Navigant Research Blog

Internet of Things Reaches the Smart Home

— June 9, 2014

In the last several years, a lot of online buzz has promoted the Internet of Things (IoT), much of it centered on connecting more devices in the home, with a particular emphasis on enhancing energy efficiency.

And nothing gets the blogosphere more amped up than an announcement from Apple, which unveiled its HomeKit home automation software framework during its latest annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.   HomeKit is the underlying technology that will enable users to connect in-home devices like light bulbs, appliances, and thermostats with iPhones and iPads.

Energy Aware

Apple aside, there are other significant developments surrounding the IoT and smarter homes.  For instance, the Consumer Electronics Association recently approved a new standard (CEA-2047/CE-Energy Usage Information) that would give users a more detailed picture of device-specific energy consumption.  Though not mandatory for CE device makers, the new standard sets up a framework for manufacturers to provide energy consumption data that could be fed to an energy management system or to an application and present it to consumers on TVs, PCs, or mobile devices.  In essence, the standard enables devices to be energy self-aware and share that energy data with other devices.  The new standard is also compatible with the Green Button initiative, an industry-led move to provide utility customers easier access to their energy consumption data.

Not all of the action in this field is in the United States.  In Europe, energy provider Vattenfall has partnered with Deutsche Telekom (DT) to offer a new smart home software platform to its customers for controlling their lighting, heating, and appliances from PCs, smartphones, or tablet devices.  The platform, developed by German startup GreenPocket, is already used as the basis for a home automation and security system called Qivicon that DT sells to its customers.  DT, which controls mobile carrier T-Mobile USA, has plans to bring the Qivicon product to the United States and the United Kingdom.

Still a Few Glitches in the System

Clearly, the IoT has begun to move beyond early concept to actual in-home devices and systems that provide automation and energy efficiency.  Machine-to-machine activity working in the background is a reality.  My own experience with connected devices, though, has been somewhat underwhelming.  I have a Nest thermostat, and I’ve installed a few Philips Hue LED light bulbs that can be controlled from my smartphone.  While the Hue bulbs are cool and all, they aren’t all that great.  The original software was awful, and the third-party app I bought isn’t much better.  The thermostat works fine, but the energy savings have been elusive, as I’ve previously mentioned.   Plus there are downsides to a more connected home, as The New York Times’ Nick Bilton pointed out in his piece on the dark side of IoT.  And even simple problems expose the weaknesses in the system; my wireless router was replaced recently, and for a time the thermostat was offline until I set up the new WPA2 passcode.  Not a big problem in the warmer days of spring, but what if there is an outage during a cold snap or while we’re away on vacation?

So, while the geek inside me longs to embrace this move to the IoT and the greater efficiency, the reality is we are only at the quarter-mile mark into a marathon, and there will be more bumps along this road.

 

New Home Bundles Energy Technology for High Efficiency

— June 4, 2014

There are numerous examples of highly energy efficient homes on the market, all featuring various types and combinations of technologies.  For instance, Garbett Homes and Vivint have created a net-zero home in Utah that features a zero rating on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index.  Builder KB Home has completed a house in Lancaster, California that is designed to use net-zero energy and zero freshwater for irrigation.

Similarly, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has been involved in net-zero residential projects for several years.  Also, Meritage Homes offers net-zero homes at several of its communities in Arizona and Nevada.  In addition, automaker Ford has partnered with several companies for its MyEnergi Lifestyle initiative that aims to demonstrate how homeowners can lower electric bills and reduce carbon emissions with a combination of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, smart appliances, and plug-in electric vehicles.

AC Included

A new custom home in Houston, Texas offers another angle on residential energy efficiency that leverages the relatively low cost of natural gas as a way to lower electricity costs.   The spec home features a micro-trigeneration system that is the first of its kind available for the residential market, according to the manufacturing company, M-CoGen.  At the heart of the home’s energy production is a natural gas-powered unit, which operates with a traditional micro combined heat and power (microCHP, also called residential CHP, or resCHP) system and adds cooling and storage capabilities.  The system can reduce overall electricity use by up to 70%.  By adding cooling functionality, the system carries a new moniker: micro combined cooling, heat, and power (microCCHP).  The system also incorporates a battery bank for energy storage and provides power management controls to enable the home to shed load and make decisions on time-of-day usage.

