I think the past 18 months have been disappointing for consumer-centric smart grid proponents and companies. In January 2010 the incisive Katie Fehrenbacher pronounced 2010 the year in which the consumer would be the king of home energy management, and this pronouncement has not come to fruition. I’ve been formulating some ideas about why that’s the case, and in large part I think it’s a combination of the utility-centric rollout of consumer-facing technology, the perverse regulatory incentives facing utilities and regulators, and how those factors combine to perpetuate the consumer’s indifference to home energy management technologies.
However, the new ideas and chipping away at that indifference are happening, slowly. Over the past several weeks I’ve seen ads for ADT Pulse, the new remote service from ADT Security (complete with mobile phone app!) that enables energy efficiency and lighting/thermostat controls under its “lifestyle” and “home automation” features. These features leverage their existing in-home communication technology, and are a form of the kind of bundling and product differentiation that characterizes innovative consumer-facing industries. ADT Pulse is not yet a transactive technology, but I hope there will be a chicken-and-egg development of dynamic pricing as these bundled services proliferate — knowing that they have the automation technology available to them, more and more consumers will be eager to have retail choice in their electricity contract, including dynamic pricing.
On Tuesday this space got more interesting as Google announced its entry into the home management technology space with Android@Home:
At its I/O developer conference on Tuesday, Google showed a sneak preview of its Android@Home project, which will extend the Android platform into household objects. That means some day in the future, you could control home appliances — your dishwasher, the heating system, the lights in your house — using your Android device as a remote control.
“Think of your phone as the nucleus that this all started with,” said Google engineering director Joe Britt in an interview. “We’re opening the platform up to everyone to do whatever they can imagine.”
This makes my geeky heart go pitter-pat; think of the potential here! Android is an open-source development platform, and as such it has interoperability requirements baked into its development culture already. This culture of interoperability is growing, slowly, in the electricity industry, as interoperability standards development proceeds. It can leverage pre-existing wireless sensors and networks in smart buildings, again thanks to interoperability.
The essential next step is to create differentiated products and bundles with dynamic pricing options so consumers can actually simultaneously save money, reduce energy use, and be empowered to control their own choices in their own homes. That will not happen through conventional regulatory processes.