Parks Associates Blog

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Is the Market Ready for Energy Management?

It’s no secret that few homes in the U.S. or, for that matter, anywhere in the world have electronic control systems. I have postulated that there are a number of paths on which controls can ride into the home: basic lighting, entertainment, security and …energy control systems. This last one, energy controls, was highlighted at this year’s CES by several firms …perhaps most energetically by Control4.

The company hosted a CES panel discussion comprised of Southern California Electric, California Public Utilities Commission, the Zigbee Alliance and Onteriors, an installing dealer focused on whole-home automation systems for green homes, to address the role home automation plays in enabling a green lifestyle. The conclusion drawn by the panelists is that utilities are prepared to invest in smart meter reading systems that can provide consumers with information about their energy consumption. In addition, these systems can enable time-of-day billing so utilities can provide consumers incentives to use power when it’s more plentiful …and less costly.

Sounds great, but haven’t we heard this before? What’s new this time?

We have heard it before, but there is a growing number of utilities and companies, e.g. Itron, that manufacture a large percentage of all electricity, gas and water meters used in the world behind the effort. IF the utilities do, in fact, finance the replacement of existing meters with those that can provide consumers information about their energy consumption and allow them some control over it, then I think energy management will become a major conduit for control systems into homes. I believe this is still a BIG “if,” but this is a development worth monitoring.

Why is this worth monitoring? Well, if you’re manufacturing controls or systems that need to be controlled, e.g. audio components, home theater systems, HVAC systems or home appliances, then these developments could affect you. Control4 plans to piggyback on these initiatives with its low-end, ZigBee-based control systems that the company believes can become mass-market products available at retail and easy enough for the do-it-yourselfer to install. Once in place, these systems can control any ZigBee-enabled device or system from home theaters to washing machines.

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