Small but notable steps are advancing the connected home for energy management. Coming from different industry stakeholders taking different approaches, they include:
- Smart Energy Profile 2 (SEP 2): The ZigBee Alliance ratified the SEP 2 standard, which paves the way for IP-based home area networks and devices that can interoperate over ZigBee, Wi-Fi, or HomePlug protocols.
- Wi-Fi-enabled Whirlpool appliances: The manufacturer introduced four appliances (refrigerator, dishwasher, clothes washer, and dryer) that can connect over Wi-Fi and be controlled with a mobile application.
- Collaboration between Ford Motor Company and KB Home: The automaker and leading home builder are jointly promoting the benefits of new technologies aimed at helping consumers lower their home energy bills and reduce their environmental impact.
Most consumers have little idea what SEP 2 is or what it could mean to their home energy management. Nonetheless, ratifying the standard is a key milestone. Products built on SEP 2 will be able to communicate over the Internet and share information. For instance, smart meters, thermostats, and appliances will be able to share data for the purposes of control and energy efficiency. SEP 2 also enables the control of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) charging. Interoperability testing of devices with SEP 2 continues, with products expected to be commercially available later this year or in early 2014.
Whirlpool’s new products – part of its 6th Sense Live smart appliances line – are not the first Wi-Fi-enabled appliances on the market. Samsung demonstrated a Wi-Fi refrigerator in early 2011. However, Whirlpool’s offerings signal new momentum for Wi-Fi in home appliances, given the company’s status as an industry leader and the fact it controls other well-known brands such as KitchenAid, Maytag, Amana and Jenn-Air. It is reasonable to expect those brands will have Wi-Fi-enabled appliances in their product portfolios at some point, assuming the initial Whirlpool products find traction. But momentum is likely to be gradual. For now, Whirlpool’s new Wi-Fi appliances are only available in the Chicago area, with no word on when the company might expand sales to other regions.
Similarly, the Ford and KB Home collaboration is in its formative stage. In April, Ford’s C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid car joined KB Home’s ZeroHouse 2.0 model home demonstration project in San Marcos, California. The effort also combines Ford’s MyEnergi Lifestyle initiative with KB Home’s vision of a net-zero energy home. The idea is to show how electric-powered vehicles, solar power, smart appliances (from Whirlpool), and home design can synchronize around energy efficiency. It’s a bold vision that brings together other key players, including Eaton, SunPower, Infineon, and Nest Labs.
Together these steps show that, after years of promise but little tangible progress, the energy efficient connected home is starting to emerge. But, with a few exceptions (e.g., Oklahoma Gas & Electric and NV Energy), utilities have yet to engage on a wide scale. And consumers will not be rushing to adopt the new products and services. Appliance replacement cycles are long (e.g., about 15 years for refrigerators), and real-world examples of the payback must be demonstrated. The connected home market is advancing. But this is a long march.
Tags: Energy Management, Home Energy Management, Smart Utilities Program, Utility Innovations
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