Monitoring Energy Usage in the Home and at Work

On Monday evening I had the pleasure of attending an discussion event on Home Energy Monitoring and Management hosted by Fountain Blue.

I learned a bit about People Power (Sunil Maulik VP Bus Dev) and PowerZoa(Sandra Kwak, founder) last nite. Powerzoa has a smart plug that senses current. They haven’t raised money yet – the hardware is built for them by a strategic partner. They plan to provide open source interface to the plugs and add value with their analysis software – i.e. they profile the usage at the plug level and at the building level to give users advice & control over energy management. The ability to detect abnormal patterns is interesting. Although their website indicates residential use, the target market is the plug component in commercial-office. After HVAC and lighting, plugs are the are the “step ladder fruit” as Sandra put it.

People Power has similarities to OPower, and Sunil gave OPower credit for a successful strategy, validating the space, etc. People Power interfaces to 3rd party monitors (e.g. TED) and add value thru analytics combined with social behavioral analysis. He described efforts to optimize how information is presented to the user. He held up his iPhone running a histogram of a test site. This sounded like a residential play, but their markets are commercial B2B and consumer through businesses that sell to consumers. They are working on raising a B round of funding. They would also provide open source code and APIs, keeping their algorithms proprietary.

The KPMG moderator (Craig Lobdell) and the GE representative (Matt Lecar) discussed the market segments:

  • Residential is challenged to educate users to modify energy usage.
  • “gets it” and the decision makers are easy to find (but the space is crowded).
  • Industrial is a challenge because motors and machines are the revenue sources and difficult to turn-off.

HEM solutions don’t yet have a “WOW” product. People Power and Powerzoa suggested that people can be persuaded if the techniques fit their lifestyle (e.g. power usage in your Facebook newsfeed?) My grandkids react to good behavior = reward, so perhaps the feedback mechanisms could be targeted to kids. The housewife-as-engineer model with complex software won’t fly – too many products in this space will have a short Time2KitchenDrawer rating. The ideal solution is make HEM automatic or so simple your kids can do it. Cost at the residential level is always a challenge.

HP Labs (Martha Lyons) is doing a lot of interesting things with ZeroEnergy building design – which includes means all critical resources – electricity, gas, and water. She described research on “disaggregation of power usage” i.e. using power consumption profiles to automatically identify specific power loads in a house, without making the device or plug smarter. That could accelerate the adoption cycle – but it’s a hard problem and it doesn’t help automate control.

I think a combination of smarter plugs near-term and smarter appliances longer term is a more likely scenario. GE’s Nucleus and Brillion strategy attacks the smart appliances goal, although it will take years to upgrade the national inventory of major appliances.

There was no mention of EcoFactor, Tendril, iControl(now with uControl) or 4Home ( now part of Motorola). This group has the financial backing to make a big impact in the space.

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