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Empowering Consumers to Take Control of Home Energy Use

June 29, 2010

By Jenny Carless

Do you drive a hybrid car – or do you know someone who does? Are you one of those who regularly sneaks a peek at the dashboard display to check your current gas mileage?

If so, you have great insight into what consumers will be able to experience as networking and digital technology come together in the home to provide detailed information on household energy consumption patterns and the related costs.

The smart grid is coming to individual homes and businesses near you (see sidebar for more about commercial buildings), signaling the start of a new era.

The Next Step in Commercial Building Energy Management

Having real-time visibility into their energy consumption, and therefore being able to act upon it to achieve both financial and environmental efficiency, is a relatively new concept for most residential consumers. Commercial building owners and operators, on the other hand, already have some experience with tools like the Cisco Network Building Mediator to help them monitor and manage their facilities' energy use.

But the ability to manage energy consumption and costs just got easier for these customers. As of today, instead of managing energy use one building at a time, they will be able to extend that control seamlessly across their portfolio of buildings with the Cisco Network Building Mediator Manager.

> Read More

Energy Management Tools for the Home

Today, Cisco announced its new Home Energy Management Solution, which gives residential consumers the ability to see and understand their energy use – and its costs – in real time.

Consumers' direct connection to this new opportunity is the Home Energy Controller, a countertop display with an LCD touch screen that can communicate with other home devices – such as a smart meter, smart plugs and programmable thermostats – to help optimize in-home energy management.

The Home Energy Controller has the potential to do for residential consumers what hybrid drivers can do each time they sit behind the wheel.

"It has been designed to empower consumers, to let them know how much energy they're using at any given time, how much that costs – so they can act on that information," explains Paul Fulton, director and general manager, Smart Grid for Cisco.

"Consumers can use the Home Energy Controller to budget their energy costs – by learning to use electricity during times when energy is less expensive, for example, or understanding how much savings a one- or two-degree change on the thermostat can mean," he adds.

Empowering Consumers

Imagine shopping for a month without being given receipts and without knowing the cost of anything you bought. Then, a month or so later, you're presented with a bill for that entire month's expenditures. This isn't a very smart way to shop, but it's the way most residential customers have been required to pay for their household energy use.

"It's all about putting customers in control of what they do and when they do it – at their own convenience. We just need to be the broker, providing information to them."

— Mark Wyatt, Vice President of Smart Energy Systems, Duke Energy

"Our challenge today is to provide our customers with better, more reliable information about how they're consuming our product, whether it be electricity or gas," says Mark Wyatt, vice president of Smart Energy Systems for Duke Energy, which is working with Cisco to deliver smart grid products and services for residential and business customers. "Putting the digital capability out there will help us provide more information to them.

"It's all about putting customers in control of what they do and when they do it – at their own convenience," he adds. "We just need to be the broker, providing information to them."

In addition to giving consumers the ability to make more informed choices about energy use, the Home Energy Controller enables them to set policies and schedules for energy use based on real-time, historic and individual appliance consumption. It can provide data on predicted energy costs as well as energy-saving tips.

This can result in substantial cost and carbon savings.

"According to a study by Zogby International, 74 percent of Americans are likely to change their energy use to save money on their utility bills if they are given the technology solutions to do so," Fulton explains.

Feedback Is Critical

Real-time feedback is a critical part of learning to save energy – as hybrid drivers know.

Several months ago, Kjartan Skaugvoll, vice president and general manager of Sales at the Dutch utility Nuon, described to News@Cisco impressive results from a small pilot study in which households were given an easy-to-read, touch-screen digital display that provided real-time information about their energy consumption. Participants experienced an average reduction of 9 percent in electricity usage and 14 percent in gas consumption.

"We've seen reports of similar results in other trials," Fulton notes. "For example, IDC has found that customers reduce their overall energy use by 4 to 15 percent when they receive real-time feedback on power consumption."

It's a new day for residential energy consumers, who can look forward to receiving actionable information about their energy use and applying that to gain cost and carbon savings.

To join the discussion about what this means for consumers, read and respond to this blog post by Laura Ipsen, senior vice president and general manager, Smart Grid at Cisco.

Jenny Carless is a freelance writer located in Santa Cruz, CA.

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