Navigant Research Blog

The Role of Analytics in Enabling Smarter Homes

— July 13, 2017

The Internet of Things (IoT) has begun to move beyond the hype and is slowly but surely delivering on its promises with more Internet-connected devices than ever before. It reached an estimated penetration rate of 5.3% of homes in North America in 2016. These IoT devices are generating growing volumes of valuable data, which has led to the need for analytics solutions.

Means for Actionable Insights

Analytics solutions are software platforms embedded with algorithms that can identify patterns in data to provide actionable insights. In the residential sector, analytics software can crunch data transmitted from devices within the home. It can also be used with publicly available and third-party data sources on weather, demographics, and home infrastructure to enable a variety of applications, including customer engagement, energy management, monitoring and control, and automation.

Currently, analytics are mostly focused on customer engagement. In the energy industry, utilities are analyzing smart meter data to provide customers with more information about their energy consumption and specific ways in which they can reduce use and save on energy bills. However, customer engagement is only the beginning of what can be done with residential analytics solutions. Stakeholders in this space have only begun to scratch the surface of the available opportunity data has to offer.

Increasing Whole Home Efficiency

Navigant Research expects analytics to foster whole home integration of various connected devices by increasing awareness across multiple facets of the home, from thermostats to door locks to refrigerators to solar panels. Having insight from various devices across the entire home can enable machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies to create comprehensive ecosystems of connected home technologies. Ecosystems like these can act intuitively and think independently of the homeowner, creating smarter and more efficient homes.

This concept of more comprehensive and integrated ecosystems is the key to the success of the smart home, as smarter, more connected, and intuitive homes are expected to play a vital role in the Energy Cloud. Smart homes are expected to act as dynamic grid assets that sell energy back to the grid through distributed energy resources, shed and shift load demand through system optimization, and generally support a more reliable grid. All of this can be done by transitioning the market from a focus on individual purchased connected devices to devices supported by more intelligent technologies, starting with analytics solutions. To learn more about the role analytics play in the smart home, see Navigant Research’s report on Smart Home Data Analytics.

 

New Analytics Solutions Give Consumers More Energy Choice

— July 13, 2017

Residential consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their energy consumption and are interested in how they can reduce their use, save money on energy bills, and become more environmentally conscious. More and more customers are receiving home energy reports, which detail energy consumed and compare usage to that of neighbors. Opower (Oracle) achieved more than 11 TWh of energy reduction across 100 utility partners with these types of reports. Consumers are also logging into mobile apps that disaggregate devices to help them make smarter choices about where to target energy saving efforts.

Despite increasing efforts and awareness about energy, many consumers still do not know where their energy actually comes from. Most people may have a vague sense of their country’s energy mix and imports, such as the US energy mix depicted in the figure below, or that the UK imports 60% of its electricity-generating fuel. However, when a consumer flips a light switch, turns on their TV, or adjusts their thermostat, the energy that powers those actions is coming from whatever power plant is turned on to meet that incremental demand. This means the energy your light bulb is using could be drawing power from a coal plant, a natural gas facility, or a solar panel.

US Energy Mix: 2016

(Source: US Energy Information Administration)

New Technology Helps Track Generation Sources

In the past, there hasn’t been a method for determining the generation source that is meeting demand in real time. However, a non-profit called WattTime has developed a data analytics software that solves this problem. The software, which was the brainchild of a hackathon event in 2013, detects where the electricity powering the grid is coming from and the actual emissions impacts of people and companies using electricity. Not only does it detect this information, but it can also automatically power devices when energy sources are the cleanest. It can be installed in any Internet-connected device, making it flexible and easy to implement. This tool empowers customers to have a choice in the type of energy they are using and how much they are emitting when they consume electricity. WattTime’s software is gaining traction, having partnered with companies like Microsoft, Energate, and most recently, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). WattTime has joined RMI as a subsidiary organization to foster the transition to a cleaner, more decentralized grid.

Looking Forward to a Cleaner Energy Future

Data analytics solutions like these are empowering consumers to make smarter energy choices, facilitating the transition to a cleaner, more decentralized and optimized grid, and solving challenges associated with reducing carbon emissions. Currently, emissions are calculated based on average factors, not based on the actual emissions that are generated depending on the source providing the next kilowatt-hour of power. As countries and organizations around the world move forward with reducing greenhouse gases, real, data-based information on emissions can help consumers understand how their actions directly affect greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the overall goal of a cleaner, greener world.

