Navigant Research Blog

Alphabet-Owned Companies Making Smart Home Moves Across Europe

— April 12, 2017

Through its subsidiaries Nest and Google, Alphabet has been active in the US smart home space. On April 6, Google Home finally made a leap across the pond, launching in the United Kingdom 5 months after its launch in the United States. Google Home is Google’s response to the Amazon Echo, which has been available to consumers in the United States since 2014. One of the main appeals of the Google Home is its ability to integrate with other Google applications, such as its search engine, calendar, Pixel smartphones, and most recently, Google Wi-Fi.

Fellow Alphabet subsidiary Nest has had its Nest Learning Thermostat, Nest Protect, and Nest Cam installed in more than 190 countries. However, these products have only been available for purchase in seven countries. This is quickly changing, with the company announcing that it would expand sales to Austria, Germany, Italy, and Spain as of February 15 and to Mexico as of April 4. The company stated that it plans to continue expanding globally as demand continues to grow and that it is looking to partner with energy, insurance, and telecom providers as a method for making its devices more available to consumers.

The Race for European Markets

Alphabet is entering the European market at a time when few other players have traction across multiple countries. Apple’s HomeKit product has yet to launch in the United Kingdom, while Samsung SmartThings is selling in the United Kingdom but is not present in other countries. Amazon devices are available in the United Kingdom and Germany, but only as of late 2016. Point solutions exist and are gaining traction—such as tado’s smart heating solutions that sell in a variety of countries or Quby, a smart thermostat and home energy management company acquired by Dutch utility Eneco. However, these companies may not have the resource support of bigger players like Nest and Google.

As Alphabet makes moves across Europe through its subsidiaries, the tech giant is pushing forward progress in the smart home sector. The United States tends to be the main market for companies focused on the smart home, as is the case with many tech solutions and innovative offerings. In terms of energy, this can be attributed in part to the difference in heating and cooling systems across countries in Europe, where it is harder to approach the market with one solution and where devices often have to be completely redesigned. However, Europe is a hotbed of smart home potential, with energy-conscious consumers accustomed to innovative technologies for reducing emissions, such as solar. Alphabet’s engagement in the European market could help propel the smart home industry forward and significantly increase uptake in energy management devices.

 

Builders Use Energy Efficient Technologies to Construct Better Homes

— March 31, 2017

Home builders today have many options for creating more efficient and smarter homes, and a survey says builders are actually using these products. According to a recent National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey, single-family builders in the United States are using an average of 10.2 different green products or practices, and 22% always or almost always have their home certified to a green standard. Energy efficient windows ranked at the top of the list, commonly used by 95% of builders, followed by high efficiency HVAC systems at 92%, programmable thermostats at 88%, and ENERGY STAR-rated appliances at 80%.

(Source: National Association of Home Builders)

At the bottom of the list are smart appliances at 16%, energy management systems at 11%, and passive solar design at 8%, among others. While these concepts are certainly growing in popularity, this survey is a reminder that in reality, energy efficiency in new construction still largely relies on more traditional energy efficient products. These more traditional products are not only tried, tested, and trusted by builders, but can also offer a clearer prospect for energy savings potential, as can be seen in the ENERGY STAR window savings estimates figure below.

(Source: ENERGY STAR)

A Step in the Right Direction?

The industry still has a way to go before smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies become more viable options for home builders. Yet, the fact that energy efficiency products are being more commonly accepted and used among builders is a step in the right direction toward advancing the efficiency of newly constructed homes.

On the other hand, other builders are using much less practical methods for constructing more efficient homes. Apis Cor, based in Irkutsk, Russia, has developed a mobile 3D printer, which it used to print a 400-square-foot single-family home within 24 hours. The company argues that its printer not only produces more affordable homes, but is also more resource efficient. It uses geopolymer, which consists predominately of byproducts from other industries, and avoids the use of traditional materials like wood, which has led to extensive deforestation and environmental erosion. While this company’s methods are much less practical than utilizing energy efficient products in more traditional construction, it shows that the new home construction industry is moving forward in implementing more advanced technologies for building better, more efficient homes.

