Navigant Research Blog

New Approaches Boost Energy Efficiency

— August 7, 2014

National Grid’s U.S. division has rolled out a home energy management (HEM) pilot in Massachusetts that combines free hardware and special applications in a bid to get customers to cut their electricity use and help the utility manage demand more efficiently.  The pilot is targeted at customers in Worcester, which, for the past few years, has been the focal point of National Grid’s testing of smart grid technologies, including new Itron smart meters and other infrastructure upgrades.

About 15,000 customers are eligible to take part in the pilot.  They can choose from several free bundles of technology.  One of the more novel devices is a digital picture frame made by Ceiva that receives electricity consumption data from a smart meter and makes suggestions for reducing use.  Smart thermostats from Carrier and smart electrical plugs from Safeplug are also available.  Ceiva’s software, called Homeview, enables customers to view consumption data online and on mobile devices.  For the utility, Ceiva’s Entryway software suite supports the management of smart meter-connected home area networks, residential demand response (DR) capabilities, and energy efficiency programs.  The pilot is scheduled to last about 2 years at a cost of $44 million.

Cheers All Around

A number of utilities are deploying similar technology to help customers reduce energy consumption.  Glendale Water & Power and San Diego Gas & Electric support Ceiva devices as part of their efforts to encourage customers to use electricity more efficiently.  In addition, utilities like NV Energy, using EcoFactor technology, and Oklahoma Gas & Electric, which has deployed thermostats from Energate and software from Silver Spring Networks, have taken the lead on HEM programs for several years (for a deeper dive into the HEM space, see Navigant Research’s report, Home Energy Management).

Utilities like National Grid and the others mentioned here are to be commended for providing a range of technologies that help customers reduce consumption while also helping utilities meet efficiency targets.  That’s what a smarter grid is intended to do, and more utilities should do the same.


Behavioral Programs Yield Savings for Customers

— August 5, 2014

A new study of four rural cooperative utilities in Minnesota demonstrates that behavioral programs based on smart meter data can help customers become more efficient electricity users.  And while the results were encouraging, the savings were not overly dramatic, falling within the range of expected outcomes based on other similar programs.

Among the four Minnesota utilities, the average annual residential electricity savings ranged from 1.8% to 2.8% for customers who opted in to the MyMeter program, a web-based system that users can access to manage consumption.  The four cooperatives involved in the programs were Beltrami Electric Cooperative, Lake Region Electric Cooperative, Stearns Electric Association, and Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association.  The total number of households was more than 14,000.

MyMeter is a software solution provided by startup Accelerated Innovations that features four key offerings for customers who opt in: help with load management and efficiency, visualization of energy use, improved billing options, and a communications platform.

Consistent Findings

The study compared the four Minnesota cooperatives’ results with two utilities in Massachusetts that had gone through an evaluation of similar efficiency programs.  Results from Western Massachusetts Electric’s program showed average savings of 1.9%, while savings among customers taking part in Cape Light Compact’s program averaged 1.5%.  Though these results were somewhat lower than the Minnesota figures, the study authors viewed them as within the range of expected savings.

Although they weren’t part of this study, it is useful to note results from Opower, another behavioral-based vendor that helps utilities’ customers lower their energy consumption.  Opower says its behavioral programs can reduce energy consumption by 1.5% to 2.5%, on average – close to what the cooperatives achieved.

One benefit of the program for the four Minnesota cooperatives is that the state’s department of commerce has accepted the results and will allow the four to count the savings toward a state-mandated goal, which calls for energy savings of 1.5% of annual retail energy sales for each utility.

The programs used by the four Minnesota cooperatives are a clear example of what can be done when utilities leverage smart meter data by giving customers access to the information and the tools they need to reduce consumption.  Other utilities that have deployed smart meters should take note.  Behavioral programs can help achieve two goals: meeting regulatory mandates for overall energy reduction and satisfying customers who want new ways to manage their energy budgets.


Blackout-Plagued India Moves toward a Smarter Grid

— July 10, 2014

Utilities in India continue to take concrete steps toward upgrading to a smarter power grid that in the last few years has suffered massive blackouts.  Though the steps are not yet widespread, they show progress toward a more modern and stable grid.

