick math suggests you could justify spending several hundred or a thousand dollars on home technologies which provide measurable savings by managing when certain systems in your home operate and hibernate.

Parks Associates tracks the companies playing leading roles in residential energy management. Many of these companies facilitate utility companies’ development of a nationwide smart grid, but many products work today with existing meters and can be purchased at retail. Some solutions involve a wireless monitoring device or thermostat and some, such as Google’s PowerMeter, are Internet applications which allow a homeowner to monitor energy usage from any Internet connected location.

It is uncertain if residential energy management technology will be driven into the home by utility companies or pulled in by economizing consumers, but it is likely to be both. What is certain is that several network protocols are well entrenched in near term solutions. These include IP (Internet protocol and specifically IP for Smart Objects), ZigBee, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi. While there is certainly time for other protocols to enter the race, the majority of early products incorporate these standards. Consumers have grown comfortable with Wi-Fi on their laptops, home routers and iPod Touch devices, but are not familiar with other technologies, e.g. ZigBee. ZigBee is a network protocol optimized for low power devices, strongly endorsed by many utilities. The combination of these technologies provides an array of relatively low cost products that enable us to track our current energy usage, and, in some solutions, control how and when we run certain systems.

Parks Associates is bullish on the prospects of consumers deploying products now which will begin the transformation of our attitudes and usage of energy. As Google states, the first step in changing consumption is measuring what and when we consume. We hope that energy utilities will jump start the process by providing incentives or even selling and installing products which will heighten our awareness of how much energy we use.

The global crisis of rising energy costs will first transform our attitudes and eventually modify our energy consumption habits – strengthening our economy with the help of technology.

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