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Summary:

Apple, like Google, has a habit of causing major waves throughout the markets it enters. Could the master designers behind the iPhone, iPod, iTunes and Mac, one day revolutionize the way consumers manage the energy consumption of their gadgets and even homes? In effect, can Apple […]

Apple, like Google, has a habit of causing major waves throughout the markets it enters. Could the master designers behind the iPhone, iPod, iTunes and Mac, one day revolutionize the way consumers manage the energy consumption of their gadgets and even homes? In effect, can Apple do what it did for digital entertainment and cell phones, for the energy of computing?

Last week a site called Patently Apple, unearthed what it says is a patent for a smart home energy management system dashboard from Apple. According to the patent, Apple’s dashboard product would use powerline networking (using the electrical system itself for the communication portion) and specifically the HomePlug standard to enable users to manage the energy consumption of computing products like laptops, iPods, iPhones and printers. While filing a patent on the topic doesn’t necessarily mean Apple will launch such a dashboard, Apple’s efforts could go far just in showing the computing industry how important energy management will be.

It’s clear from the patent that Apple is focusing on energy management through the lens of gadgets and computers. Unlike other companies that are building standalone home energy management hardware and software dashboards — from Google, to Tendril to eMeter to Microsoft to GE — that look at whole-home energy and the energy of appliances, or connect with smart meters, I don’t envision Apple straying too far away from the energy of computing. And specifically the management of the energy of its own computing products.

Being able to make the energy information of its computing devices even just more transparent would be useful to offer to its hardware customers. Offering an interface that customers can use to manage, or even vary, the charge of various Apple gadgets, would also be something that could help Apple’s move into the broader digital home, following devices like the Apple TV.

Other consumer electronics companies are moving into energy management via the home automation market (like Control4), or the appliance market like GE. But an Apple energy gadget offering could be an even more powerful combo than what is currently emerging from the nascent home energy management market. As some analysts have pointed out the future of the home energy market in the long term will lie with consumers, and companies that “get” what customers want in terms of easy design and functionality.

As Gartner analyst Zarco Sumic told us “The vendors that will dominate will be the ones who know how to market, sell and meet the needs of the consumer space. It is a consumer technology play. It is not a utility play.” That’s Apple’s forte: sleek design and oh-so-easy-to-use interfaces.

Intel appears to have a similar strategy to Apple in terms of energy management, at least in terms of seeing it through the lens of devices. Intel has been developing prototypes like its home energy management concept gadget, but I don’t envision the chip maker turning that into a real product. Intel’s research is more like Apple’s in that it’s interesting to show just how important the energy of computing will be going forward for IT firms and developers.

The energy consumed by information technology — including broadband and cellular networks, computing devices that connect to the networks and data centers — makes up roughly 2 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions, according to The Climate Group. In 2007 almost 50 percent of that carbon footprint was made up by edge computing devices like PCs, peripherals and printers. But by 2020 57 percent of that carbon footprint will come from PCs, peripherals and printers. In other words the energy consumption of our always-on gadgets and computing devices will only grow over the next decade, and companies will need to figure out innovative ways to track and manage that energy consumption.

Apple’s ability to single-handedly disrupt markets, shouldn’t be underestimated. The company remade the mobile industry with its revolutionary introduction of the iPhone, and has been dominating the digital music market with the iPod and iTunes for years. For those not familiar with the Apple-rumor mill that ebbs and flows in tune to upcoming presentations from Apple CEO Steve Jobs (the latest info is swirling around the Apple tablet) there’s an entire ecosystem of Apple rumor blogs and media that track and speculate on Apple’s famously stealthy moves (see GigaOM’s The Apple Blog here).

While I don’t begin to pretend what Apple intends to offer in terms of energy management, Apple is clearly weighing its options and through this patent signals how computing companies will have to increasingly take into account the importance of energy.

Related posts: Control4 App Store: Home Energy Management Trailblazer?

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  1. The Case of the Home Energy Boom: 3M Invests in The Energy Detective Sunday, January 17, 2010

    [...] weekend for some unusual firms to dabble in the increasingly hot home energy management (my take on how Apple could jolt the energy management space here). Minnesota-based manufacturer 3M, which makes such disparate products as post-it notes and medical [...]

  2. Smart Grid Blog » Blog Archive » How Apple Could Jolt the Smart Home Energy Market Monday, January 18, 2010

    [...] via How Apple Could Jolt the Smart Home Energy Market. [...]

  3. Arne Anderson Monday, January 18, 2010

    Does anyone know who at Apple is heading up this project / product?
    Thx

  4. Under $100 At Fry’s: The PowerCost Monitor Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    [...] news comes on the heals of Apple reportedly filing patents suggesting its been eying energy management, and 3M’s new interest in energy management [...]

  5. Dave Del Grande Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    The amount of electricity consumed by “gadgets” in the home really doesn’t warrant an app. If it’s free, great, but for the home a holistic approach needs to be taken if a family is going to put a serous dent in the KWhr consumption.

    Granted, any energy savings is great, it’s just I think there are better ways to go about it!

  6. Why reinvent the wheel? The better ways exist now! Plugwise has developed a full suite of appliance monitoring devices, with, might I say, “Apple-like” stunning design. Should be rolling out in the US and around the world in short order! Check it at Plugwise.com.

  7. Why The Consumer Will Be King of Home Energy Management in 2010 Friday, January 22, 2010

    [...] heavyweights like General Electric, Control4 and Best Buy. A couple weeks later news broke that Apple has filed for a patent that focuses on managing the energy of its computing devices, suggesting that the firm has been [...]

  8. Smarter Energy Tools Coming Soon… | Practically Green Monday, January 25, 2010

    [...] heavyweights like General Electric, Control4 and Best Buy. A couple weeks later news broke that Apple has filed for a patent that focuses on managing the energy of its computing devices, suggesting that the firm has been [...]

  9. Is iPad the Killer App for HAN? « Searching for Insight Friday, February 5, 2010

    [...] You noticed that my discussion of home energy management never once mentioned my local utility.  Those guys are living on borrowed time, and most do not realize it.  Whoever controls the gateway to the customer will be able to define the rules of engagement and you can bet they will lead with their high value-added products and services and through in a few home energy apps along the way to keep me hooked.  PG&E may not have a chance in this asynchronous home energy warfare ahead.  There is nothing fun about kilowatt hours and therms. [1] http://earth2tech.com/2010/01/17/how-apple-could-jolt-the-smart-home-energy-market/ [...]

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