While this microCCHP system does not bring the home to net-zero functionality, it does provide homeowners with another alternative to the traditional one-way consumption model, particularly in markets where natural gas is plentiful and relatively affordable.  Whether this particular generation solution will scale to thousands of new homes remains to be seen.  Over time, though, this and the other combinations of onsite generation, storage, and energy management technology have a chance to disrupt the residential energy market, as rooftop solar PV systems have been doing for a number of years.

 

Samsung’s Home Energy Management System a Walled Garden

— May 6, 2014

Samsung launched its Smart Home service recently, hoping to expand into home energy management.  From a consumer standpoint, though, there is a stumbling block.  You can bring your own appliance – as long as Samsung makes it.

The new service aims to simplify home automation by using a single application for connecting and controlling home appliances, TVs, and mobile devices.  In the United States, compatible products include Samsung’s Smart French Door Refrigerator, Smart Front Loading Washing Machine, all 2014 Smart TVs, Gear 2 (watch-like wearables), and smartphones with operating systems above Android 4.0.  For the South Korean market, the compatible hardware includes a 2014 air conditioner (model Q9000), a washer (Bubbleshot 3 W9000), all 2014 Smart TV models, Gear 2, and smartphones with operating systems above Android 4.0.

Samsung plans to roll out the service to additional countries throughout the year and will add smart light bulbs and smart ovens in the second half of 2014, including the ability to control devices by voice recognition.  Further plans call for expansion into home safety and energy management.

Walled Garden

While it is laudable to try to connect devices in the home, especially large energy-consuming ones like heavy duty appliances, offering a proprietary solution poses a challenge to market growth.  Devices using other technology platforms or communication protocols won’t be able to join the system.  This walled garden approach is perhaps is a good strategy for Samsung’s business, but not such a good scenario for consumers.

Clearly, Samsung would like to establish itself as a leader with its own set of technology, aiming to set standards and outflank competitors.  But that will not work for consumers, especially those in the United States and other countries who combine appliances from different makers.  Consumers will want things to work together seamlessly, to interoperate, no matter the brand.  Thus, they will look to devices that are less restrictive and take advantage of different protocols like Wi-Fi, ZigBee, HomePlug, or Bluetooth.

The concept of plug-and-play resonates, particularly in the home.  As noted in Navigant Research’s Home Energy Management report, the lack of common standards is a barrier to wider adoption of products that can help reduce energy consumption.  With this move by Samsung, that barrier remains.

 

In Japan, Smart Meters Accelerate

— May 1, 2014

The deployment of smart meters in Japan is moving into a higher gear.  The country’s leading 10 utilities have announced plans to finish installing residential smart meters sooner than originally scheduled.  The speedup was prompted by a perceived need on the part of the incumbent utility monopolies to better prepare for expected competition once the retail sale of electricity is deregulated in 2016.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is expected to complete its deployment first under the revised schedule.  The company is aiming to have the deployment of about 27 million smart meters finished in its fiscal year 2020.  TEPCO is expected to soon announce which five manufacturers have been chosen to the supply the utility with new meters for its first surge of installations set to begin this fall.

All In by ‘24

Meanwhile, Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) and Chubu Electric Power will aim to have their smart meter projects finished in fiscal year 2022.  KEPCO, which has a service area that includes Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka, has already deployed about 2 million smart meters.  Six of the remaining utilities intend to complete their smart metering projects in fiscal 2023, with the seventh, Okinawa Electric Power Company, moving up its expected completion date to 2024 from the original year of 2032.  By 2024, virtually all of Japan’s roughly 80 million residential customers are expected to have a smart meter installed in their homes.

The growing smart metering activity in Japan will have a positive impact on at least one U.S. company, Itron.  Itron’s smart grid software package, called OpenWay Collection Engine, was recently chosen by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation for deployment at Chubu Electric Power, Japan’s third-largest electric utility.  The OpenWay platform will be used to help collect and relay the high volume of data expected from field routers and the estimated 10 million smart meters Chubu Electric Power intends to install through 2022.  This Japanese win for Itron, which has struggled in recent quarters, as smart metering projects have wound down in North America, is its second major victory this year.  In March, FirstEnergy announced it had chosen Itron to provide 2 million smart meters and the OpenWay platform for deployment among FirstEnergy’s four Pennsylvania-based utilities.

As was seen during the boom in smart meter deployments in North America (and noted in Navigant Research’s recent report, Smart Meters), a similar situation is about to begin in Japan – with multiple projects commencing at about the same time.  Many winners and losers are about to be chosen among vendors of smart meters and grid hardware and software in Japan.  The stakes are high, and many in the utility world will be watching closely for new lessons that are likely to emerge from the Japanese effort.

 

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