Written by Steve Baynes, Analyst
With the recent explosion, popularizing smartphones in developed countries and some now debating the negative societal consequences these devices will bring from expanded integration into all life’s aspects, it is seeming that the smart energy industry has much to gain from the continued proliferation use of this technology by electricity customers. Our dependence on these pocket computers is leading to a new age of demand response and home energy management, highlighted by a developing relationship between utilities, electricity customers and their smartphones as energy feedback and control devices. As this explosion of smartphone and tablet use is only set to continue and accelerate, it will be interesting to observe how utilities increasingly use smartphones as a fundamental engagement, communication, and feedback medium with their customers to develop relationships and trust while providing data and feedback information that allow customers to make more informed decisions about their electricity usage, saving them both energy and money in the long run. Let’s briefly explore a handful of the ways these devices are making an impact today and their potential for the future of the smart energy industry.
Firstly, electricity utilities all over the planet are beginning to realize and utilize the potential of smartphones as feedback devices to communicate electricity consumption and cost information with their customers. E.ON, Schneider Electric, and British Gas are but a few of these actively applying smartphone apps as a way to better communicate with and inform customers on how to save energy and money. Examples of communications include: Daily consumption, daily/weekly/monthly consumption compared to historical consumption, notification of varying energy price periods (dynamic pricing, energy pricing rebates, etc.), CO2 emissions, advice to save energy and money and many others. More utilities are realizing and accepting the power of building meaningful and trustworthy relationships with their customers centred on access to data and pricing information and the ability of smartphones as feedback devices to help accomplish this.
Figure 1Example of one of the features of E.ON's
smartphone app showing historical consumption
data (Source: E.ON 2013)
Web-based user interfaces are now being used to integrate data and controls from programmable thermostats into customers’ smartphones also. One such example of this is the Tado, a product being released out of Germany for European markets that is similar to Nest and Ecobee in the US. Once the small box is connected to your heating system, it essentially replaces your existing thermostat and communicates with your smartphone using your home wifi connection, allowing you to manage and control your energy usage wherever you are. Apart from being a learning device that responds to heating and cooling factors individual to your home like insulation and window surface area, the highlight of this product is its ability to automatically lower ones heating or cooling settings when it senses the smartphone is away from the house and subsequently maintain your temperature preferences before one steps foot in the door when it senses your smartphone approaching. Quite a wonderful use of connectivity and geolocation to help users save significantly on their heating and cooling bills, up to 27% on average according to the field tests undergone by the company.
Home energy efficiency audits are costly and require significant man hours and kilometres driven to be completed. This is another area smartphones are beginning to assist in, as some studies are now mapping the potential of these devices to perform complex energy audits normally requiring certified and costly technicians. One case study has concluded that the smartphone-based energy auditing system has a high potential for both energy and emissions savings when compared to traditional auditing processes, with the primary benefits being: The ability to audit thousands of homes simultaneously; the mobility of devices allowing users to collect information inside and outside of their homes; the capacity to engage users based on continual feedback and involvement in the process; the effective user interfaces present on most modern smartphones allowing an ideal medium to communicate energy efficiency information; and, major reductions of CO2 emissions resulting from avoiding uncountable kilometres driven by auditors. While measuring and monitoring tools of smartphones may still need some years to develop and mature, this is an interesting approach to modernizing some of the service-segments of the energy industry.
Figure 2Smartphone app allowing the user to view and control home temperature (Source: Zipperer et al. 2013)
Smart homes are becoming an increasingly tangible field as innovative technologies open up new avenues for measurement, connectivity and energy management measures. These futuristic homes will potentially increase energy efficiency, decrease energy costs, decrease carbon footprints through renewable resource inclusion and transform the customer’s role in energy management. Central to the smart home’s efficient and reliable operation is an effective energy management system that is enabled through the innovative technologies on the grid and demand sides, notably through consumer electronics like smartphones. These have the ability to monitor and control energy at the device level (such as lighting, washing machines, HVAC systems, etc.) when connected to smart appliances and can provide feedback at the home level after merging all of this device-specific data. Smartphones are already playing a role in smart home energy management and it is expected that this role will not decrease moving forward.
With some estimates putting global smartphone sales set to reach 1 billion this year and nearly 1.7 billion by 2017, while having grown from half a billion only two years ago, it is clear that no matter whether one owns an Apple, Samsung or Nokia, these multiplying devices can already have substantial impacts on your home energy management and relationship with your electricity utility with further innovative ways to be incorporated into the smart energy industry coming soon.
P. Leslie, J. M. Pearce, R. Harrap, S. Daniel, “The application of smartphone technology to economic and environmental analysis of building energy conservation strategies”, International Journal of Sustainable Energy 31(5), pp. 295-311 (2012). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1478646X.2011.578746
Zipperer, A.; Aloise-Young, P. A.; Suryanarayanan, S.; Roche, R.; Earle, L.; Christensen, D.; Bauleo, P.; Zimmerle. D. (2013). Electric Energy Management in the Smart Home: Perspectives on Enabling Technologies and Consumer Behavior: Preprint. 12 pp.; NREL Report No. JA-5500-57586.