Trends in consumer electronics, by EPRI


Palo Alto, CA, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — March 15, 2013 – Two broad categories of consumer electronics technology are of interest to the utility industry – energy efficient consumer electronics, such as computers, tablets, power supplies, home audio, TV, and video, and connected home systems, including the various devices, appliances, com-munication, and software found in a residential ecosystem.

This is according to a new Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) report, summarizing observations from the recent 2013 Consumer Electronics Show that may have a bearing on our industry in terms of influencing the outlook for electricity demand or enabling energy efficiency and demand response.

According to the EPRI team, the year 2013 marks a transition in connected home systems from smaller venture funded companies to large established players from traditional industries such as HVAC, security, cable, and mass retailing. Although the business model is still evolving, the trend is toward lower cost retail DIY systems, instead of the install-and-service revenue model that was prevalent a few years ago.
On the technology side, the focus is shifting to the consumer experi¬ence, with a corresponding shift from hardware to software. The connected device space is transitioning to the cloud for ubiquitous connectivity and is transitioning to fewer vendors providing a full ecosystem of devices. The center of the ecosystem is no longer a piece of hardware (a gateway) but is the smart phone or tablet screen delivering a seamless user experience with content stored in the cloud. This shift is resulting in integration of devices with different native protocols (Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, RF) operating as a single sensing and control system.

From a utility perspective, the maturation of the connected device market provides an opportunity to partner with established retail players such as Lowe’s, Ingersoll Rand, and GE in their demand response (DR) and energy efficiency (EE) programs, the EPRI report suggests. All large vendors are developing application programming interfaces (APIs) for third parties to access in-home devices through the cloud. By developing custom APIs, utilities can deliver services to their customers as well as obtain data on consumer response that can improve the robustness of their EE and DR programs.

Smart phones and tablets have the potential to raise energy aware¬ness as the mobile in-home display of the future. Their penetration is nearing 50%, and the average person looks at them 150 times a day. This improves the opportunity for settings changes that can improve efficiency and provide DR (such as power alerts, energy usage, and demand usage).

With connectivity embedded in a greater variety of devices, the potential of social media to influence customer behavior (such as purchase decisions, usage habits, and energy consumption profiles) through targeted messaging or viral campaigns could be transforma¬tive.

Cloud-based computing services have the potential to provide a personalized user experience and make DR adoption and participa¬tion more viable for individual customers based on their preferences.

The report also notes that the communication methods supported by the connected ap¬pliances on display appeared consistent with AHAM’s expressed preference for Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and HomePlug GreenPHY. None of the appliance manufacturers displayed support for the CEA-2045 modular communications interface option. Moreover, energy hubs/gateways on display typically supported an integrated com¬munication protocol (such as ZigBee and Z-Wave) inside the device, and many of them also contained physical USB ports, which were associated with enabling optional support of additional protocols (via USB dongle).