Following up on the roll out of its first smart grid products last month, Cisco Systems announced today perhaps the most important component of any home energy management system: a consumer-facing interface.
The networking giant has been on a mission to establish its dominance in the smart grid market for over a year. But it has only recently been making good on all its talk, launching what it calls its lineup of “Connected Grid Solutions.” In May, it launched a substation router and switch designed to facilitate wireless communication between smart energy meters, utilities, and household devices, including energy management dashboards.
The new interface, called the Cisco Home Energy Controller (pictured at right), is intended for residential use and comes in the form of a display with an LCD touchscreen. Through this dashboard, users can view how much energy is being used in their homes, where it is going, and how much it is costing them in real time. The idea is that access to this data will encourage people to change their energy consumption behavior.
But there’s an interactive component too. The Controller will allow users to set energy rules and schedules for their households. For example, you could request that your refrigerator only make ice, or your plug-in vehicle only start to charge during off-peak hours when energy is at its cheapest. if you have a programmable thermostat, you could toggle it to turn the heat down late at night when everyone is in bed anyway.
The Home Energy Controller is designed to draw data from, and interact with smart thermostats, most smart appliances and water heaters, and wall sockets where wireless communication devices have been installed. To do this, it taps into a range of wireless protocols (so that it’s compatible with a number of brands and makes), including ZigBee, Wi-Fi and Encoder Receiver Technology (ERT).
The device will be available this summer in North America only, but you won’t see it on the shelves of Best Buy or Home Depot. Instead, utilities will be buying them and providing them to their customers as an additional service.
Making energy data available in a digestible format for average consumers is one thing. But Cisco also hopes that its home energy management solutions will give homeowners the information they need to work proactively with their utilities. After all, energy vendors like Pacific Gas & Electric here in Northern California, are launching more programs to help their customers reduce demand.
That’s why it’s also launching Cisco Energy Management Services — a complement to the Home Energy Controller that will allow utilities to aggregate and manage energy data collected from thousands of homes at once. This offering is designed to help utilities keep close tabs on demand, so they can respond quickly when it looks like demand will exceed supply, resulting in blackouts and other service disruptions. Duke Energy, based in North Carolina, will be one of the first utilities to try this out.
Both of these additions to the Connected Grid Solutions portfolio are intended for the residential market, but Cisco is also capitalizing on commercial smart grid opportunities by launching its Cisco Network Building Mediator Manager 6300. This platform allows building managers to centrally aggregate, monitor and manage energy use data from many buildings at once.
Like the Home Energy Controller, the Mediator Manager lets users set rules and schedules for across a number of facilities, increasing efficiency quickly and easily. Building managers can also view how each individual energy system is performing, including lighting, heating and air conditioning, server equipment and more. The idea is to save building operators the time and money they would otherwise spend on building-by-building maintenance.
The intro of these new smart grid products is significant for three reasons. First, Cisco’s entrance into home and commercial building energy management legitimizes this new industry. Just a few years ago, no one thought that presenting energy use data to consumers would make any difference in their behavior. But subsequent studies have shown that even just viewing this information can encourage homeowners to slash their energy use by up to 15 percent. Now it’s clear that there’s money to be made in this arena.
Second, Cisco’s new home dashboard has the potential to put a lot of smaller companies out of business. The home energy management space has been notoriously overcrowded for a while now, with startups like Tendril, Control4, AlertMe, People Power, and services like Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm, slugging it out for highly fragmented market share.
Enter Cisco, which has the manpower, capital, and capability to make most of these startup technologies obsolete. As a top provider of networking solutions, it offers an end-to-end system that can transmit and track energy data from appliances and other devices to smart meters to utilities and energy management dashboards. Now Cisco is making these dashboards too.
Third, the fact that utilities will be the ones to buy and distribute Cisco’s new devices underscores a trend toward energy vendors offering customers perks and additional services. It’s not just enough to deliver reliable electricity anymore. Especially with talk of deregulation and increased utility competition in the air, it’s suddenly critical for these companies to catch up and start treating their rate payers like paying customers.