Verizon flips switch on home energy management service

Verizon is the latest mega-company to try to help residential customers reduce power consumption, but without a social aspect its service will be a tough sell.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

You may have heard Verizon is finally launching its new home monitoring and control service this week, and you probably won't be surprised to hear that energy management is on the menu of services provided.

The teleco is touting home owners' ability to remotely adjust thermostats using a laptop and to closely monitor what is using power in your house, at times when you might not expect. The service uses Z-Wave technology to keep tabs on what is going on throughout the home, pulling in data from all sorts of sensors, thermostats and such.

The entry point for the energy portfolio within the Verizon home automation service is $9.99 per month; BUT, of course, you need to use Verizon Internet services and equipment. The Energy Control Kit including gateway device, a smart thermostat, an energy reader and 1 appliance switch is $69.99. (This will add up as you add appliances.)

It is interesting to me that Verizon is getting into the home energy management game, especially given the strategy "adjustments" of companies including Google and Microsoft that have wooed residential customers with home energy management services. Maybe Verizon figures its customers will be inclined to view this application as another monthly utility service. To be fair, Verizon is also playing the safety card. It heavily pitches the home surveillance angle; that's another service in its general home monitoring and control kit.

I do think that Verizon will have an uphill battle, though, because it has been proven time and again that homeowners with smart meters tend to do better when they aren't managing their consumption in a vacuum.

One of the most effective ways to get residential energy users interested in managing their consumption is to introduce an element of competition, allowing them to see how they are doing compared with their neighbors. That is one of the themes that keeps arising from smart grid behavioral research being conducted by Tendril, a software company that has created a platform for exposing the information collected via smart meters to homeowners.

Tendril is one of the most visible companies in this space for a number of reasons, including the fact that is works with the advanced meter infrastructure players responsible for about 85 percent of the existing advanced metering infrastructure including Elster, Itron, Landis + Gyr, Sensus and Silver Spring Networks.

I spoke with Briana Kane, senior residential program coordinator for Cape Light Compact, about the ongoing pilot program that the organization has running with Tendril in Massachusetts. Kane said that when the participating Cape Light customers were able to see their energy usage in a broader context, they were more likely to take action to change those habits. Approximately 75 percent of the 100 participants reduced their consumption, and the overall reduction in daily energy use was 9.3 percent (or 2.9 kilowatt-hours per day).

Of course, I think it is relevant to note that the participant were actively engaged volunteers and that the program was not mandatory. Still, Kane said she was surprised by the level of social action and feedback shared among the participants. "There was a great deal of support for each other in the ways that they were approaching their home energy use," she said.

Back to Verizon's service. As much as I'd love to believe that home owners are going to think about Verizon as a home automation or energy management service provider, I think the telecommunications company is going to find it a tough sell.  It is not that the company doesn't have the infrastructure, it is that pilots have demonstrated time and again that people tend not to manage their energy consumption proactively -- unless they think someone else on their block is doing a better job.

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