Energy issue, one of the main driving forces behind the growth of smart home market, is actually driven by energy policies, infrastructure and environmental conditions. While energy-saving strategies are getting more and more attention, how to balance between comfort and energy consumption has become a challenge. From that challenge, however, new opportunities will rise and gradually change the game rules in both the utility and smart home markets.
Exploring Home Energy Management System
Energy matters. How to manage your energy via smarter technologies has been widely discussed. Navigant Research predicts that the global revenue attributed to HEM services/products is expected to grow from $586.9 million in 2013 to $2.4 billion in 2023. IHS also indicates that the global market of HEM devices will grow to $4 billion by 2025. These devices are deployed mainly to improve energy efficiency and facilitate demand response (DR) programs.
Improvement of energy efficiency cannot be accomplished by a single gadget but takes a whole home energy management (HEM) system where innovative applications are created upon the seamlessly integrated hardware and software.
|What is Demand Response (DR)?
During peak times, utilities usually have to increase power supply to meet the demand by activating “peaking power plants,” which costs a lot of money. On the contrary, a demand response program is a way to achieve the same goal from a user’s perspective. Utilities or energy aggregators may provide users with some incentives, making them agree to reduce power consumption during peak loading.
Generally speaking, climate control devices usually consume more energy than others and have thus become the main cause for high energy bills, so it is no wonder that saving energy and cutting cost is the reason motivating homeowners to buy HEM products/services.
In North America, where central air conditioning is prevalent in homes, to control HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) via a smart thermostat is a popular option. In Europe, smart thermostats are also favored because they are used to control heating and hot water systems which cost 70% of home energy bills in average. In a forecast by Berg Insight, the number of homes with smart thermostats in Europe and North America will grow at a CAGR of 64.2% in the next five years, reaching 38.2 million in 2019.
Besides, a smart thermostat can be the starting point for consumers to embrace a smart life. Some thermostat providers, such as British Gas, even plan to add more smart-home devices to their product lists. “Smart thermostats is a particularly attractive opportunity in the smart home market, as these systems are of great interest for consumers, energy companies and HVAC service providers,” commented Lars Kurkinen, senior analyst at Berg Insight.
For consumers, a connected thermostat (with software behind it) capable of carrying out scheduled control over HVAC, or analyzing climate data to automatically make appropriate adjustments can increase comfort, convenience and reduce energy cost. For utilities, the gadget helps manage peak power loading; via real-time data streaming, HVAC providers can offer remote diagnosis which makes repair and maintenance more efficient.
Smart plugs with metering and automation features are also popular in terms of HEM. With the embedded power meter, a smart plug can detect how much power an appliance has consumed. It caters especially to users in regions where split air conditioning is often deployed in the home, such as East Asia, where smart plugs are quite useful in controlling air conditioners.
Some hardware makers, such as Powertech, has even come up with plug kits optimized for specified uses in order to get consumers acquainted with the connected home step by step. A kit for “aquarium” may include smart plugs for motor management and lighting control which can interact with certain sensors, such as temperature.
“It is difficult to persuade end users to adopt the complete smart home system. Therefore, we deliver our services by dividing the system into several parts, such as aquarium or air conditioning,” said Frankie Chen, sales director of Powertech. “At first users can purchase a smart plug kit and then piece the map together in their homes afterwards.”
Furthermore, to facilitate data gathering from sensors, plugs and other devices, some manufacturers also provide gateway products. For example, Billion Electric offers its smart energy gateway to collect data, conduct data analysis, and send the results to cloud platforms for further utilizations.
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Opportunities Rise as Demand for Home Energy Management Grows
Applications for HVAC Management
Since it is the integration of hardware and software that makes HVAC management really smart, hardware makers and utilities often collaborate with software developers to create powerful applications.
