GE digs deeper into the smart energy home

GE(s GE) is launching more gadgets to help consumers monitor and manage their home-energy consumption. On Tuesday, GE unveiled a whole-home sensor that can fit onto an electricity panel box, or an energy-hungry 240-volt device such as a pool pump, and then send energy-consumption data back to GE’s energy-managing device, the Nucleus, and over to a cell phone or computer.

GE also said it will start selling smart-energy plugs that also act as sensors for the 120-volt devices plugged into them and that can similarly send data to the Nucleus and cell phones and PCs. The whole-home sensor will be available in the second half of 2012 and is being tested in utility pilots such as Flint Energies’ home-energy pilot project.

Almost two years ago, GE revamped its home-energy strategy around its home-energy management router, the Nucleus, and its smart-energy Brillion brand. Quite frankly, you couldn’t get a simpler piece of hardware than the Nucleus. It doesn’t display any energy information directly to the consumer but acts as a wireless communication device — with two wireless ZigBee radio chips, a Wi-Fi chip and an Ethernet port; it can connect a smart meter and smart appliances a consumer might have, and hooks back to the Internet to show energy information via a website 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 software that can connect with utility energy and pricing data and can be controlled from a website or mobile app. For that drop-dead basic connectivity and software layer, the Nucleus will cost between $149 and $199. GE was previously experimenting with a higher-end, and more expensive, energy dashboard, which it has now replaced with the basic Brillion line.

There’s still a looming question about how interested consumers will be in energy-saving devices like these from GE. But gadget makers, telcos, cable companies and startups continue to launch energy-saving devices and services, so there’s clearly at least a niche market emerging.