New Advancements in Home Energy Management

Izzy Connor

With the rise of IOT, home automation technology represents an enormous emerging market, and major brands are battling for pole position in the race for automation dominance. This technology is not only accelerating the adoption of home automation, but also energy management technology. Homeowners can now efficiently monitor and regulate their own energy usage, and innovative technologies in this area keep popping up. Nest continues to enjoy first-mover advantage in the industry, while Apple, Google and Amazon are currently developing their own systems and devices to allow you to monitor and control energy usage at a personal level. These home automation companies are bringing energy efficiency straight to the consumer.

What companies are paving the way in home energy management?

Nest, launched in 2009 and acquired by Alphabet (Google) in 2014, is a provider of design-focused energy management system. The company’s smart hardware products, including a thermostat and smoke detector, focuses on combining data and algorithms with design aesthetics to produce user-friendly hardware. Their ‘Works with Nest’ solutions go further connecting their devices with other products to control and anticipate home customers needs.

Last month, Nest signed a new deal with Southern California Edison as part of the utility’s response to the shutdown of the Aliso Canyon natural-gas storage facility. This deal represents the next step in home energy management, as Nest can now aggregate demand response via their smart devices, saving power and money during peak hours – one step beyond individual home energy management. As more homeowners adopt this smart home technology, Nest’s presence within the energy market will potentially deepen and could ultimately enhance grid stability.

Another major player moving into the market is Apple. The company’s new centralized ‘Home App’ lets you control all of your HomeKit products. With Home, you can manage smart products from one app, and even create Scenes and Room presets. “Leaving home,” for example, would turn off the lights, lock your doors and lower the temperature in the home, enabling overall energy efficiency. Home also works with Siri, so you can speak the commands as well. However, there are currently only 18 companies certified to make HomeKit devices that are compatible with the ‘Home App.’ Among those 18, a total of 48 products have become available for purchase, and many of those products are very similar to one other, which may hinder the adoptability of the app.

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Ecobee’s smart thermostat and room sensor

Amazon, in contrast, has opted for an open platform that is far more developer-friendly and more widely compatible. The Amazon Echo has become a key platform for controlling smart home devices, and earlier this year, Amazon’s Alexa Fund directly invested in Ecobee, a developer of wifi-enabled smart thermostats. The biggest differentiator of the Ecobee thermostat from other similar products on the market is that it works with temperature sensors placed around the home. The thermostat will adjust the temperature based on readings from those sensors – in contrast, the Nest thermostat is only able to take temperature readings from the proximate area surrounding the device.

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Google’s newly launched Google Home.

Finally, after much speculation, Google Home was released this week. Home is powered by the Google Assistant, which is a new take on Google’s voice-powered search and Google Now. While Google has not yet opened up Assistant to third-party developers, it does already integrate with Nest. On top of Google Home, Google’s TensorFlow gives your home the ability to learn your behavior/daily routine and therefore can anticipate when you will need to use a particular device at what time of day. It is expected that Google will open up Home/Assistant to its developer ecosystem, leading to a diverse set of applications and functions to fit the ever-changing needs of people and homes. Beyond Nest, there is great potential for automated energy-savings as more devices become integrated.

Major players are taking on the smart home market from different angles and products, which is leading to a wide range of smart home capabilities. While Nest is ramping up its demand-response initiatives and working directly with utilities, will other companies seek to provide more energy efficient applications? Will we see Ecobee (or another start-up) make the leap to demand-response revenues and/or grid interaction? Is demand-response truly the next big play as more homeowners buy smart thermostats and other IoT-connected devices?

We will continue to monitor this fast-moving market and track new innovations, deals, and companies.