After years of lackluster start in what I see as the Internet of Electricity, we may be at an inflection point thanks to the very real dangers of climate change. For at least a decade, businesses and energy experts have envisioned a future where the power grid responds to market and demand signals to ultimately use less energy. This vision has shifted from less energy consumption to more use of renewable energy and a better match with energy use when it was created through renewable means (often during daylight hours. , when solar and wind production is strong).
But the past two years have led to a shift in the way we perceive our dependence on the grid and how our power generation portfolio has exacerbated the problem of climate change. We need more resilience in the network. We also need to switch from coal, gas and natural gas as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we are starting to realize that as we move to an information-rich grid that becomes increasingly reliant on renewables, we are by no means going to use less energy. And that has huge implications for the smart home.
These two trends – electrification and resilience – will drive investment in energy management technologies in the future. Let’s take a look at electrification first.
New York City this week became the largest city in the country to ban natural gas connections in new buildings. This means that gas dryers, stoves and more are now prohibited in new construction. Other cities have taken similar steps.
But adding dryers and stoves to the power grid is a big step forward, simply because both devices require larger 240-volt circuits and a lot of electricity. New buildings can incorporate these needs into their electrical boxes and utility amperage demands, but electrification is also a trend in retrofits, as consumers try to replace gas appliances with electric counterparts (or gas vehicles by electric). And that means people will have to upgrade their electrical boxes, which can cost anywhere from $ 5,000 to $ 20,000 depending on where they live and how much of the upgrade they need.
Instead, I expect more consumers to choose smarter electrical boxes that can help manage a limited supply of electricity entering the home. In an effort to reduce consumption, I tried smarter panel enclosures and devices that attached to those enclosures to help me understand how much electricity was used in my home, but quickly ran into a Wall. At one time, modern life needs electricity. I threw out the counters.
But software that can handle the limited incoming amperage and allocate it based on residents’ needs and preferences makes sense as we plug more high-wattage devices into our homes. This is why resilience will lead to the adoption of new energy management devices, whether it is smart circuit breakers from a company like Span or Schenider Electric, or software from a supplier. technology that tries something similar using a digital assistant.
The second major trend driving investment and change in the energy world is resilience. Over the past two years, it seems, wildfires, extreme weather conditions and an increase in the number of employees working from home have caused people to spend on batteries and other forms of storage. energy and off-grid production.
Last month we saw Generac, a generator company, buy Ecobee for $ 770 million; ADT, meanwhile, spent $ 825 million on SunPro, a maker of solar panels. These two offers combine smart home software with energy production and storage. Basically, we see a way to ensure the energy supply while managing it even when homes are off the grid.
I break down the energy market into five elements: production, transport, storage, management at the periphery and consumption. My main focus is on management and consumption as this is where smart home companies are springing up. Generally speaking, we need to increase the capacity and resilience of the grid while integrating more devices that consume electricity through the electrification of cars and buildings. But let’s start with the generation.
1. Generation: Generation encompasses both large utilities using fossil fuels or renewable energy from wind, solar or water. It also includes localized production using solar power. The big challenges here are heading towards a more sustainable production strategy as well as managing the variability of certain renewable energy sources.
2. Transmission: Transmission consists of moving electrons from the utility to a home or office or reinjecting electricity into the grid. It presents the combined challenges of an aging infrastructure with those related to regulations and business models. But it is clear that at a time of extreme weather conditions caused by climate change and our economy increasingly relying on reliable electricity, investments in transport and innovations must occur. We are already seeing some utilities trying to add real-time usage and pricing signals to facilitate both transmission and production; we have also seen what happens when the transmission weakens. In California, for example, PG&E power lines cause forest fires, so the utility cuts off power during times of high winds and drought. In Texas last February, one of the reasons the state suffered such a catastrophic power outage during the freeze was that its grid was isolated and lacked resiliency.
3. Storage: This is where things start to get interesting for the smart home. Storage is essential because it provides resilience when the grid is unavailable and helps make energy available when renewables do not provide electricity. There is old-fashioned energy storage, like generators that run on gasoline, and newer storage, in the form of batteries. Based on some pre-CES briefings given to me, we’re going to see some interesting products associated with energy storage in January. There is also a great deal of research on modernizing energy storage techniques which are practically old. But storage is essentially a buffer between production and consumption.
This is why I found the Generac offer for Ecobee so interesting. With the acquisition, Generac, which is essentially an energy storage company, takes control of the largest energy-guzzling device found in most homes. It’s also taking control of a team that has worked hard on creating software designed to help consumers save energy. In the short term, this seems like a chance to introduce Generac to a new, tech-savvy audience, but over time, it’s a chance to intelligently link energy supply to demand.
4. Management to the limit: On the management side, we are seeing companies in the traditional electrical panel market such as Leviton, Schneider Electric, and Honeywell adding smart and internet capabilities to their products. New entrants like Span are building networked electrical boxes that will manage the flow of electricity and allow users to set their own preferences, while Amazon and others are building data models in their smart home software to track the flow of electricity. amount of power consumed by some devices so that they can offer ways to manage it using their AI.
5. Consumption: When it comes to managing energy use, HVAC systems are the primary focus simply because they are the primary user of a home’s electricity. But utilities are also launching programs to help manage electricity use by water heaters, while appliance makers are trying to brainstorm features that could help consumers save energy by modifying them. settings of their dryer or refrigerator. With more information from the grid on the price of electricity or the availability of renewables, we might see smart delays built into a dishwasher or dryer so they only do their job when the electricity is plentiful and inexpensive. An electric vehicle that doesn’t need to be recharged right away can wait until other energy-guzzling charges are completed before recharging, for example. And when the network is not available, devices and management software collude to save electricity while trying to keep users comfortable and keep food in the refrigerator or load on a computer. portable.
Many pieces are already there, but the tech and energy world is waiting for incentives that will force the adoption of a smarter grid and better management of energy in the home. These are, after all, big infrastructure upgrades, and until resilience and regulations forcing electrification became an issue, conservation did not inspire people to make a big investment.
In the years to come, that will change. And that will change quickly as the climate becomes more unpredictable and our devices get smarter.