Microsoft, others continue push to bring energy efficiency home

Microsoft, others continue push to bring energy efficiency home

Summary: People in the business world are pretty much convinced of the value of energy efficiency, mainly because it has been shown to save them money. But far fewer of us are using green technology in the home to the same end.

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People in the business world are pretty much convinced of the value of energy efficiency, mainly because it has been shown to save them money. But far fewer of us are using green technology in the home to the same end. There are lot of reasons for this; my guess is that the primary reason has to do with the expense of some of the suggested retrofits and the fact that people don't really want to dump money into their homes during the ongoing real estate value crisis.

Plus I know from my perspective that if a thermostat or any other sort of green tech gadget messes with the aesthetics of our home, my husband will put the kibosh on them. I imagine some of you are in the same boat.

In any case, there are still plenty of tech companies trying to cultivate a market with consumers, including Microsoft, which recently updated the MIcrosoft Hohm application. Hohm isn't exactly a smart metering technology: what it does is help you great an energy profile that maps your power consumption to typical households in your region or, for that matter, in other regions of the country. (So, if you're thinking about moving to another state, Hohm could help you figure out what you're in for.)

New features in Hohm include the following:

  • Information pages covering EVERY zip code in the United States (did you know there are 42,000 plus of them?) along with energy savings recommendations particular to that zip code
  • The addition of two dozen behavior recommendations for those who take the time to create a Hohm energy profile
  • An energy breakdown dashboard that provides more detailed information about where your household is using the most energy

Some pretty big names in the appliance and energy business are planning their own end-to-end Home Energy Management solution, which is scheduled to hit stores in the middle of 2011. The group including Best Buy, Direct Energy, Lennox International, OpenPeak and Whirlpool are working on what they're calling the Home Energy Management Center.

What makes this particular solution notable among the dozens of home energy management devices and technologies under development is that it will be focused on houses of all income levels.  Many of the dozens of other home energy management technologies under development have a decidedly middle or upper class bent to them.

The companies are describing the gadget as as "command center" for the home, which will also provide access to news, weather, social networking, music and movie applications -- helping consumers save up to 25 percent month on their energy bill by letting them manage according to certain preset budget levels or operating parameters. It will also support application downloads. Like most of the technologies in this space, the Home Energy Management Center will need to be integrated with energy-connected appliances, such as dishwashers, washers and dryers, water heaters, thermostats and so forth. Note to readers: I find it interesting that this press release doesn't mention computers or televisions. Are they somehow exempt from this?

The Home Energy Management Center is being tested in 40 consumer homes in Houston and London over the next 12 months.

Another company to keep an eye on is EcoFactor, which last year garnered a nod for innovation at the Cleantech Open awards. What makes this company a bit different is that it will mash up your home energy consumption and combine it with information about environmental conditions. The notion is that the temperature you've got  your house set at for today might not be the right temperature for tomorrow, says EcoFactor CEO John Steinberg.

You totally know what he is talking about: Think about the fact that 65 degrees on a sunny day feels totally different than 65 degrees on a damp, gray day. Right?

EcoFactor is squarely focused on existing homes, and it is planning to deliver its service through broadband providers. "The savings don't depend on the consumer having the smart grid facing their home. The only piece of the smart grid you need is the Internet connection," he says. EcoFactor's next big milestone is a deployment by Oncor in the Dallas metro area.

Of course, that's not entirely true: you still need to pull the information from your appliances and electronics devices in some way, although EcoFactor is working hard to be device-agnostic.

Of course, if you don't feel like waiting around for all of the above to emerge from pilot or prototyping and you have a bit of disposable income, you could opt for an end-to-end home energy management solution from a company like Vantage Controls. The company has been working on various home automation systems for a couple of decades, and it shipped its Energy Management Solution in July 2009. You can track both energy consumption at the raw level and energy consumption as a dollar amount, says Reid Cram, product manager for the Energy Management Solution.

In addition, Cram says you can control the system pretty much any way you want -- from a smart phone, touch screen or switch -- and one big thing that the company has focused on is keeping "wall clutter" to a mininum. (See honey, this stuff CAN look pretty.) Energy management is layered into the company's existing home automation technology and it adds roughly $1,500 to a solution that ranges from $5,000 to $20,000-plus, Cram estimates.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Microsoft

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