Within a 2-week span, two utilities announced contract awards for new meters.  The largest announcement came when Bangalore Electricity Supply Company ordered 1.7 million digital smart meters from Landis+Gyr.  The meters are to be delivered over the next 12 months to Bangalore Electric, which provides power to the city of Bangalore and eight districts in the state of Karnataka, population 64 million.  The second recent announcement came when West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited ordered more than 1 million digital smart meters from Landis+Gyr.  Headquartered in Kolkata, the utility manages electricity distribution for 96% of the state of West Bengal, population 90.3 million.  West Bengal has been at the forefront of smart metering in India, having begun upgrading devices in 2009.  This deal follows an order for 1.5 million meters from Landis+Gyr, which were deployed last year.

Progress, Perhaps

In a separate deal, Essel Utilities will deploy an unusual retrofit meter solution.  The utility will install a module, made by local metering company Aquameas, that contains a radio unit from Cyan Holdings called the CyLec 865 MHz RF device.  A total of 5,000 of these units will be attached to existing meters.  The retrofit installations are to take place in the city of Muzaffarpur, in the state of Bihar, starting late in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Earlier moves made by Indian utilities and smart grid vendors indicate that the market is progressing.  Tata Power Delhi was the first utility in India to launch an automated demand response project with smart meters.  The project in the nation’s capital is for commercial and industrial customers that can take advantage of the latest technology.  Approximately 250 customers are involved, with the potential of helping shed loads totaling 20 MW.  Project partners include IBM, Honeywell, and Landis+Gyr.  Washington state-based meter provider Itron has made India a priority for its smart metering efforts, opening a lab last year to highlight its solutions for the Indian market, where it has also been active in supplying advanced water meters.

India still has a long way to go to reach its goals of a more modern electric grid that could eventually involve some 130 million meters.  But utilities are moving ahead with projects and pilots that could bring the country’s power grid closer to the 21st century.


Honeywell’s Lyric Intensifies Smart Thermostat Competition

— June 11, 2014

Honeywell has introduced a new Wi-Fi-connected smart thermostat called Lyric, a device squarely aimed at taking on Google’s popular Nest thermostat in the home automation arms race.

The new device looks similar to Nest’s: round, glossy, and with a modern digital interface – though Honeywell would say it hasn’t copied Nest (something the two have argued about in court) – the Lyric updates its iconic Round thermostat, first introduced in 1953.

The new Lyric thermostat is smartphone-centric and will work with iOS or Android devices.  It uses a homeowner’s smartphone location as the cue for adjusting the temperature set point.  For example, when a homeowner leaves the house with smartphone in hand, the Lyric device can automatically enter an energy-saving mode.  Similarly, as the homeowner and smartphone return, the Lyric thermostat senses the proximity and can either heat or cool the house to the preferred temperature.  This technology is called geofencing – using a device’s location to trigger events.

Under the hood, the Lyric thermostat software makes automatic adjustments using an algorithm based on indoor temperature, local outdoor weather conditions, and humidity.  This functionality, dubbed Fine Tune, endeavors to provide the most comfortable temperatures in an automated fashion.  In a dig at Nest, which emphasizes its learning capabilities, Honeywell notes the Lyric thermostat does not have to learn any patterns; it merely adjusts to homeowner activity.

Game On

Honeywell has provided energy-savings guidelines for Lyric owners in the United States.  Estimated annual savings by region are: $26 to $150 in the West; $133 to $173 in the Midwest; $31 to $143 in the South, and $130 to $221 in the Northeast.

The retail price for Lyric is $279, meaning it will compete at the high end of the market, like Nest.  The Lyric thermostat is available now through Honeywell’s network of heating and cooling contractors, and is expected to be in retail stores starting in August.  The new thermostat is the first in a family of connected home products Honeywell plans to launch under the Lyric name.

With this device, Honeywell has upped its game against Google/Nest.  Given its strong brand and equally strong distribution channel, Honeywell should be able to at least dent some of the momentum Nest has generated in the past few years since its launch.  And, more than likely, Google will counter with product upgrades of its own.  The competition should be good for consumers, giving them choices for a smart thermostat that meets their needs.  Moreover, competition won’t be limited to these two U.S. players.  Germany-based startup tado° has been active in Europe with its hardware-software temperature control system.  The company recently reached its $200,000 target through a Kickstarter campaign to launch its new air conditioning control product.  It also plans to adapt both its heating and cooling products to be compatible with Apple’s forthcoming HomeKit platform.

The smart thermostat arms race is on.


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