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Home Energy Management Takes Center Stage at CES 2012

<p>Last week&#39;s consumer electronics extravaganza featured plenty of whimsical gadgets -- gyro-stabilized electric unicycles, anyone? -- but it also showed just how practical, and poised for popularity, home energy management systems have become.</p>

The Consumer Electronics Show is partly a playground for inventors and partly a glimpse into what technologies consumers will actually adopt in the next few years. Into the first category fall gyro-stabilized electric unicycles, a human-powered hydrofoil and 3-D pet portraits. It seems that home energy management, on the other hand, has finally landed in the second.

The home energy management ecosystem is rife with competition across the entire value chain, creating a range of viable solutions for consumers. Zigbee and Sigma Designs have developed standards that enable stand-alone devices to become intelligent networked nodes that can be controlled and monitored wirelessly. This enables interoperability between home entertainment, security systems, lighting, HVAC systems and appliances.

Savant, Tendril and ThinkEco have developed platforms that give users control over their home energy use. Savant offers a whole-home platform. It features intelligent lighting controls that adjust lighting with the rising and setting of the sun and integration of audio and security systems. Rather than develop a proprietary hardware platform like a control panel, Savant is designed for Apple devices. The company's approach illustrates how the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets, regardless of brand, is opening up the market to increasing numbers of consumers.

Tendril's platform creates a dynamic two-way dialogue that allows users to connect with their utilities to receive real-time information based on their energy use. The platform incorporates a web-based portal grounded in behavioral science to help consumers take advantage of energy savings opportunities.

ThinkEco's platform uses its modern outlet, or "modlet," to collect and transmit electricity consumption data from the devices plugged into it. The company's platform-- ideal for the retrofit market of older appliances and lighting systems--shows real-time energy use of appliances, learns users' behavior and suggests a schedule to turn equipment off when not in use. ThinkEco has also partnered with ConEd to use the modlet for window air conditioning units, making the units demand-response ready and allowing consumers to control temperature remotely.

Utilities and service providers like NRG, Verizon and ADT are fully embracing home energy management and providing easy ways for consumers to get started and go deeper if they so choose. "This lowers the entry barrier for consumers," says Prem Talreja, Director of Marketing at Sigma Designs. "By monetizing energy management services over time through a monthly subscription fee, these services require consumers to make a lower upfront investment, or none whatsoever."

Service providers are also offering ways for consumers to better understand the connection between their monthly bill and their energy use. Typically we all receive electric bills a week or more after the end of the month, with no visibility into daily or weekly consumption. The lack of real-time energy data makes it difficult to identify opportunities to cut energy use.

e-Sense, a service from NRG's Reliant company, offers easy-to-use services for smart meter owners including bill projection. One week into a given month, the utility can project for the customers what their monthly bill may be at month-end. It can also send automatic alerts if a customer's energy use is trending above a pre-set end of month limit. Consumers who want to can add more intelligent systems throughout their homes.

NRG's Steve Morisseau explains, "We aim to provide information, convenience and control. When people just hear 'energy efficiency,' they think sacrifice. We give them choices."

Finally, home energy management systems are becoming much more intelligent. The Tendril Connect system, for instance, gets up and running quickly and focuses on saving its consumers money. It then monitors the kind of information that its users gravitate to, segmenting them by whether they care more about the environment, national security and resource usage (e.g. barrels of oil saved), or social networking and competition.

"This helps keep our consumers engaged and establishes Tendril as a trusted advisor," says Dennis Kyle, VP of Strategic and New Market Development.

Beyond home energy management, CES highlighted a number of other winning products and services that reduce environmental impact. Natralock from MeadWestvaco uses 70 percent less plastic and requires 65 percent less energy to make than traditional clamshell packaging, for example. Developed not a moment too soon given the bewildering array of gadgets at CES.

When those gadgets reach the end of their useful life for you, Gazelle takes over. Their win-win model addresses e-waste issues by paying consumers to turn in old phones and other electronics at an average of $100 per trade in. Gazelle's Chief Gadget Officer Anthony Scarsella summed up much of the sentiment on environmental performance at CES: "When our company first started, we focused on green. But as we've grown, we now know that most people want cash in their pockets."

Cash in their pockets and gyro-stabilized electric unicycles underfoot.

Photo courtesy of CES.

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