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Schneider Electric’s Simple Take on Home Energy Management

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Schneider Electric launched a bare bones, utility-centric line of home energy management gear on Tuesday, staking its claim to the residential energy market on the premise that homeowners will choose elegant simplicity over flashy high-tech.

The French smart grid giant’s so-called “Wiser” line launched Tuesday at the DistribuTECH smart grid show in San Diego, and is centered around a home energy hub that can be connected via the Internet or a smart meter interface. There are two different wireless thermostats, and wireless switches to control big household loads like water heaters, pool pumps and Schneider’s Square D brand of circuit breakers, now found in about one-third of new home construction in the U.S.

As for the Wiser home energy displays, they’re decidedly less flashy than some of the high-end home energy systems from the likes of Control4 or OpenPeak. Initial models show basic temperature, power use and pricing information on monochromatic screens, though they do have a bit of color in the form of backlighting that can turn from green to red to warn homeowners of peak energy events or power price spikes.

“Initially we’ll have the software version that the utility is really in control of,” Mike Matthews, business development manager for Schneider’s Residential Energy Efficiency business, told me in a Friday interview. “In a year’s timeframe, we should have a practical solution that homeowners can deploy themselves.”

The in-home displays include timer and scheduling features for thermostats and major household loads, as well as opt-in and opt-out choices for interacting with utility demand response calls, said Gary Kuzkin, product manager for Schneider’s Residential Energy Management Solutions business. They also include a “bargaining mode” where homeowner can choose different responses to different utility price signals, he said.

While a complete implementation of the technology — with multiple load control switches, smart thermostats and multiple home displays — could cost $500 and up, Schneider wants its Wiser line to also offer barer-bones, lower-cost implementations.

As for how Schneider intends to bring Wiser products to market, the company is targeting both turnkey solutions for utilities, direct-to-consumer sales through various channels and working through installation and integration partners, Matthews said.

All in all it seems as if Schneider is concentrating on the utility as the primary Wiser customer. Naperville, Ill. will be the first testing ground, where the city’s municipal utility will be installing devices to be controlled by demand response software from startup Calico Energy, smart meters from Elster (s ELT) and networking from Tropos Networks.

Schneider’s take on the home energy space also looks like it has been informed by its experience in commercial and industrial building controls — in other words, cutting costs takes precedence over flashy consumer tech features. Schneider’s home interfaces are decidedly lower-tech looking than the home energy touchscreen interface envisioned by Cisco (s CSCO), for example. Schneider’s energy hub-plus-gear model seems closer in line to General Electric’s (s GE) plan for a Nucleus home energy hub, smart thermostats, smart appliances and other gear.

Just how Schneider might bolster its home energy control equipment sales with ongoing management services remains to be seen. The company has been taking some moves that appear to be laying the groundwork for a demand response control platform, including the recent acquisition of French building energy management software providers Vizelia and Dx5.

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Image courtesy of Schneider Electric.

5 Responses to “Schneider Electric’s Simple Take on Home Energy Management”

  1. boogereater

    Actually, these devices (Schneider and the OEM, HAI) have built-in power sensing for reporting and analytics. The plug-in 15amp and the wire in devices all are capable of current sensing and sharing this data. Just because the (onboard) interface is simple doesn’t mean the electronics inside are as well.

  2. Thanks for the comments, all. I’m curious to know what features you’d be interested in getting from a limited-functionality device, since I’m guessing the limitations would require the device makers (and back-end partners) to start picking and choosing. What’s the most important set of functions you’re looking for? Also, if you can’t get power monitoring and control down to the individual appliance and plug level – which seems pretty likely for a low-end device – what kind of functions can you imagine being the most useful from straight, whole-house energy usage information?

  3. I second the trend toward simpler home automation controls. I just want to set it and forget it, and it doesn’t have to look like an iPhone. I want it affordable and bulletproof, I don’t want to have to update the thermostat app every few weeks.

  4. This seems much more realistic for consumers than some of the home control systems I have seen. It seems like a lot of people have trouble using their phones (doesn’t stop them from owning a smart phone) I can’t imagine them using a complex control system, or even using it effectively.