Navigant Research Blog

Installation and Customer Support Play Vital Role in Creating Smarter Homes

— August 10, 2017

The novelty of having a smart home is driving connected device adoption among consumers, but the novelty is wearing off as the concept of a smart home becomes a reality. The smart home market, however, still has a long way to go before it reaches mainstream adoption. One of the major issues this market faces is that many consumers do not understand the value of connected devices. Many customers avoid the market entirely or exchange smart devices for dumb counterparts due to premium prices and installation challenges.

Providers Exploring New Methods

This is an issue that smart home technology providers are trying to tackle by providing additional support to customers. For example, Vivint and Best Buy recently announced a partnership to roll out Vivint employees in more than 400 Best Buy stores around the country. The Vivint employees will be able to give customers advice about smart home devices and even provide installation services. Vivint has traditionally sold its solutions through a direct-to-home approach. The company believes its partnership with Best Buy further develops this approach and its core belief in consultative sales—or human interaction to explain how smart home technologies actually work in the home. This move may help increase adoption by not only providing customers with more support and information, but also making smart home solutions more visible and accessible through availability at a large retailer.

Vivint and Best Buy are not the only companies exploring this method. Amazon is taking a similar approach to increasing smart home customer support by preparing an in-house fleet of experts to offer free Alexa consultations, professional in-home installations of smart home devices, and Wi-Fi networking systems. The fleet, which is part of Amazon Home Services, has been compared to that of Best Buy’s Geek Squad and is currently available to consumers in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Jose.

Professional installation is not an entirely new concept in the smart home space. For example, Comcast requires its Xfinity solutions be professionally installed. It has expanded further into the space with its recent acquisition of iControl, new combination Wi-Fi router smart home hubs, and voice-activated remotes, which can control connected lighting.

Installations Are Key to the Integrated Smart Home

Professional installations and enhanced customer support are key to transitioning the smart home from an early adopter’s market to mainstream. They will also play a role in creating more dynamic, integrated homes that can play a role in a more digitized grid. Though there is no specific definition for a smart home, Navigant Research believes the more integrated connected devices become with the home, the more likely the home can be used for additional purposes like shedding load and stabilizing the grid.

Currently, the market is focused on standalone systems, point solutions, and further developing interoperability between devices to form greater connected ecosystems. However, players like Vivint, Best Buy, Amazon, and Comcast are progressing the reality of the smart home by offering more comprehensive, integrated solutions with professional installations and enhanced customer support.

 

Embedded Digital Assistants Increasing Awareness about Energy Devices

— August 9, 2017

The smart thermostat space is filled with a range of big players, as depicted in the Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Smart Thermostats. Alphabet backs the Nest Learning Thermostat, Honeywell offers the Lyric, and Amazon supports ecobee thermostats. Finally, another major technology provider is joining the game: Microsoft.

Microsoft’s Smart Thermostat

Microsoft recently revealed that it will be releasing a smart thermostat called GLAS in partnership with Johnson Controls. Much like the Nest Learning Thermostat, GLAS reportedly senses when a user is in the room. It also determines indoor and outdoor air quality and adjusts the temperature accordingly. Though the company has not unveiled details on the thermostat’s release date or pricing, what is clear is that the thermostat is built on Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT Core, it will support Microsoft Azure cloud services, and perhaps most importantly, it will be embedded with Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana.

Digital assistants are increasingly making their way into smart home devices. Leading thermostat provider ecobee recently released the ecobee4 thermostat and a light switch embedded with Alexa. General Electric will release its Alexa-embedded Sol lamp in September. Apple offers another digital assistant, the Home app, that allows users to control HomeKit devices via Siri. Google’s Assistant can be used to control its Home Wi-Fi speaker, its Pixel smartphones, and even its Chromecast smart TV device. Voice recognition is quickly becoming a significant part of the smart home experience, as my colleague Neil Strother pointed out in another blog.

Digital Assistants Can Coordinate Energy Savings

While energy currently takes the back seat to other use cases like security, comfort, and convenience in the smart home, interfaces like voice activation can help consumers take more interest in controlling their connected energy devices. Consumers do not often think about their energy consumption, a fact made clear in a recent consumer survey. The survey indicates that in 2016, the average consumer of a regulated US utility spent about 8 minutes annually interacting with their utility through digital channels. However, energy devices have a convincing value proposition because they can help consumers save energy and money—it just takes more interaction with these devices to increase awareness around their benefits, which digital assistants can foster.

 

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.

 

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