Navigant Research Blog

Insurance Companies Expand into Energy Management to Mitigate Risk

— November 23, 2016

Home Energy ManagementInsurance companies are starting to get smart about the smart home and energy management. Though these companies are in the very early stages of participation in this market, interest has been piqued and insurers are starting to partner with vendors to offer consumer energy management and connected home solutions. For example, State Farm has partnered with ADT Pulse and Generac to offer consumers discounts for home energy products and services. SmartThings, before it was acquired by Samsung in August 2014, had partnerships with four of the 10 largest insurance companies, including American Family Insurance, which joined with SmartThings and Microsoft to create a smart home incubator in Seattle.

Homeowner Alerts

Insurance companies can find value in data from connected devices by detecting issues and alerting homeowners before catastrophe strikes, especially with large appliances and HVAC equipment. They can also use them to develop more informed policies and offer discounts for adopting these technologies. Energy management is especially appealing to insurance companies because it allows residential customers to remotely monitor and control a range of connected energy devices such as thermostats, lighting, appliances, and electronics, which can be useful in powering down devices during emergencies and even deploying backup power during outages.

Insurance providers in particular have an incentive to offer these types of solutions because it can avoid costly payouts. A monitored, controlled, and automated home that can better mitigate risk and avoid disaster can save insurance companies a significant amount of money in avoided insurance claims.

Emerging Opportunities

While insurance providers have reason to offer consumers these solutions, they are not the only non-utility companies interested in energy management. In recent years, companies outside the traditional energy industry have engaged in this space and found value in offering energy management solutions as part of connected home offerings. These include companies such as AT&T with its Digital Life platform, Comcast with its Xfinity Home offering, and Vivint Smart Home. As Alex Hawkinson, CEO of SmartThings, has said, “The number of services that could be spun out of this is limitless. You can pick industry after industry. The ramifications of making the entire world self-aware are simply massive.”

These new players are just beginning to unlock the possibilities of connected homes to provide increased energy efficiency, comfort, and control. There is something happening in this space, but it is still in a very early stage of development. Many major insurance providers are interested in the smart home, but most are still exploring where they can find value in energy management. Expect to see more engagement from insurance companies in the near future.

 

Gauging Apple’s Smart Home Strategy

— September 27, 2016

Home Energy ManagementLike a circling hawk, Apple has been hovering above the smart home/Internet of Things (IoT) home marketplace, waiting for the right moment to pounce. That moment arrived when Apple released iOS 10 to the public early September 2016. The iOS 10 update includes a dedicated Home app, which is given prime screen real estate on the iPhone. It is a clear sign that Apple is ready to drop down to earth and fully engage, and even compete, in the emerging smart home market.

To be sure, Apple was not absent entirely from this particular marketplace prior to the update. The Cupertino, California-based company first announced its HomeKit platform more than 2 years ago. In the meantime, Apple has quietly waited for new compatible hardware products to become available so the platform could flourish. Currently, several dozen HomeKit-friendly devices are on sale, such as the ecobee3 smart thermostat, a smart lock from August, and Philips Hue wireless light bulbs. Apple expects nearly 100 more similar products from multiple vendors to come out before year’s end, which would further extend its ecosystem.

The essence of Apple’s Home app is its ability to integrate disparate devices in a single application, and do so in quintessential Apple fashion with an easily understood interface that hides complexity in the background. No longer does a user need to juggle several third-party apps to control devices. Instead these can be managed with just one app, as long as the device has the required works-with-Apple seal of approval. This is par for the course for the company that likes to maintain a proprietary world. However, a wireless thermostat or smart plug not part of Apple’s realm would have to be manipulated with a different application.

