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EV telematics: Is home energy management the next big thing?

Susan Kuchinskas looks at the telematics market potential for enabling EV owners to manage home energy use from their cars

Some experts think that, thanks to government regulations requiring appliance manufacturers in the US to reduce the energy consumption of their products, there’s little more efficiency to be squeezed out of them. So the next wave of energy savings—and dollar savings for consumers—could come through a holistic approach to home energy management. Using telematics to enable electric vehicle owners to manage their home energy use could be part of that home energy management solution.

ECOtality has partnered with Cisco to integrate its Blink Network charger interface with the Cisco Home Energy Management Solution. The Blink Network charger interface will now be accessible through the Cisco Home Energy Controller, so that Blink EV Home Charging Station owners can access information about their EVs and optimize their charging and energy usage. By installing the charging station at the same time as the complete home energy management system, the cost to the consumer might be as low as $1,000 for each, according to Colin Read, vice president of corporate development for ECOtality. “Incorporating a home energy management unit is a no-brainer,” Read says. “Using efficiencies we already have, the installation cost goes way down, because you’re sharing it with two devices.” (For more on ECOtality, see ‘Telematics and EVs: Things to do while charging ’.)

In a similar deal last year, Ford Motor Co. and Microsoft Corp. announced they would implement the Microsoft Hohm energy management application for Ford’s electric vehicles, starting with the Focus Electric. Hohm can help hybrid and EV owners determine the best and cheapest times to plug in, while helping utility companies manage loads.

The newest entrant is Tendril’s Energize platform, which aims to get consumers, utility companies, and ecosystem partners cooperating. Tendril’s vehicle-to-home integration could allow utilities to better balance loads while allowing EV owners—and other homeowners, as well—to prioritize which devices draw electricity under peak load conditions. It recently demonstrated a service based on the location of the vehicle that could automatically turn up the home’s heat or air conditioning when the car had reached a preset distance on its homeward path.
“Now you have a highly consumer-friendly home control capability that is close to ‘set it and forget it,’” says Dennis Kyle, vice president of strategic and new market development for Tendril. “And it’s managing a lot of complexity in a way that’s super-simplified for the consumer.” (For more on managing charging loads, see ‘Telematics and smart grids: The business opportunity’.)

Overcoming barriers to adoption

The first barrier to widespread adoption of home energy management is the installation of smart meters, according to Todd Tatum, product line manager for Cisco’s Home Energy Management and Smart+Connected Communities projects. In addition to sales of its HEMS through ECOtality, Cisco also sells directly to utility companies. According to Tatum, utility companies are still in the process of evaluating how to provide data to homeowners and how to encourage interaction.

But this market won’t take off unless utilities do a better job of explaining the benefits of home energy management to consumers, according to Suzanne Shelton, principal of The Shelton Group, a green market research firm and advertising agency. The Shelton Group, which polls consumers in the United States four times a year, found that approximately one third of respondents said they’d be likely to buy an electric car.

But in another part of the study that asked about home energy monitoring systems, 77 percent said they didn’t need one; only 17 percent said they needed to install one. Worse, of that 17 percent who thought they needed to manage their energy, only a third said they were likely to get the job done. “That’s the size of the market right now,” says Shelton. “More important, we’re talking about major behavior change. That doesn’t happen overnight. There is no American today saying, ‘I really want to manage my power.’ We just want to turn the lights on, and we want it to be cheap.”

Tendril hopes to make home energy management more fun with its Energize suite by providing personalized recommendations, expert advice, and social communities to help users achieve their energy-saving goals. “We’re getting the information and interacting with the consumer in a way that’s conducive to them participating in their energy and in something they perceive as a positive experience,” Kyle says.

Growing the market

In addition to home energy management solutions themselves, there’s also money to be made in applications, servers, networking equipment, and other hardware as well as ongoing services for collecting and monitoring data about vehicle charging, according to Pike Research. A recent Pike Research report forecast the investment in electric vehicle IT systems will reach a cumulative total of $5.1 billion during the period from 2010 to 2015.

“The combo will be compelling for the niche consumer, the early adopter,” says Shelton. “The good news is that those in our ‘true believer’ segment, the segment most open to [environmental choices], are also the early technology adopters. The idea that I can build in all this stuff to manage my energy at home might be an appealing play, especially for the upper income of the segment.” The bottom line, according to Shelton: “You should look at it and integrate it with the structure for plug-ins, but you need to have realistic expectations.”

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on EV infrastructure, join the sector’s other key player at PHEV/EV Infrastructure and Business Japan 2011 on September 7-8 in Tokyo and Plug-in Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Europe 2011 on October 11-12 in Frankfurt.

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