Seize the power
By Emily Parkinson
As consumers, we already control so many aspects of our lives via our smart phones and tablets- why not exercise the same control over our energy usage?
There are now more tools than ever to help the homeowner take charge of their energy needs and what they pay for them.
Indeed, these technologies are reshaping the electricity grid as we know it transforming the traditionally passive consumer into a power player in the energy market of the future.
That power is increasingly felt and exercised through smart technologies fitted to the home.
Features like web-enabled lighting or heating, for instance, or self-regulating water heaters and smart fridges, among other advances, have given consumers more choice than ever in how they manage, consume and, ultimately, pay for their energy needs.
Energy expert Alan Pears, co-director of Sustainable Solutions, and a lecturer in environment and planning at RMIT University believes it is this battle for home services, or what he terms “the consumer side of the meter” that represents the big opportunity in energy markets today.
It is a market that, although in its infancy, is growing at a rapid rate. Business Insider Intelligence suggests the market for smart-grid connected home devices is growing faster than that for tablets and smartphones, reaching around US$490 billion in 2019.
Consumer Giants to Battle for Smart Dollars
The market for home energy services is a hotly-contested, as seen in the number of non-traditional energy players, companies like Google, Comcast and AT&T, vying for a slice of the action.
Last year, Google purchased a maker of smart thermostats and web-connected home electronics, NestLabs, for $3.2 billion, giving it an instant stake in the race to provide consumers with ever-smarter, more efficient appliances.
Mr. Pears believes these large consumer-facing brands, among them telco’s, insurance companies, internet service providers and even large building companies, will have a profound influence on the future electricity grid.
Consumers Win With More Choice & Control
For consumers, the boon is the opportunity to know and manage the amount of power being used.
The market for “smart-home” systems is dominated globally by the likes of Samsung, through its “SmartThings” brand, Microsoft and its “HomeOS” in-home connectivity system and Apple through “HomeKit.”
Although the Australian market for energy-saving “smart” home tech gadgets is still in its infancy, particularly compared to countries like the US and Germany, it is expected to grow at a blistering rate over the next decade, according to forecasts from the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE)
Locally, consumers have a range of smart home products to choose from ranging from smart fridges that run with a variable speed motors, such as those sold by Samsung, to remote Wifi-controlled thermostats like those offered by Ecobee. Another successful energy-saving product, according to Mr. Pears, has been the Australian-made Siddons “Bolt-On” heat pump hot water service, which can be retrofitted to an existing hot water system and programmed to run solely off home-generated solar power.
Consumers Save But Regulators Need to Catch Up
All these technologies can represent a significant energy saving over time. Ausgrid’s 2013 Smart Grids, Smart Cities study found the net economic benefit of smart grid technologies could be worth around $28 billion to the Australian economy over the next two decades.
George Maltabarow, former managing director of Energy Australia, now Ausgrid, and convenor of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE’s) Intelligent Grid Symposium, says the implications for regulators and policy-makers are massive and, on that, Australia still has a long way to go to get on top of the changes.
“With smart grids, power will need to be priced correctly and people won’t invest heavily in smart technologies unless they know what the pricing is. It’s a policy issue and the Australian Energy Market Commission is working on that but people think it’s progressing pretty slowly.”
“Also the market rules themselves have to change to take advantage of this new technology. We need to be clear on the role of retailers, networks, and others.”
One thing for sure is the market will belong only to those nimble players that can stay ahead of consumer’s changing needs. And for all energy-using citizens, that can only be a plus.
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