By Ron Goldberg, Convey Technologies

It’s no news to anyone that energy demand management is a more critical issue today than perhaps at any time in our history. Small wonder, then, that load-shedding has become such a hot button issue, not just for energy suppliers but for consumers as well.

Because energy customers have differing needs, and because energy demand is not always predictable or symmetrical, a simple high-level diminishment of requested load by the end user is not an effective answer to the problem of residential demand management, at least from the utility’s perspective. Consumers are becoming more energy aware in general, but they are still largely unaware of how, exactly, their home energy is being used on a daily basis. Most consumers receive only one electricity meter reading per month, which provides little insight into their daily energy consumption and habits.

Until recently, the techniques and technologies for true energy monitoring in the home had been limited. But this past year saw a breakthrough in the form of Z-Wave’s Advanced Energy Control Framework (AEC), a specification for advanced energy management technologies that empower homeowners to make informed decisions for energy consumption. Z-Wave’s AEC integrates smart metering, consumer notification, automated load shedding and home controls to enable real-time energy management and to help reduce energy demand, while lowering utility costs and providing active control over home energy consuming devices.

Z-Wave is a low-power RF-based wireless communication protocol designed for control applications in residential and light commercial environments. Working in the sub-Gigahertz frequency range, Z-Wave is a reliable control technology that is impervious to the interference typically encountered in a residential setting, such as from wireless routers, cordless phones and Bluetooth devices. It has been adopted by more than 160 companies worldwide as a wireless control standard and has been extensively deployed to manage common household energy gluttons such as lighting and HVAC, which between them account for 24% and 47% of typical home energy usage, according to the US Department of Energy.

Z-Wave’s selection of interoperable home energy control devices enables AEC solutions for a range of consumer scenarios. From the homeowner’s standpoint this ranges from simple energy monitoring with smart meters and home displays, to fully integrated wireless networks including thermostats, home control panels, gateways, sensors, controlled lighting, window coverings and other electrical devices.

Zwave radio

This broad product base is already well established in the consumer marketplace, courtesy of such international leaders as Leviton, Ingersoll Rand, General Electric, Cooper Wiring Devices, Fakro, Wayne Dalton, Universal Remote Control and many others. The fact that Z-Wave is an interoperable technology allows consumers to build home control and management solutions that are brand agnostic and work together regardless of which manufacturer they are purchased from. Besides giving consumers an established platform in the home, Z-Wave’s interoperability assures energy utilities with a proven standard through which to communicate with these residential systems.

From the consumer’s perspective, Z-Wave and its AEC framework introduces accountability and understanding of actual home energy consumption. The home’s energy usage data is collected through a central control interface that shows consumers where they’re using the most energy and what steps they need to take to best manage their home energy bills.

From the utility’s perspective, the AEC framework offers a simple, robust solution that allows advanced metering solutions to communicate with the home directly. With today’s smart meters able to dynamically adjust billing rates based on energy consumption, utilities can now interface with the customer in immediate and meaningful ways, informing consumers of any changes in delivery and even making home-specific suggestions on how to tailor energy consumption.

Consumer electronics manufacturers are already building common household control devices that can facilitate these kinds of intelligent communications between energy provider and consumer. For example, Radio Thermostat Company of America offers a thermostat that has multiple RTM slots that can be configured for communication with a variety of smart metering technologies, including Z-Wave, ZigBee, and RDS radio.

The thermostat is not only capable of talking back to the utility through a variety of wireless protocols, but can also communicate with the user and work alongside other energy-saving strategies in the home. As an example, the thermostat can send on-screen alerts to remind customers when consumables such as air filters, humidifier pads and UV bulbs should be checked or changed to keep the HVAC system running efficiently.

With European member states opening their electricity and gas markets to competition, and other global regions almost certainly to follow the same pattern, the demand for smart metering technologies is on the rise. The advent of technologies like Z-Wave provides utilities with a clear path of communication between provider and consumer. But beyond simple metering lies a world of energy usage data that if properly understood and acted upon, would allow consumers to maximise their own role in residential demand management.

Z-Wave enabled devices in the home will allow these internal and external communications regarding energy regulation and consumption. In many cases, the management will be tailored automatically, such as through daylight harvesting and home lighting control. Aggregate techniques such as these throughout an entire home, and add a consumer base that’s increasingly.