Several companies, appliance maker Whirlpool and energy retailer Direct Energy among them, have joined forces to showcase what the energy efficient home of the future will look like at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas this week.
The demonstration system in question, called the Home Energy Manager (HEM), will include appliances that tap into a unified network to communicate how much energy they are using, when, why, and how much it is costing. This type of data transmission is what will eventually make it possible for your clothing dryer to know to turn on after your refrigerator has stopped making ice. The goal is to use the lowest amount of energy possible between appliances, saving users a substantial amount off their monthly electric bills.
The home will also exhibit a two-way thermostat made by Lennox International, which lets consumers adjust the temperature, while also automatically regulating it to maintain their comfort while also saving energy. These thermostats are also the variety that consumers will eventually be able to control remotely via their smartphones, browsers, television screens, etc.
The cherry on the top is the touch-screen home energy dashboard provided by home monitoring company OpenPeak — a partner of major smart meter maker Itron. With a pretty, iPhone-like interface (see above), the dashboard allows users to program their appliances to run at certain times, to change home temperatures, and to view all the requisite data on their energy consumption.
This is a big opportunity to break out for OpenPeak, which has been stuck in the middle of an ever-growing pack of home energy management companies that includes Tendril, Control4, EnergyHub, People Power, OPOWER, and others. In addition to displaying energy use in real-time, the company’s dashboard will act as the epicenter for home wireless networks.
The combination of Whirlpool appliances, Lennox thermostats and OpenPeak dashboards is a cocktail that Direct Energy plans to try for a year in 40 homes in Houston — where it is already actively installing residential smart meters. Tapping Best Buy’s Geek Squad for the networking installation, the utility wants to collect enough data from the pilot project to make very specific recommendations on how consumers can slash their day-to-day energy use.
Most of the changes Direct Energy hopes to see wouldn’t impact consumers’ regular lives at all. In the past, the most successful energy management technology has not required any attention at all — it’s simply saved while maintaining a consistent level of comfort. This is the idea behind companies like EcoFactor, maker of a two-way thermostat system that keeps homes at an ideal temperature while also conserving energy and money — users don’t have to change their routines or behavior.
The CES demo system is one of the most elaborate home energy ecosystems seen to date. It could provide a valuable example and much-needed nudge to companies like Tendril, General Electric and other major utilities to start offering the same.