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Direct Energy, Gadget Group to Launch Energy Device at CES

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While 2009 was the year that startups, smart grid firms and venture capitalists decided to move into the home energy management market, 2010 could be the year that the consumer electronics players make their moves. Energy reseller Direct Energy and a group of gadget heavyweights, including appliance maker Whirlpool (s WHR), retail group Best Buy (s BBY), and gadget developer OpenPeak, tell us they plan to launch a home energy management device dubbed the Home Energy Management (HEM) center at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show on January 7.

The group says the HEM is an “end to end solution,” that will include both software and hardware, use an “open platform” from OpenPeak and take advantage of smart meter data. The group plans to pilot the devices in the homes of 40 Direct Energy customers in Houston, Tex., in addition to some pilot-testing in London (Direct Energy is owned by UK-based Centrica).

Tim Woods, founder of POCO Labs, the group that will conduct the in-home tests, told us in an interview on Monday that the group hasn’t decided how much the device will cost, but is figuring out the price point through the pilot tests. Woods only estimated that the device would be “extremely reasonable.”

The device will be available to Direct Energy customers, and could be sold through Best Buys in Texas to new and existing Direct Energy customers depending on how successful the pilots go, said Woods. If the devices do become available in Best Buys, they won’t be sold until at least mid-2011, according to an early draft of the release.

Woods said that the HEM center device would be unique in two ways: It will focus on the consumer and will offer more than just energy information. Compared to previous pilots and products that are more utility-focused, the HEM center will be focused on what the consumer wants, said Woods. Direct Energy is a power supplier, operating in the deregulated Texas market — not a traditional utility — and hopes to win over new customers with the device.

The device will also offer communication and social network information (like Facebook) says Woods, because a single one-off energy device will be ignored by consumers. Energy-specific devices will land in the drawers of consumers after a couple weeks, predicted Woods. The device will also be compatible with Whirlpool smart energy dryers and Lennox smart thermostats.

The HEM center product is interesting in that fact that it’s coming from a energy reseller in a deregulated market. Competitor Texas-based TXU Energy is also offering its own energy management tools, including the iThermostat, which hooks into the customer’s home broadband connection and enables people to go online to program and monitor energy consumption related to their heating and cooling. Germany’s utility Yello Strom (Germany is also a deregulated market) also makes a smart meter and energy management products.

Direct Energy is working with OpenPeak, which has a history in communication and consumer electronic development, so it will be interesting to see how compelling the tool is compared with, say, the iThermostat, which TXU designed and developed itself. We’ll have our GigaOM crew at CES check out the HEM center and let us know how it performs.

Images courtesy of Direct Energy.

12 Responses to “Direct Energy, Gadget Group to Launch Energy Device at CES”

  1. I have realized that that we need three lists of home energy devices, all valid, but each playing a different role.

    1) Energy Monitors

    Monitors measure and report energy use. Studies are showing that home owners who monitor are more likely to save energy than those who do not. There is plenty behavioral evidence to support this conclusion for we are typically more aware about things we focus on. Monitoring requires effort, so no surprise to see more energy saving actions by those who do!

    2) Energy Saving Devices

    But monitoring requires some action, usually human, so enter the need for this second list of devices. These have some means to act on what is monitored to save energy. The possibilities are endless, but the devices will need to be purchased as replacements to their “dumb” predecessors “dumb”. Home owners and small businesses will be asked to make prudent investments to achieve longer term financial savings.

    3) Home Energy Control Systems

    I had not realized the extend to which home energy control systems existed. These are “systems” which monitor, can take an energy saving action, and will do so as a complete system.

    I am familiar with the terms LAN (local area network) and WAN (Wide Area Network) but there is anew term we will see more often soon. Is is HAN (Home Area Network). A home area network exists (using the internet) as a platform where all energy using things in a home (heating, lights, security etc.) are connected seamlessly with the service providers to create a complete home system. The latest addition to these HAN’s is energy management or energy control. The HAN will now include the utility supplier meaning that intelligent energy decisions can automatically be made taking all energy factors into account. In particular demand side issues the energy utility controls, and supply side issues the user needs.

    I imagine that these HAN’s, including smart meters, the emerging smart grid will be for the bigger energy users to start. But I doubt it will be long before they are as pervasive as broadband internet services.

    See the above list – It includes HAI Smart Grid Solutions – the leaders in home control systems enter the home energy management space.

  2. Here’s hoping the software gets checked by someone who knows the difference between energy and power (third screenshot shows dryer energy quoted in kW). How are consumers supposed to become savvy about energy consumption if they aren’t even presented with data in the right units?

  3. Thanks for this Katie. open4energy is maintaining a list of energy monitors (as is Chris of MapAWatt) we will add these, but it sure is plenty work keeping up with the new entrants.

    But, with over 100 million households in the US, and government incentives it is possibly no surprise that we have all this activity. As an aside I still think Google & their PowerMeter software will play an “interesting” role in who does emerges from this “scrum” of solutions. Their software is free, they have the brand and reach, they can pick (make or break really) the devices they like for collecting data, and they have the power to negotiate with utilities for access to past and present billing data.

    As a user and early adopter of these monitors, I do hope they are giving consideration to the physical needs for “clamping” onto the input wires in a homes electricity distribution box. I have opened more than my share of these recently. Home owners are not that enthusiastic about losing power to their whole home, resetting clocks etc, etc. while I am not that enthusiastic working with the wires while they are still live!

    I am also looking for technology that will recognize the devices that are drawing electricity on each circuit. The last home I worked on needed me to go away so they could do an audit of what switches controlled which devices on what circuits. It is one thing to know what the total electricity is, but to make savings you need to get to the individual device/light level.

    But, we have found another group of technology entrants, growing equally fast, but of a far less desirable nature.

    The average home has a power factor of between 70% and 85% , depending on what motors are running, the mix of CFL lights, and other power factor affecting devices. If you claim that power factor means “lost” energy, then it stands to reason that a technology which can correct the power factor to near 100% will save the consumers money on their electricity bill.

    But, power factor does NOT mean lost electricity for consumers, it means that the electricity is out of phase. It is true that not all the power drawn from the utility was used, but consumers only pay for what is USED (real power) The unused is given back to the utility, where it joins a complex scenario of distribution management.

    It is true that electricity suppliers need to manage their distribution networks, and that power factor IS one of the factors that impacts their distribution losses. It is also true that large industrial users are charged a penalty for a net power factor of less than 85%. But distribution losses will not be solved by consumers. They are aggregate issues that can only be solved by the utility companies (the smart grid) in partnership with industry and device manufacturers.

    The list of “devices” that has sprung up claiming consumer energy savings by power factor correction is growing as fast as the genuine list of energy monitoring technologies. Their resellers and affiliates of this false marketing are getting clever fast, now combining genuine monitoring with their false claims about power correction savings.

    Google “power factor correction” and “KVAR energy savings” to find the plethora of vendors and products. they range from the plain silly, gadgets to plug into a wall socket with absurd claims to sophisticated
    monitoring and control systems. Most are accompanied with offers of a FREE energy audit. Its the classic, get in the home, and the pressure selling can start strategy.

    Here is the list we have compiled so far, and I encourage readers to let us know of any others they come across.

    I hope that we can quickly stamp out this “near fraud” activity so that honest people looking to save energy, and government incentives to encourage us do this, are not abused.