Smart Companies Moving into Smart Energy

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It's hard to overestimate the potential of the smart energy sector. There are two perspectives to consider: The first is that the market is as big as every household and business in the United States. The second is that the variations of services that the industry can offer are just as endless.


The most well-known smart grid application is monitoring home energy to make it easier for people to see their consumption and, presumably, cut it. But there are other smart grid functions, such as empowering people to generate their own energy through solar panels and sell what they don't use on nascent energy markets.


The reality is that this is the next vibrant, thriving and entrepreneurial wonderland. It doesn't hurt that it also is a socially responsible, feel-good undertaking. Some hugely successful companies, such as Google and Microsoft, are jumping in with both feet.


Google's play in this sector is PowerMeter, which is a free energy monitoring tool that tracks home energy usage over time. This week, Blue Line Innovations said that its PowerCost Monitor allows monitoring to be done via end user gear attached via a Wi-Fi gateway. The company said that it is the only monitoring product to be in full partnership with Google PowerMeter and Microsoft Hohm.


It's all about making it easy for the consumer. Another announcement was made earlier this month by Eragy. The company's new Home Energy Monitoring software, when coupled with a Control4 home automation system and the TED5000 energy monitor, enables significant savings, according to the company. The system, the press release says, enables monitoring of energy from a television, iPad, smartphone, Web browser or Control4 console.


Security is a vital topic in the world of home energy management. The goal is to put more data online and make it visible to homeowners. The flip side of that is that the information can make the home and homeowner vulnerable if it falls into the wrong hands. For instance, a drop off of a high percentage in energy usage likely would indicate that the house is temporarily vacant-and a good target for a break in. This week FutureDash took a step toward alleviating these concerns with the addition of GridLock security to its Green Dash home energy monitoring software.


In addition, Research and Markets sees smart energy as the launch pad for 802.15.4 and Zigbee, two low-speed short distance networking protocols:

ZigBee has been languishing as a technology for nearly 10 years, unable to find an application that would provide a launching pad for its mass adoption. That search may be over. With government stimulus and mandates forcing utilities to better manage electricity usage, smart energy is gaining traction as the largest volume growth opportunity for 802.15.4 and ZigBee, helping to push forecasts of chip and module shipments to over exceed three quarters of a billion units by 2014.

Late December is a great time to make predictions, and one that almost certainly will come true is that the in-home sector of the overall smart grid and smart energy market will take off. I discussed some of the big picture items earlier this month with Bob Gohn, the director of smart grid research for Pike Research. There also are smaller bore-but potentially lucrative-detail-oriented elements such as home energy Wi-Fi gateways that vendors and manufacturers will rush to roll out.