Maybe Best Buy can make sense of the smart grid for consumers.
The electronics retailer today is launching a push into home energy management products through dedicated zones at three stores and an online home energy "learning center." The company will announce the plan at the BSR conference on corporate sustainability and begin product demos in stores Sunday.
Customers in Chicago, Houston, and San Carlos, Calif., will be able to see the latest in home energy gadgets, a class of products geared toward saving energy and remotely controlling thermostat, lights, and appliances.
At its stores, Best Buy will show off thermostats that can be controlled from an iPad, including the sleek Learning Thermostat from Nest Labs, and accessories for making other products more efficient, such as ThinkEco's Modlet retrofit outlet, company executives said.
The company will sell goods individually, including energy-efficient LED bulbs, and offer different packages, including a bundle with home security services from ADT with a remote control thermostat. General Electric's Nucleus whole-house energy monitoring and control system will be in stores by January.
Best Buy, which has spent about two years researching home energy, sees home energy technology as an extension to its traditional consumer-electronics business. The technology also complements the home energy auditing services offered by Best Buy's Geek Squad.
"There's a real gadgety influence, and we're seeing that come to life in the energy and control space," said Neil McPhail, general manager of the new-business-customer solutions group at Best Buy. "There are real tangible benefits as you start to see your energy use, and it gets you curious how you might be able to save more."
The three stores will serve as experiments to gauge consumer interest and whether the effort is worth rolling out more broadly. Representatives from utilities will also be available to offer information about rate plans or rebates that could be available.
Best Buy's foray into home energy adds credibility to a new class of products that remain largely unknown to consumers.
A number of utility-led smart grid trials included the installation of a home energy "dashboard," a small screen for viewing power in real-time and controlling connected appliances. But the primary purpose of those controls was to meet utilities' goals of shifting power use to off-peak times.
Best Buy thinks it can offer consumers a broader set of product options and help educate consumers on how they can be used, said Kris Bowring, the platform lead for home energy at Best Buy. The company will also offer installation services for things such as wireless thermostats or home control systems.
"Energy saving will be the minimum component," he said. "Customers are saying, 'Help me do different things with these devices.'"
Best Buy has also been contracted by Ford to do inspections and installations for home electric vehicle charging stations. Though it doesn't have any specific plans, Best Buy could well get into installing solar panels, Bowring said.