GE Revamps Home Energy Strategy Around the Nucleus

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With all of GE’s (s GE) smart grid announcements last week (including its $200 million smart grid fund and its plug-in vehicle charger product) I didn’t get a chance to dig into the details of GE’s Nucleus energy management device and its smart energy Brillion brand that it also launched last week. But after chatting with GE this week, here’s my thoughts: GE has only really been experimenting with its home energy management tools over the past 2 to 3 years, and is finally launching an actual product, the Nucleus, that makes economic sense for GE in the very nascent commercial energy management marketplace.

Quite frankly you couldn’t get a more simple piece of hardware than the Nucleus. It doesn’t actually display any energy information directly to the consumer, but acts as a wireless communication device — with two wireless ZigBee radio chips, a WiFi chip, and an Ethernet port — and can connect a smart meter and any smart appliances that the consumer might have, and hooks back to the Internet to show energy information via a web site or mobile device.

The only thing that makes the Nucleus more than a standard wireless gateway and router is that it’s got some memory, so that consumers can store up to 3 years of energy information, and its software, which can connect with utility energy and pricing data and can be controlled from a web site or mobile app. In that respect GE’s David McCalpin, General Manager for Home Energy Management, calls it “the brains” of the GE smart energy home.

For that drop dead basic connectivity and software layer the Nucleus will cost between $149 to $199. Right now McCalpin says four utilities — Florida Power & Light, Reliant Energy, the Vineyard Energy Project in Martha’s Vineyard, and AEP Columbus — will be offering the Nucleus to customers, and McCalpin says GE will start selling the Nucleus directly to consumers in 2011.

Contrast the Nucleus’ under $200 pricing with the much more sophisticated energy management dashboard that GE was previously working on and, which McCalpin says was looking like it was going to cost close to $1,500. Needless to say, GE ended that project.

GE also announced earlier this year at the gadget launch party that is CES that it had created an energy management dashboard with Open Wave. McCalpin tells me that it’s yet to be determined whether or not GE will still sell that Open Wave energy management device. McCalpin also had no updates or any other information about any potential developments in the deal that GE and Google (s GOOG) announced involving Google’s web energy tool PowerMeter.

Seemingly GE has surveyed its energy management options and landed on the simple, low cost and screen-less. “The Nucleus is an evolution in our thinking,” says McCalpin, “It will take advantage of the other screens in the home and will have a much broader appeal.”

In contrast other startups are betting on the fact that consumers will want a dedicated energy dashboard. Startup EnergyHub in particular has developed a sophisticated screen and web-style applications that looks like Google’s web apps, and startup Tendril has developed a more simple energy management screen. But the question is if GE can’t make the economics of an energy screen work, how will these startups be able to?

GE’s Nucleus is part of its smart energy products, which are now being marketed under the brand Brillion — a term that’s supposed to invoke “brilliant” and refers to the underlying connectivity. Brillion will include GE’s smart appliances, smart thermostats, and energy website and mobile apps.

To check out the full report on GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Report: An Open Source Smart Grid Primer

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