Smart Home Phone Home

Will cell phones play an important part of consumers’ home energy management strategy? Well, I’ve got two answers for ya: yes and no.

First off, cell phone energy management services — like the ones that Texas energy reseller TXU Energy launched this week — could play a solid role in marketing and bringing in new users to the idea of home energy services. In particular, that crucial early-adopter segment, which will make up a significant portion of the early market.

TXU Energy’s mobile application (pictured) can be used with iPhones, iPads, Blackberrys and Android phones and can remotely turn up or down the connected iThermostat device that controls a home’s heating and cooling. Energy management startups Tendril, Control4 and Visible Energy have also all developed mobile apps for Apple’s iPhone and iPad platforms. These mobile platforms for the early adopter set could act as an important tool for marketing and branding awareness for these companies, particularly if they’re displayed in Apple’s iTunes.

iPad energy management applications could one day displace the market for stand-alone dashboards. As I wrote in this article “How the iPad Could Disrupt the Home Energy Market,” the iPad has a real chance of playing a key role in “the digital home,” a long-discussed market where consumers are supposed to use a fourth screen to manage home digital entertainment, security, lighting, and heating and cooling. Marco Graziano, CEO of energy management startup Visible Energy, which has both an iPhone and iPad app, said to me earlier this year:

I never thought specialized displays were a good idea for monitoring energy consumption. They don’t have any sex appeal and are too expensive anyway as freebies for utilities to give away. We found that interactivity is really a plus when it gets to visualizing energy consumption and to engaging people in energy awareness. In this respect, the iPad is a breakthrough.

But at the same time, surveys of the average consumer have found that people right now aren’t necessarily all that interested in managing energy consumption with a cell phone. According to the most recent data from Pike Research (a GigaOM Pro partner), only 14 percent of consumers are interested in managing home energy consumption with a mobile device that can be taken out of the home. That’s relatively unchanged from a similar survey a year ago (which we published on GigaOM Pro, subscription required) that found that 13 percent of consumers are interested in using a cell phone for home energy management.

So, ultimately, my wavering answer to the question is this: If home energy management startups and utilities want to invest a modest amount in an iPhone or iPad app, I think it’s a good idea. But if your company is betting your entire businesses strategy around the mobile energy management market, I would say that’s probably a mistake.

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