 

IKEA Expands in Smart Home Market with Lighting

— June 16, 2017

The smart home market is filled with big name companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Honeywell, Comcast, Lowe’s, and AT&T, and now another large incumbent is expanding into the smart home space. Traditionally known for its well-designed, inexpensive, and easy-to-assemble furniture, IKEA recently introduced a line of smart lighting products called TRÅDFRI, or “wireless” in Swedish. The TRÅDFRI smart lighting product line includes a ZigBee gateway device, connected bulbs, a remote control, and a motion sensing dimmer switch, as well as LED lighting doors and panels. The dimming kit starts at 749 kr, or about $85. A similar offering from Philips includes a gateway, two Hue bulbs, and a dimming switch and starts at a price of $129.99.

Home Tech Innovation

IKEA claims that this new product line is part of its long-term commitment to its home tech innovation initiative Home Smart. The company first began offering smart products in 2015 with furniture and accessories that include wireless charging for compatible smartphones. The company is furthering this vision not only with its TRÅDFRI lights, but also by integrating the smart lighting products with voice control through Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and Amazon Echo devices. Voice control capabilities will be available beginning this summer. IKEA’s goal is to make smart home products easy to use and affordable for everybody, and its expansion in this space with its smart lighting shows this commitment.

Relative to other various smart home technology markets such as smart thermostats, smart plugs, security cameras, door locks, and smart meters, the smart lighting market is still in its early stages. Navigant Research’s recent Leaderboard Report: Residential Connected Lighting currently pegs Philips as the market leader; however, there is plenty of room for other companies to gain traction in this space, and activity is ramping up. Some lighting incumbents have yet to offer connected lighting products in the residential lighting space, and startup companies never before involved in the lighting are becoming engaged, such as ecobee with its new Alexa-integrated light switch. Thus, big name companies like IKEA can still gain traction and become leaders in the space through more innovative and affordable products.

 

Interoperability Is an Issue Both between and within Companies

— June 14, 2017

Interoperability is a major barrier for smart home companies. Mainstream adoption of smart home devices largely depends on the experience and ease of use for consumers. And consumers don’t want to install an ecosystem of devices that can’t communicate and require multiple apps to operate. But when issues around interoperability are raised, it is usually in reference to companies with different devices that can’t work together. For example, the somewhat newly released Google Home still does not work with rival thermostat product ecobee. Google already has integrations with a subsidiary consumer products company, its Nest Learning Thermostat. However, one issue that is not always apparent is the interoperability of devices from within the same company or product line.

This issue hit close to home for me during a recent holiday. While celebrating with friends, the group decided to play music using Bluetooth-enabled UE Boom speakers. We wanted to connect each of our individual speakers so we could play the same music from all three speakers in sync. UE Boom’s app guides users through a step-by-step FAQ on how to PartyUp, or how to connect multiple speakers through one smart phone app. But we could not seem to get all three of our speakers to connect. The closest we came to troubleshooting this problem was discovering that we could connect two speakers to each other by connecting one speaker through the app and manually connecting the other to the already connected speaker via Bluetooth. However, the third speaker wouldn’t connect to either of the other two and could only play music on its own. After much frustration and Googling, we determined that the third speaker was an older generation than the other two. This means that even though the speakers were all from the same company and product line, the firmware in the third speaker was too old to enable us to connect all three speakers.

Big Picture Implications

As somebody active and engaged in the smart home industry, it is concerning that I was unable to connect these speakers; if I’m an early adopter and I can’t do it, then how can the average consumer? Though this was a small technology glitch, it has much larger implications for the smart home and its role in the energy cloud. How will the smart home manifest when it depends on an ecosystem of various connected devices and there are currently issues connecting a few devices? How will the smart home play a role in the energy cloud as a dynamic grid asset when there are still issues at the device level?

Not only do participants in the smart home space need to work together to fix interoperability issues between third-party devices, but companies themselves need to ensure products within their own lines work together—otherwise the smart home industry will never succeed or play a role in the larger energy industry.

 

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