More Choices for Energy Savings

Smart thermostats are rapidly gaining acceptance as consumers look for ways to take charge of their energy use. (Photo By: NEST)

Smart thermostats are rapidly gaining acceptance as consumers look for ways to take charge of their energy use. (Photo By: NEST)

AUSTIN, Texas—Consumers are scarfing up a growing list of gadgets and devices to help control their energy costs, presenting new opportunities for companies and utilities to add value with energy efficiency.

"Creating a mass market for energy management is challenging, but there is a vital role for energy within the smart home," said Stuart Sikes, president of the Dallas-based research firm Parks Associates, which hosted Smart Energy Summit 2017. 

"Consumers can benefit from a number of engaging products that provide cost savings, appliance monitoring and smart lighting that can change color to set a mood in different rooms throughout the house."

Panelists at a Feb. 22 session on consumer-market devices said some utilities have been compiling data from smart devices for nearly three years and are using the knowledge gained to help consumers get more value from the products. 

"This year, something like 50 percent of homes will be eligible for bring-your-own thermostat programs," said Seth Frader-Thompson, cofounder and president of EnergyHub, manufacturers of smart thermostats and energy management apps.

Cloud-based interfaces and interoperability protocols worked out between utilities and manufacturers allow consumers to consider features, costs, ease of installation and other factors, and share useful data with their power provider through internet platforms supporting multiple devices.

"There are a few platforms that are leading the way and devices being integrated with those key platforms are going to make a real difference in market acceptance," said Stuart Lombard, CEO of ecobee Inc.

Driving demand for thermostats and other products is consumer interest in controlling energy costs and a fascination with technology.

"We have in just the space of three years 13,000 two-way communicating thermostats [on our system]," said Deborah Kimberly, vice president of customer energy solutions at municipal utility, Austin Energy. "There are probably another 40,000 thermostats out there that are ripe for the plucking."

According to Parks Associates researchers, market penetration for smart thermostats has topped 11 percent, while consumers who've purchased smart light bulbs now have at least two in their homes, and could purchase more.

"Customers want to have control," said Kimberly, urging utility executives to build flexibility into their demand response programs to boost voluntary participation. "Make it simple, seamless and give customers choice. That means not just one type of device, but multiple devices, and having a platform that enables products to work."