RheinEnergie, a German utility company, offers the RheinEnergie-SmartHome APP, which makes use of data gathered from thermostats, sensors, smart plugs and weather forecast to facilitate visualization and comparison of power consumption of appliances (via metering of smart plugs), energy saving and even “if-then relations” or “as-long-as relations” among connected devices. For instance, “as long as” the window in the living room is opened, the living room radiator will be turned off; “if” temperature in the bed room is below 16 degrees Celsius “and” humidity in bed room is above 60% “then” the bed room radiator will be turned on and push message to the user.
The ComfortGuard Monitoring service provided by Emerson Electric integrates hardware required in the controlling of HVAC and uploads environmental data to the control center via Wi-Fi network. These data would be analyzed, and users can get early warning and recommendations on repairing when any problem occurs, or receive monthly reports on HVAC performance. Emerson also provides APIs of its thermostats for partners to leverage for their own applications.
As for software providers, how to make use of Big Data is a major concern. According to Amena Ali, senior vice president and general manager at WeatherBug Home, WeatherBug Home can adjust the setting of a climate control device based on real-time weather conditions (solar, wind speed and direction, and temperature), which are gathered via WeatherBug’s weather sensor network. “We build a thermodynamic model of each house using weather data, plus smart meter and thermostat data, to understand how much energy it takes each home to attain and maintain the homeowner’s desired temperature. This makes it possible to manage, optimize and hit your set points precisely and achieve automated energy efficiency.”
EcoFacor also utilizes contextual data and thermostats data in their solutions to improve energy efficiency. “Our primary data sources are thermostats, weather and users’ interactions,” said Philip Dawsey, senior marketing manager at EcoFactor. With these data, Ecofactor is able to give recommendations for the temperature settings, and learn from how user responses to see if he/she is comfortable with the changes. This helps save a lot of energy without requiring much effort from the end user. Furthermore, from intelligent data analysis, EcoFactor can detect HVAC issues before they become serious and keep the system running at peak efficiency.
Moreover, electricity is not the only energy used in homes, but solutions for other energies are not widely deployed yet. “Gas and water consumption are not major cost drivers for German households, and gas and water prices are relatively stable compared with electricity prices,” explained Holger Knöpke, vice president of Connected Home at Deutsche Telekom. However, future innovative applications are possible when more and more partners enter the HEM market.
HEM in Terms of Smart Home
Climate control applications demonstrate how analysis of contextual data and user patterns facilitates HEM. From the point of view of software developers, the range of HEM actually covers all devices that generate or consume energy, and exude critical data related to energy efficiency. Just like what Carina Diviccaro, business development manager at ROCKETHOME declared, “We define energy management in terms of smart home as monitoring and optimization of the overall energy flow in people's homes.” Based on this definition, ROCKETHOME's HEM solutions support a variety of devices, such as photovoltaics, CHP, heat pumps, energy storage, electric vehicles and smart meters.
Icontrol Networks, the platform provider behind several smart home systems, also confirmed that HEM is often combined with home automation solutions. “While our solutions offer consumers the ability to remotely control items such as thermostats, lights and hot water heaters, they also enable end users to ‘set and forget’ their home management system to save energy while not compromising comfort,” said Greg Roberts, vice president of marketing for Icontrol. For instance, homeowners can arm their security system to “Away”, which indicates to the system that the home is unoccupied, and automatically change air conditioner and lights to a more eco-friendly setting. Roberts also predicted that activity data will soon play a greater role in the smart home, where all connected devices will be able to manage themselves based on predictive modeling. “Doing this requires using data from devices in the home and occupant behavior, to automate energy-consuming items to be more energy efficient,” he said.
“In a connected home, energy management already enables consumers to save energy–and cut costs,” concluded Knöpke. “Nowadays, temperature, brightness and atmospheric humidity are often used for control purposes. Scenarios based on energy consumption, noise levels, soil moisture or similar factors will in future play a larger role in controlling homes. The variety of devices is constantly increasing offering customers ever new opportunities to live more safely, more comfortably and more energy-efficiently in their homes.”
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Opportunities Rise as Demand for Home Energy Management Grows