Apple’s Home App

Apple Home

(Source: Apple)

Amazon Echo’s Smart Home Skills

Alexa home

(Source: Amazon)

Much has changed since HomeKit’s unveiling. Competitors have seized the opportunity to forge ahead, Amazon in particular. The online retail giant has scored a hit with its voice-controlled Echo device, which can connect easily with many of the same devices (e.g., Philips Hue bulbs and ecobee3 smart thermostats) that work with Apple’s Home app. Moreover, Alphabet-Google is about to launch its voice-activated Google Home device to compete directly with Echo. Formidable competitors have taken some market and mind-share ahead of Apple, and the market for smart home/IoT functionality will be intense.

Early Market

Still, there is an upside for Apple. The market is early-stage, and millions of customers have yet to buy products or use connected-home devices. Competitors have helped pave the way and validate a market that has been elusive for many years, primarily targeting people with the money to pay for expensive devices and professional installers, or do-it-yourself geeks willing to fiddle with complex devices and systems. Mainstream adoption appears to be just around the corner.

Savvy energy market stakeholders are paying attention to all of this. Devices and applications that residential and commercial customers adopt can have an important effect on lives and businesses. Witness the growth of bring-your-own thermostat programs offered by utilities (see Navigant Research’s Bring Your Own Thermostat Demand Response report). Utilities need to stay current with what customers are doing behind the meter to automate premises and help them use energy more efficiently. It is a smart strategy for customer engagement, since disregarding trends is risky in a world where Silicon Valley heavyweights and disrupters see ways to leverage a transforming energy market (see Navigant’s Navigating the Energy Transformation white paper). Apple is not the only bird in the sky seeking new markets and growing revenue opportunities.

 

ZNE Gets a Boost on Two Fronts

— June 24, 2016

Home Energy ManagementThe zero net energy (ZNE) movement has taken steps forward recently in an effort to drive wider adoption of the related technologies. A ZNE building combines energy efficiency and onsite renewable power generation to produce roughly as much energy as it uses during a year. The focal point for much of the ZNE activity in the United States is California, where state regulations call for all new homes to be built as ZNE by 2020 and the same for all new commercial buildings by 2030. It comes as no surprise, then, that the latest ZNE efforts are in the Golden State.

Public Awareness

One step forward to wider adoption was taken by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). The utility has opened a full-sized ZNE display home at its new regional office in Stockton, California. Visitors can see in detail how such a home can work in an effort to drive greater public awareness. The displays have many interactive components, such as an iPad-based augmented reality virtual tour using iBeacon technology that automatically presents relevant content in each room. Interactive components also include a 7-foot, high-resolution touchscreen that compares ZNE conservation methods with those of a typical home built in 2005 and an integrated content management and hardware system that drives the experience.

Virtual Tour of a ZNE Display Home in Stockton, California

ZNE Gets a Boost on Two Fronts_NS Blog

(Sources: Leviathan, Pacific Gas and Electric) 

Industrial Education

Another step to drive greater adoption was the dedication of the United States’ largest net zero plus commercial building retrofit in the Los Angeles area. The 144,000-square-foot Net Zero Plus Electric Training Institute (NZP-ETI) facility serves as a showcase for how commercial ZNE buildings can be designed, constructed, and operated. One of its unique features is its ability to go beyond net zero, generating about 1.25 times more energy than it consumes in a typical year. The excess energy, which is generated from an onsite solar PV array, can be stored in onsite batteries or discharged back to the electric grid. During a grid outage, the stored excess energy can allow the facility to maintain operations for up to 72 hours. The facility also plays an educational role as the training hub for some 1,500 electrical apprentices, journeymen, and contractors who want to stay at the forefront of the electrical industry’s latest technologies.

These incremental yet important steps by PG&E and NZP-ETI represent the cutting edge of the ZNE trend, which was highlighted for the residential market in the recent Navigant Research report, Market Data: Zero Net Energy Homes. These are baby steps toward a time when ZNE buildings become more commonplace. While these are laudable efforts, it will require many more similar moves in other regions before ZNE goes from oddity to ordinary.

 

CPUC Passes Residential Rate Reform

— September 3, 2015

The 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.

 

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