The All-Access iPhone-Connected Thermostat

Build your energy-smart home with an iPhone-compatible thermostat from Home Depot. That’s this morning’s news from Radio Thermostat Co. of America, a company which develops home energy gear, and has launched a line of energy-smart, iPhone-compatible smart thermostats in conjunction with 3M (s MMM).

The thermostats use Wi-Fi right now, but in the future could use just about any communications network, if the trade group the U-SNAP Alliance builds enough momentum. The U-SNAP Alliance, led by Radio Thermostat and Sensus, and including companies like Comverge (s COMV), Google (s GOOG) and GE (s GE) are pushing for home energy gear to be equipped with a universal communications module (UCM) — a radio that can be switched out with another radio of any description, be it Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave or FM radio.

The U-SNAP Alliance hopes to grow a snowball of support to drive its technology into the field. Sensus tested the technology in a project last summer, alliance director Barry Haaser told me. Alliance member EnTek makes water heater load control switches that communicate with Trilliant’s smart grid networks, and demand response provider Comverge is making U-SNAP-compatible IntelliTEMP thermostats. GE has acknowledged that interchangeable radios could be a part of their smart appliance future, with ZigBee, Wi-Fi and HomePlug on its list, though it hasn’t committed to the U-SNAP model.

U-SNAP backers say their model will allow device makers to start building and selling energy-smart products today, without worrying about which wireless technology will win the long-term market race. That could open up the home energy management field to more players.

But big appliance makers will want to make sure they don’t hand the control of sensitive household loads like ovens and refrigerators over to just anybody. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers trade group is working on standards, and the big smart appliance launches from GE and LG at CES this month were built around their own control hubs and networks.

It will be interesting to see how Home Depot markets Radio Thermostat as a pathway to consumer adoption. Utilities remain the main channel for driving smart home devices into the market right now, if only in pilot project-scale numbers.

While most of the U-SNAP devices out there are thermostats, others are linking to broader smart grid systems. Aztech Associates, which has worked in GE’s smart appliance project in Louisville, Ky., makes U-SNAP-compatible products to pull data from smart meters and show it to homeowners, for example. Another U-SNAP alliance member, e-Radio, has demonstrated its FM signal-controllable modules in various utility pilots.

For more research related to smart grid check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Image courtesy of Lars Ploughman via Creative Commons license.