Your Smart(er) House

Home Energy Management Systems

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The Nest Thermostat E can be controlled remotely via a proprietary app that runs on a smartphone, enabling users to adjust their heating and cooling systems at the touch of a button.
The ecobee4 is a smart thermostat that offers external temperature and occupancy sensors for rooms without a thermostat, and features voice control via Amazon’s Alexa platform.
The ThinkEco Modlet offers an Internet-enabled product with two outlets. It can be used to capture energy-use data on a variety of 120 VAC appliances.
Whirlpool offers smart large appliances that are Google Home- and Alexa-compatible, allowing users to adjust timers, temperatures, and wash cycles from their smartphones.
GE’s ConnectPlus module plugged into the GeoSpring hybrid water heater allows users to control and monitor water heating use via a smartphone. Users can change the water heater’s operating modes and temperatures, select vacation mode, and receive maintenance alerts.
LIFX’s Gen 3 LED doesn’t require an additional hub or gateway to be controlled via a smartphone. Its app can also control the color selection.
LIFX’s Gen 3 LED doesn’t require an additional hub or gateway to be controlled via a smartphone. Its app can also control the color selection.
GE’s C-Life smart LEDs can be controlled via a smartphone app and a Bluetooth connection, although they cannot be controlled out of the house or out of their range.
Philips Hue LEDs are color-adjustable A19 bulbs. Multiple app options and device compatibility make it a flexible lighting option, with remote dimming and schedule-setting.
Whirlpool’s 6th Sense Live connects to an online database of energy prices to determine the least expensive time to run its Smart Grid-enabled appliances, such as this front-load washer.
The Energy Detective (TED) Pro Residential system can accommodate up to four Spyders (32 individual circuits) for more precise measurement of individual loads. TED Commander is a cloud-based portal that enables data collection, remote monitoring, graphing, trending, and data export. Data can be viewed on computers and smartphones.

Home energy management (HEM) systems—comprising “smart” networked devices that can provide information and dynamically adjust energy use within a home—have been evolving for decades and finally appear poised to enter the mainstream. However, with hundreds of players entering the home automation space, the increasing availability of myriad smart devices, and an increased vendor focus on customer security and convenience over energy savings, it can be daunting for even seasoned energy experts to figure out how best to approach this market, much less find ways to realize the many benefits HEM systems may yield.

The good news is that most of the HEM devices currently available (across multiple manufacturers) tend to fall into one of several product categories. Some of these devices are beginning to see widespread market penetration, while others are still in the early stages of development and dissemination, but each offers unique opportunities for energy savings, demand reductions, and energy-use information.

Existing HEM devices continue to change, and new wireless-enabled “smart” products keep emerging: smart thermostats, smart plugs, connected lightbulbs, smart appliances, and in-home energy-use displays (EUDs). Each of these devices has unique and distinct advantages and disadvantages, but, effectively combined into an HEM framework, they have the potential to provide relevant, granular, and actionable energy-use data; directly reduce energy consumption through automated control algorithms; and enable sophisticated demand-response (DR) and load-shifting functionality. These latter two abilities can allow consumers to help utilities improve the operation of the electric grid, promote renewable energy adoption, and lower their electricity bills by reducing their appliances’ power draws during peak periods.

The “Common Home Energy Management Devices” table summarizes and compares the costs and savings associated with these devices. Although the dynamic nature of the control algorithms used and the potential to prompt behavioral change make it difficult to estimate representative energy savings for many HEM devices, the granular data collected may offer new approaches to measurement and verification that will facilitate a better understanding of potential savings.

Smart Thermostats

Smart thermostats were among the first HEM devices to flourish in the market. In fact, 2016 data from the E Source Residential Customer Insights Center suggest that 6% of all residential customers have now installed smart thermostats in their homes. That growth is especially impressive in light of the fact that smart thermostats only emerged onto the market in 2011 with the release of the Nest Learning Thermostat. With straightforward programming, appealing online portals and mobile apps, attractive designs, and a better overall user experience than traditional programmable thermostats, it seems that smart thermostats are here to stay. In fact, their unique set of features may even help to make them a central interface point for HEM systems.

Many of the smart thermostats on the market offer a variety of energy-saving strategies. These strategies include trying to learn occupant preferences (to autonomously improve temperature setpoint schedules); occupancy sensing; behavioral prompts; and tracking the user’s smartphone location to regulate heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) equipment when no one is home. Given the variety of energy-saving tactics involved and the technology’s comparatively recent introduction into the market, research establishing average energy savings remains ongoing. However, utility program evaluations performed to date indicate that the level of HVAC energy savings realized has ranged from 5% to 19%.


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