Direct Energy, Gadget Group to Launch Energy Device at CES

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, retail group Best Buy, 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.


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