Taking Up The HEM: Home Energy Management

By Darlene Bremer | Mar 15, 2013
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Home energy management (HEM) continues to be a growing opportunity for electrical contractors. With the increased energy-efficiency concerns of consumers, along with utility energy-efficiency programs in both deregulated and more highly regulated markets, there’s greater demand. According to Pike Research, worldwide users of HEM systems will reach 63 million by 2020.

“People don’t really understand how energy is consumed in the home and how that consumption and cost can be reduced,” said Thomas Pickral Jr., director, product management and business development for HAI by Leviton, New Orleans. 

HEM system manufacturers and professional installers need to demonstrate to homeowners what systems and devices use the most energy and when.

“This is good news for the electrical contractor since most HEM control devices need to be installed by a professional and studies indicate that most homeowners want professionals to install them,” Pickral said. 

HEM goals and features

Generally speaking, motivations for most customers include cost reduction, while other people want to reduce their carbon footprint, reduce their consumption from the grid, or push the development of net-zero homes, he said.

It is done through the actionable information that HEMs provide.

“HEMs demonstrate both actual energy consumption and costs as well as providing relevant action items that enable a homeowner to reduce that consumption or cost,” said Ron Pitt, CEO of EcoDog Inc., San Diego, Calif.

HEMs provide this information though devices, such as remote thermostat controls, energy analytics and, in some cases, remote plug and lighting controls.

“Higher end systems will have some degree of automation and provide granular consumption information that provides insight on where the homeowner is spending money on energy, allowing the homeowner to determine consumption down to the appliance level and make intelligent decisions regarding usage,” said Jay Fiske, vice president of business development and marketing for Powerhouse Dynamics, Newton, Mass. 

With 80 percent or more of homeowners’ monthly costs driven by devices that have dedicated circuits, such as air conditioners, refrigerators, pool pumps, water heaters, and dryers and washing machines, a HEM system provides visibility and control over a cost that historically has had very little of either.

Any HEM, Pitt said, is going to include some form of measurement, some form of control or both.

“The features of any HEM system can be defined by what it is measuring, what it is controlling, and how the homeowner interfaces with it,” he said.

HEM trends

“Two trends in the HEM market are on both ends of the spectrum. For those people who want to reduce costs but cannot make large investments, consumers can lower costs by using HEM devices such as remotely controlled thermostats,” Pickral said. 

In more specialized homes, he said, there is a trend toward increased connectivity to more sophisticated levels of energy management and greater levels of homeowner control.

With an increased general awareness of electricity consumption and its cost, more people want HEM technology to provide the information they need to make changes that result in either cost savings and/or less consumption.

“People are paying more attention as costs rise and as a general awareness of sustainability issues and climate change permeate the market,” Fiske said.

HEM is a robust and rapidly developing market; however, the technology is relatively disjointed, Pitt said. For example, appliance manufacturers are building smart machines, smart thermostats use occupancy sensors to optimize HVAC performance, and smart plug strips now turn off when not in use. But there is no integration between those products, meaning there are no end-to-end solutions.

“The industry must develop operating standards that enable homeowners to choose the products they want and have them interoperate seamlessly,” Pitt said.

Although energy costs are certainly driving the home energy management market, consumer awareness of HEM may be inhibiting its expansion.

“Five years ago, the technology was expensive and difficult to install. Devices recently developed are affordable and, with wireless technology, easier for electrical contractors to install,” Pickral said.

As the front line, in many cases, between the HEM device and system manufacturer and the new homeowner, the electrical contractor is in a position to identify opportunities for consumers to benefit from the technology.

“The HEM market is a great opportunity for contractors to be a channel to sell HEM systems to consumers as well as to service and maintain those systems,” Fiske said. 

Pitt said there are 79 million existing single-family homes in the United States, creating quite a large retrofit market that is going to take awhile to saturate.

About The Author

Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.





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