Navigant Research Blog

CPUC Passes Residential Rate Reform

— September 3, 2015

Avoid_Pitfalls_webThe recent California Public Utilities Commission decision (D.15-07-001) to alter the composition of residential electrical rates provides necessary reforms—despite suffering from poor public perceptions. While the changes reduce costs to high energy users and increase electric bills for early energy efficiency and solar adopters, they are a necessary correction to policies implemented over a decade ago during the California energy crisis and a step toward the sustainable growth of renewable energy.

Current Rate Structure

Prior to the energy crisis, the California utilities had two tiers of electric rates. Customers would pay a lower rate for each unit of energy until a baseline quantity was consumed and then a higher rate (only a 15%–20% increase over the base rate) for all additional energy. When utility revenue requirements increased significantly during the crisis, a law was passed to freeze lower rates in order to protect lower-income households from price volatility. Additional tiers were created, and increased revenue requirements were passed to the upper tiers so that the highest rate is now over 200% more than the lowest.

With high energy users paying significantly more than their cost of service, alternative options like residential solar are often in the customers’ financial interests. However, as long as the alternative costs are greater than the cost of service and less than the utility bill, individual incentives drive toward an outcome that is more expensive for the system as a whole. CPUC’s rate reform is an effort toward correcting the price signals while presenting a consistent bill to the customer and continuing to promote energy efficiency and distributed renewables development.

Components of Rate Changes

After consideration of several proposals, the utilities will return to a two-tier system with a 25% difference between high and low. The tier reduction will be implemented gradually from 2015 to 2018 to reduce rate shock to customers. A Super User Surcharge rate of 219% of the first tier rate will be charged for energy in excess of 400% of the baseline in order to maintain an incentive for conservation.

Rate Reform Comparison

Rate Reform Blog Graphic

                                           (Source: Navigant Research)

In the interest of aligning customer bills with system costs, the utilities are allowed to include a minimum bill of up to $10 per month. While residential rates blend energy and delivery costs into a single volumetric rate, the delivery costs are largely fixed and are based on customers’ maximum usage. Even if a customer’s net usage is near zero due to onsite generation, the grid is expected to be available on demand, and the minimum bill reflects this cost.

By 2019, customers will be moved to a default time-of-use (TOU) rate. Cost of service is greater when demand is high in the late afternoon and early evening, and lower overnight when demand is low. Charging customers commensurate with the system costs is expected to drive more efficient behavior. Utilities are required to begin developing pilot TOU tariffs immediately and deliver a final tariff in 2018 for implementation the following year.

Effects on Distributed Resource Economics

While these changes will reduce the incentive for the highest energy users to implement energy efficiency or rooftop solar, bringing the bottom tiers closer to the cost of service may allow for an overall increase in solar adoption. Similarly, customers already driven to solar by high utility rates may see a longer-than-expected payback period because of the flattened tiers. Despite the criticism for lowering costs for high energy users and increasing them for lower use households, the rate reform was a long delayed but necessary correction to support California’s energy policy goals.


Smart Thermostats Helping To Grow Home Energy Management Market

— July 31, 2015

Home energy management has come a long way in recent years, and smart thermostats have been a significant portion of its increasing technology adoption.  Nest, ecobee, and Honeywell (to name a few) have created iconic and effective tools that have proven results for regulating the amount of energy used to heat and cool homes and small commercial spaces.  Some would suggest that these devices are well on their way to being adopted as mainstream (and not niche) tools for home energy management.

According to a market research report released this month by Parks Associates, the market for smart thermostats is expected to have composed 40% of total thermostat sales in the United States in 2015, which is estimated at around 10 million devices annually.  In 2017, greater than 50% of all thermostats will be smart thermostats.

According to the report, the majority of these devices sold will be via the retail channel, although significant numbers will also occur through HVAC contractor, Home Security/Automation, and Utility channels.

Assuming a mix of devices priced between $150-$250, with cost declining slightly year over year, and relatively linear growth in the overall market, this could mean a $1 billion to $1.3 billion opportunity in the United States alone.  No small figure.

Smart Thermostat Unit Sales, United States: 2013-2017

Smart Thermostats

(Source: Parks Associates)

Making a Case

Parks’ breakdown of the multiple sales channels show that retail is by far the fastest-growing channel, followed by HVAC. The chart also shows that utilities and home security/automation channels are expected to experience less upfront growth in the near-term.

This distinction between channels is helpful, but quite possibly one of the most interesting aspects of the smart thermostat market has been the overlapping of sales channels that has occurred recently.  Through Bring Your Own Thermostat (or BYOT) programs, utilities are looking at how they can decrease overall program costs, mitigate risk, and increase consumer choice by networking consumers’ pre-purchased devices into their demand response and energy efficiency programs.

Similarly, in Spring 2015, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) incentivized Comcast Xfinity Home customers to sign up for Comcast’s Summer Energy Management Program, managed by EcoFactor (ComEd also incentivized Nest owners to sign up for that company’s Rush Hour Rewards demand response program).

