Putting the Smart in Energy Management

on October 09, 2014 at 3:30 PM

Smart Technology Homes Being Built In South Korea

The Internet of Things (IoT) is propelling new services in energy management. Think of all the home appliances that are now connected or will be connected in the near future such as thermostats, refrigerators, and washers and dryers.

In the IoT value chain, most organizations in the energy management sector are capitalizing on the connected piece. For example, consumers can manage settings on a connected thermostat or lights from their mobile phone or from the Web. And many of these connected devices are being marketed as smart. But does connected mean the device is smart? It’s smart only when the combination of connectivity, data management, and analytics layers are there.

The “smarts” is where all the new opportunities are in energy management, especially in usage and performance. Those are two of the three major pieces of the pie, with the first piece being design.

So what can be done to save energy with smart devices and appliances?

If we look at the design aspect, many appliances such as refrigerators and HVACs are now made to be energy efficient. This is important to consumers and a big motivator for manufacturers. People look for that Energy Star rating. But buying the best designed appliance can only go so far if the goal is to drive down overall energy consumption.

The potential energy savings you might see on the label sticker of that appliance are based on the average usage in a lab environment. How we interact with the appliance in the real world is most likely very different from this. For example, my five-year-old daughter frequently gets up in the middle of the night to get herself something to drink. Most of the time she leaves the refrigerator door open because she uses the refrigerator light as a nightlight to guide her back to her room. Our refrigerator is Energy Star rated but now we are consuming more energy and spending more money on the electricity bill than intended and promised by the manufacturer.

So how do I bring the energy usage back to where it’s supposed to be? We can educate the consumer to bring that energy consumption back to norm through reporting or alerts. For example, I can receive an alert when the refrigerator is open for more than 10 minutes. This can be helpful, but can be time consuming if I have to get up to close the refrigerator door every time this happens. The other way is through immediate or aggregated feedback. For example, the refrigerator door can close itself after a certain amount of time that it’s been open.

Finally, the performance of many appliances degrades over time. They get old and accidents happen. One night, my daughter spilled an entire container of orange juice in the refrigerator. The juice reached into the components causing a performance issue. Whether it’s spilt orange juice or improper installation, or system degradation – the appliance is no longer functioning to its given specifications. And it may not even be visible. After we cleaned up the orange juice, we never noticed a problem. The ice cream was still frozen and the milk was still cold. Nothing seemed wrong except until we got the electricity bill. To continue to reduce energy consumption, it’s repair or replace. We didn’t know how bad the problem was until a month later. If the refrigerator had identified and notified us that it had an issue much like a check light engine in the car, it could have saved us more dollars and energy if we had known about the problem right away.

If you are talking about energy consumption and energy management, you can’t just look at the Energy Star rating, but need to look at usage and performance – that’s where the real waste lies, along with the energy management opportunities.

A co-founder of EcoFactor, Scott Hublou is a leading voice in the cleantech and energy industries, frequently speaking about emerging smart grid technologies and the important role that smart homes play in creating a truly efficient energy system. Prior to EcoFactor, Scott was the CEO of The Sapria Design and Technology Group and before that Scott was the CEO of Asimba. He is a regular guest lecturer at both Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley business schools, where he shares his knowledge and expertise on innovative business strategy, business intelligence, and SaaS platforms.