Millions of two-way smart meters are expected to be installed in the next few years, but more energy management companies are finding ways to use home broadband connections to reach consumers.
Schneider Electric today is scheduled to introduce a home energy management system called Wiser that's flexible in what network it uses. It's one of many announcements coming from the DistribuTech utility conference this week in San Diego.
The package, which will be marketed at utilities, includes a networked thermostat, a small energy display, and an Internet gateway for brokering communications between consumers and utilities. There are also wallet-size controllers for connecting relatively large appliances, such as a pool pump or refrigerators, to a home network.
There are dozens of companies working in home energy management, developing products to give consumers more control over how they use energy. Utilities are interested in reducing peak-time energy use or improving customer efficiency overall with these types of tools.
But even as utilities provide consumers with more tools, such as Web-based dashboards and home energy displays, there's concern in the industry that consumers won't use them, particularly after the novelty wears off.
Schneider, which makes a range of electric power equipment for commercial buildings, said that it designed the home energy display for ease of use and flexibility. If it's a location where there are time-of-use electricity rates, the display will show when prices change to motivate consumers to move power-hungry jobs to off-peak times. It can also notify a person that they are straying from a pre-set energy budget.
For example, during a critical peak period, where utilities are struggling to meet energy demand, consumers can get an alert that the price for electricity has gone up. If they participate in a demand response program in exchange for a rebate, then they can agree to have a thermostat's temperature adjusted or a pool pump turned off. The system can be automated, too, using a Web-based application.
With so many companies building consumer-facing smart-grid tools, it's hard to stand out from others. Schneider expects it can attract utility customers because it has a broad product line in power-related equipment to complement Wiser, said Mike Matthews, business development manager for residential energy efficiency at Schneider Electric Power Business.
Having the ability to work both over a smart-meter network or Internet gateway is another way for Schneider to stand out from other suppliers, he added. In practice, Schneider expects that utilities will use both the smart meter and Schneider's Internet-based network service.