Opening up the smart home


Edmund Barrett,
RWE SmartHome –
Product Manager
Interview with Edmund Barrett, RWE SmartHome – Product Manager

By Anthony Pohl, Conference Manager, Smart Homes 2011

For some time, smart homes have been seen as a “future” concept. There has been a long term vision, and much discussion of what is possible, but when it comes to pulling together a business case, a solution and making it happen, the results have been lacking.

Step in RWE, who have now began to market their first smart homes offering. Giving customers the opportunity to monitor and manage their energy, this is an exciting development for smart homes.

What opportunities will smart home deployment open up for RWE?

In the first instance, an exciting new product within the RWE Effizienz product portfolio, which offers comfort, security and convenience for customers, as well as a chance for them to save energy. For RWE, it offers a new income stream, and a chance to then develop further products and even apps which can then be offered to a “sticky” customer base. Long term it will also provide a useful connection, for both us and our customers, to smart grids, smart metering and electromobility.
What needs to change for smart home to see mass customization?

A decent protocol and a flexible user interface. We feel that we’re reaching that point with RWE SmartHome. We have an IP-based protocol with the option to increase the number of addresses through using IPv6, thus having an almost unlimited capacity for adding new devices. And due to our intuitive user interface, developed in partnership with Microsoft, the customer can define everything from the rooms listed, to what functions the devices perform, on what appliances, at what time.

Why have smart homes not taken off to date?

We’ve seen quite a divided market to date. At the lower cost end, we have a number of DIY products that perform a function but often require an element of DIY knowledge (drilling, rewiring, etc.) or cannot be combined due to differing communication protocols. At the other end of the spectrum, there are some very high quality products that can control the whole house but where the price is really more for a niche market. RWE SmartHome addresses what we envisage will be a more mainstream, mid-price market. A high quality product at an affordable price.

What do customers want from a smart home solution?

Without doubt an opportunity to save energy. At the same time though, they don’t want their lives disrupted by it. It should improve their lifestyle, not have them staring at a manual all day or being constantly told off for using too much energy.

What is your perspective on the need to partner with telecoms, appliance manufacturers and solution providers to deliver smart homes?

Clearly, successful solutions need to connect with as many aspects within the home as possible. That I have a remote control for my TV, stereo and set top box irritates me enough! I don’t want three different systems to control my smart home! With RWE SmartHome we’ve protected our state of the art protocol. It’s not open to all at this moment in time, as we want to maintain a clean standard. Once we have successfully rolled the product out though, we will be looking to incorporate non-RWE products into the RWE SmartHome network. Talks along those lines are naturally already taking place.

What is the value of smart homes for integrated utilities?

Well at RWE Effizienz, we wish to create a successful market for profitable products that save energy and increase comfort. RWE SmartHome will do this, but in the longer term can also provide the cornerstone of our work around customer engagement for core products, support smart meter usage, facilitate smart grids and ensure convenient charging for e-mobility.

How can smart homes be monetized for RWE?

We’ve developed a product that works within customers’ wants and needs. Yes, customers want to save money, but what excites them is often something else. They want solutions that fit with their lifestyle. They want neat gadgets to impress their friends, they don’t want to have to worry that they’ve gone away on holiday and left the lights on, and they don’t want the heating in the bathroom blasting away when they’ve opened the window to air the room after showering. It’s for these sorts of reasons that customers want the product and that is where we will start to monetize the smart home. We’ve launched our first product waves which address a customer need, and at the same time provide the foundation for additional devices and apps that go yet further.

How could the industry better coordinate the promotion of smart home development?

At RWE, we are working on developing more sales channels. We want to offer the chance for customers to see the product in the flesh and try it out. I think that will start to be a bit of a catalyst for better promotion. I am sure though, that as more competition enters the market, it will bring us all greater exposure and that will create greater customer awareness. That will help show an established market and once that is there, interest in developing smart homes further will appear.

Find out more about RWE’s smart home plans at Smart Homes 2011 taking place October 4-6, 2011 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.