It is no secret that few homes in the U.S. or, for that matter, anywhere in the world have electronic control systems.
At Parks Associates, we have postulated a number of different paths on which controls can ride into the home — basic lighting, entertainment, security and energy control systems. Several firms highlighted the last one, energy controls, at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and Control4 was arguably the most energetic in its promotions.
Getting Smart, Getting Green
Control4 hosted a CES panel discussion that included Southern California Electric, California Public Utilities Commission, the ZigBee Alliance and Onteriors, an installing dealer focused on whole-home automation systems for green homes, to address the role home automation plays in enabling a green lifestyle. The panelists concluded that the utilities are prepared to invest in smart meter-reading systems that can provide consumers with information about their energy consumption.
In addition, these systems can enable time-of-day billing so utilities can provide consumers incentives to use power when it is most plentiful and less costly.
Sounds great, but haven’t we heard this before? What is new this time?
We have heard it before, but a growing number of utilities and companies that manufacture a large percentage of the electricity, gas and water meters used in the world (like Itron, for example) are getting behind this effort. If the utilities do, in fact, finance the replacement of existing meters with those that can provide consumers information about their energy consumption and allow them some control over it, then energy management will become a major conduit in the broader deployment of control systems in U.S. homes.
That is still a big “if,” but this development is worth monitoring, especially considering the current popular and political support for green solutions in the market.
At a Store Near You
How will this meter movement affect manufacturers? Well, if you’re manufacturing controls or systems that need to be controlled such as audio components, home theater systems, HVAC (heating, ventilating and air-conditioning) systems, or home appliances, then these developments could affect your products.
Control4 plans to piggyback on these green-meter initiatives with its low-end, ZigBee-based control systems. The company believes its solutions can become mass-market products available at retail and easy enough for the do-it-yourselfer to install. Once in place, these systems can control any ZigBee-enabled device or system from home theaters to washing machines.
Spark the Market
Of course, Control4 and the ZigBee camp will not have this market to themselves. Companies employing Echelon’s LonWorks powerline control technology are well-entrenched in Europe and Asia; Zensys and its Z-Wave Alliance partners already offer a host of products that monitor and control energy consuming devices from lights to HVAC systems, as does SmartLabs and its Insteon developers. There are more from systems based on Universal Powerline Bus to newcomer HomePlug Command & Control.
The bottom line is that energy management initiatives may spark the market for home controls, and if they do, manufacturers of anything that consumes power need to assess the impact on their products and their businesses.
Bill Ablondi is director of home systems research at Parks Associates.