With major worldwide deployments of smart grid infrastructure now in place across the globe, it is expected that the smarter grid will enable the use of new tools and incentives so that customers can be more energy efficient. The idea is that people would save money and utilities would see a drop in consumption, therefore not having to spend money on new power generating plants.
But, it seems that utilities have overlooked a major existing communication tool which could end up being more viable than the smart meter- the smart phone. With the right applications, the phone should be able to do everything that the smart meter does. The great thing about the smart phone is that the majority of the population already has smart phones (about one-third of Americans have one) which saves a great deal of money and installation time for both the consumer and utility.
The smart phone has become an essential mobile tool, helping people to organize their busy lives more efficiently. Mobile devices provide a host of embedded accessories that we’ve not had access to before in a convenient, pocket-sized package: GPS, accelerometers, cameras, sensors, lighting and Internet access. Mobile applications influence and change the way we behave by increasing awareness. So why not give the consumer the ability to control their energy consumption more effectively by using the phone? Mobile applications will give consumers access to energy usage data on their phones from anywhere a cellular connection is available. This further empowers the consumer to change their home energy usage on demand. The smart phone can be connected to the smart energy devices on the home area network as well as receive and send information from the utility such as pricing alerts, messages, curtailment events, and confirmation notice for payments. It must allow the consumer to make changes to his or her environment remotely, for example, change the set point on the thermostat or switch off the lights. The technology must also be able to empower the user to review historical data for both current and long-term usage and to set goals while receiving positive and negative feedback.
With smart phone prices on the decrease, even more consumers will be able to afford a smart phone. Also, most companies provide their employees with smart phones.
It is therefore not inconceivable that a mobile controller for home energy management is rapidly becoming a reality. If utilities want to stay ahead of the pack and establish a rapport with their customers, they will need to seriously consider mobile connectivity. Utilities will need to design applications for relatively small touch screens that can provide clear data on energy use and billing. The ability to remotely change household energy settings will begin with controlling a smart thermostat and eventually morph to controlling any device in the house, as lighting and appliances become smart as well. Utilities that are not focused on this challenge, can expect to fall behind or lose customers. Utilities should consider text messages for demand response events, mobile access to an energy use portal and mobile control of home thermostat settings. The combination of the smart phone and home appliances with sensors that allow these appliances to communicate with other smart appliances will eventually replace the costly in-home smart meter monitoring tools.
Not only will the smart phone, already an efficient communication tool, improve communication between the customer and the utility, the device will also help to eliminate the unnecessary manufacturing of smart technology monitors. The smart phone will also give the consumer complete control over their energy usage, without jeopardizing privacy. The loss of privacy is the basic premise on which in-home smart meter equipment is built. With a smart meter, utilities will be able to understand the consumer’s energy use patterns and, where their appliances are connected. Utilities also use smart meter technology to reduce or increase a household’s energy usage. Many customers do not trust their utility and would prefer not to give their utility control of equipment in their homes. With the smart phone, consumers take back their privacy by being in control of their energy consumption.
As consumers already control many aspects of their lives via their smart phones, energy consumption will simply be yet another application to make our lives more efficient.
The smart phone offers a win-win situation for both the consumer and utility.