 

Lighting Solutions Leave Something to Be Desired, but Hope Is on the Horizon

— March 29, 2017

The residential connected lighting market is becoming increasingly popular as consumers adopt more voice-activated smart home devices, such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit, that enable them to interact with their lighting in a whole new way. Connected lighting shows significant potential as new use cases emerge for assisted living and elderly care, security, notifications, and health and wellness, to name a few. However, the industry has a long way to go before connected lighting is adopted by a greater number of mainstream consumers.

Something to Be Desired

Research for Navigant Research’s Residential Connected Lighting report revealed that there is no single complete, comprehensive lighting solution available on the market. It seems as though every product leaves something to be desired.

Many of the connected bulbs available are either connected and color-changing but do not have very intelligent features; are fairly intelligent but overwhelmingly expensive; do not require a hub but cannot be controlled outside of the home; can be controlled outside of the home but also require a hub; or are so new that it could be a risky purchase relative to more mature products (meaning the company or product itself may not be around in coming years).

And many of the connected bulbs available have tradeoffs when it comes to function and marketability:

  • Connected and color-changing but without very intelligent features
  • Fairly intelligent but overwhelmingly expensive
  • Do not require a hub but cannot be controlled outside the home
  • Can be controlled outside the home but require a hub
  • So new as to be a risky purchase relative to more mature products

Connected luminaires or fixtures such as table lamps are few and far between, and those available on the market tend to take on a more futuristic style than what average consumers might be used to and interested in having in their homes.

Most control products are offering connectivity through protocols like ZigBee and Wi-Fi, and capabilities range from dimming to occupancy sensing. However, many are simply not as smart or automated as consumers are led to believe. Compared to other types of lighting solutions, switches can be an affordable alternative to retrofitting an entire home with connected bulbs, though they require an electrician or experienced do-it-yourselfer to install.

Positive Progress

However, because the residential connected market is still emerging, there are many players entering the market with innovative solutions for solving these issues. For instance, companies such as Nuro Technologies, which will be offering a Wi-Fi-enabled light switch, are arguably positioned to offer the smartest lighting controls products. (In Nuro’s case, though, these switches are not yet available.) Qube Smart Lighting is offering an affordable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled bulb with smart capabilities like machine learning. Companies like these are expected to push incumbents and other players to continue innovating and developing their products, which will make for positive progress in the connected lighting market.

To learn more about residential connected lighting, look for Navigant Research’s Residential Connected Lighting Market Overview and Leaderboard reports.

 

As Future of US Energy Becomes Uncertain, China Moves Forward with Clean Energy Plans

— February 2, 2017

Cyber Security MonitoringChina is moving forward on its commitments to cutting back on coal generation. It recently announced that it was canceling the development of 103 coal-fired power plants. The announcement, made by China’s National Energy Administration on January 16, cites the goal of these cancellations as meeting a target in the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan to limit coal-fired power generation capacity to 1,100 GW by 2020. The plan includes canceling projects across 13 provinces, some of which are already under construction.

The cancellation of these plants comes in conjunction with another announcement made by the National Energy Administration stating that it intends to spend more than $360 billion on renewable energy resources, including solar and wind, through 2020. The plan includes creating more than 13 million jobs in the renewable energy sector, curbing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming, and reducing the air pollution that hangs over cities like Beijing.

US Shifts Direction

These announcements come at a time when US President Donald Trump’s stated plans to revive the coal industry, scrap the Clean Power Plan, and focus on oil & gas have raised questions about the future direction of the US energy industry. Some experts claim that the Trump administration will only have so much power to change the fate of the coal industry; the economics behind the industry still point to a decline due to renewable resources becoming cheaper and natural gas proving to be a cost-competitive option in the United States’ current energy portfolio.

Based on statements in the first week of the Trump presidency, it seems unlikely that the United States will assume a leadership role in mitigating climate change. In fact, this shift in focus means that the United States risks losing ground to China in a race to lead the world forward in decreasing carbon emissions. This differs from the status quo just over a year ago at the Paris Climate Summit, where the United States and China both committed to fighting climate change.

Today, President Trump’s past claims that climate change is a Chinese hoax and suggestions of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement could create a space for China to take on a leadership role in clean power. While the country still has a long way to go to prove its commitments to the environment, in the past few years it has made significant progress in terms of reducing its emissions, curbing coal generation, and ramping up investments in renewable energy resources. China has shown potential in its ability to lead the world toward a low carbon future.

 

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