In home energy management, progress despite high-profile failures

Even though Microsoft and Google have ditched their home energy management services, upstarts like EcoFactor and Energate are reporting progress in pilot deployments.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Methinks you have all read about the recent decisions of Google and Microsoft to back off investments in cloud-based services designed to help consumers managed their home electricity consumption. Google blinked first, then Microsoft. Both cited poor consumer adoption in their decisions. I just think they are impatient.

That doesn't meant that home energy management services and solutions are going away, though. Rather, what you will see is a continuation of partnerships between energy management technology companies and utility companies. The ongoing pilots that are going on across the United States -- and the world -- with respect to smart meters, smart thermostats, energy management software and the consumption information that they can provide to consumers and utilities are producing some real progress.

Shortly after my last post about this topic, for example, I received an update from EcoFactor, which has been working with utilities including NV Energy in Nevada. The companies are reporting that a demand response test in Las Vegas helped affect load impact by up to 36 percent.

A bit more explanation, especially for those of you who (like me) live in places where demand response measures are less common than in some of the hottest of the hot states. Demand response systems help decrease loads so that peak demand doesn't overburden the supply of energy. In places like Las Vegas -- where residential air-conditioning can account for about half the peak load during the brutal summer months -- anything a utility or a consumer can do to use less AC is important.

The EcoFactor technology can be used to anticipate potential demand response events, by analyzing information about weather and temperature as well as the AC capacity of a given home. The technology was used to cool homes before demand response events, which helped decrease loads during those events for the pilot homes by about 36 percent.

Demand response is one thing, ongoing conservation is another. It just so happens that another upstart in this space, Canada's Energate, has already recently announced some progress for pilots that it is running in Oklahoma and Ontario, Canada.

Energate said that in its pilot with Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co., participating residential consumers were able to reduce their peak electricity consumption by up to 50 percent. In this particular test, pricing signals were sent to consumers, who could opt to participate. Or not. Silver Spring Networks technology was also involved in the project.

The Canadian pilot, which was in several areas including Peterborough, Hamilton and Kitchner-Waterloo-Cambridge (all in Ontario) tested the ability of homeowners to adjust their thermostats via an Internet portal. Even though the pilot is over, Energate says fewer than 10 percent of the participants opted to return the devices.

I am sure that I could cite similar results from other pilot projects; these two happen to be very recent, which is why they caught my eye.

Another company that you can consult for ongoing results is Opower, which has created some cool graphs illustrating the impact of its energy management technology. Just this week, the company scored a deal to provide its energy management platform to First Utility in the United Kingdom. The utility company plans to offer smart meters to all of its customers.

The Opower platform will be used to provide consumption pattern information and high bill alerts, among other things. Consumers don't necessarily have to engage via the Internet, though, which will be an important factor in the success or failure of projects like these. The fact is, not EVERYONE really wants to use the Web to look at their power bill.

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