As vendors in this market show no signs of decreasing their level of creativity in marketing these devices to consumers across different geographies and demographics, the market will continue to evolve.  In terms of overall home energy management, smart thermostats are just the beginning.  The recently published Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Smart Thermostats provides a comprehensive overview of leading vendors, recent market activity, and both current and forward-looking market trends.


Big Tech Players Take Next Steps in the Smart IoT Home Space

— June 24, 2015

Boatbuilder_webNo matter what it’s called—the smart home, connected home, or Internet of Things (IoT) home—many companies are moving forward with a variety of products to enhance comfort, convenience, and energy efficiency in the home. In particular, tech giants Apple and Google (Nest) have generated significant buzz lately and are poised to remain driving forces as the market continues to evolve.

Apple, Google, and More

Apple’s vision for its HomeKit platform is starting to become more visible, with some of the first devices entering the market that can be controlled via Siri through iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches, according to a recent story on the MacRumors website. When HomeKit was announced a year ago, it was more of a vision of the possible. But now companies like Lutron (smart lighting kit) and Insteon (home automation hub) are selling HomeKit-enabled products. In addition, ecobee (smart thermostat) and Elgato (Eve sensing system) are prepared to launch HomeKit-enabled devices in a matter of weeks. Other manufacturers are expected to follow suit.

Meanwhile, Google has forged ahead with its own platform with the announcement of Brillo, its IoT operating system based on Android. Brillo has a communication layer called Weave that is designed to enable IoT devices to talk to one another and the cloud. Weave will also be used by Nest and Nest ecosystem devices so they can interoperate. Brillo is expected to be available in the third quarter of this year, and Weave will be offered in the fourth quarter.

It is not just Apple and Google shaping the IoT and smart home space, however. Industry groups are active as well, aiming to set standards across multiple operating systems and network protocols. For instance, the AllSeen Alliance and the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) are two groups working on open-source standards for the IoT that will include the home as well as other industry verticals.

Multiyear Competition

A few things to remember in this chaotic space: It is still early days as the smart IoT home market takes shape and the players jockey for position. Also, this is a multiyear competition, with no clear winners at this point. It is easy to see Apple and Google setting the stage to dominate given their strong brands among consumers. But companies like Samsung, ADT, Bosch, Qualcomm, and Honeywell, to name just a few, see opportunities as well and are focusing on the growing market possibilities that are expected to eventually include billions of new devices and billions of dollars in potential revenue. What’s more, there is room for startups to emerge or new partnerships to form that take the market in a new direction. For instance, ComEd has joined with Comcast and Nest Labs for a demand response program involving smart thermostats. For some guidance on what lies ahead, Navigant Research has a new report called IoT (Internet of Things) for Residential Customers that discusses these issues and challenges facing stakeholders.


Google Weaving an IoT Web

— June 12, 2015

Recent announcements by Google that it is developing the Weave communication protocol are expected to make waves in the building automation ecosystem, possibly to the chagrin of incumbent equipment manufactures for commercial and home equipment. Weave is centered on Brillo, the Google-developed lightweight operating system, essentially a minimalist version of Android. With Weave, Google may be trying to quickly capture the mind-share of end consumers who want and answer to the question, “how can I quickly connect all of my home systems?”

With Weave, all Brillo devices (and Nest) are self-discoverable, making them, in theory, plug-and-play. A consumer could connect the new wireless door lock with the wireless lights, all through an Android phone. The proposed ease of connecting devices was introduced in Navigant Research’s recent Home Energy Management report, as being a challenge for consumers. This integration is contingent on the wireless protocols being interoperable, as mentioned in a recent blog.

Feeling Threatened?

For equipment manufacturers that sell into the commercial markets, Weave poses a threat in two ways. First, this is yet another communication protocol to incorporate into equipment, adding a step to the integration. On the commercial side, integration firms have been stepping up to manage that issue. Weave is not the first extensible system to be developed with an easy user interface (e.g., Android) in mind (see Apple’s Homekit). Weave’s approach is not anchored on iOS, of course, and is therefore more open.

More significantly, the entrance of Google and Weave are expected to force the small and medium commercial market suppliers into a quandary. The small and medium commercial market is vast, and is in need of energy and cost-saving solutions.  These customers do not have the funds to invest in large solutions, and in some ways are like residential consumers; HVAC does not keep them up at night. In this light, do original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) keep selling single end-to-end building automation system solutions, focusing on the value of a single integrated system, or do they appeal to the ease of integration with a solution like Weave? Most small or medium-sized commercial building owners or tenants have heard of Nest. But how many have heard of BACnet or LonTalk?

During a recent Lightfair panel discussing the promise of convergence of the Internet of Things  (IoT) and automated building controls, it was reiterated that IoT-based building integration solutions exist, and are being deployed. The linchpin in wide-scale deployment will be people wanting easy solutions. Weave is certainly going to push the adoption wave; it will be interesting to see how integration solution providers and OEMs respond.


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