Since Apple announced the release of its iPad, there has been chatter about whether this will speed the market penetration rates for home area networks (HAN) and the potential they bring for turning energy strategies on their head. You have to admit, the iPad certainly has sex appeal, and, at first look, appears to have more than enough capability to be that user-friendly “clicker” the masses need to make HAN easy enough to, well, use!
My own view is that the home area network has the potential to transform not just the way we use energy and equipment around our homes, but how we do business with the many vendors who supply them. No, I am not talking about buying my energy services from Apple, but I did read in a recent story in Earth2Tech about a patent filed by Apple for a smart home energy management system dashboard which would use household electric wiring (powerline communications) to control energy consumption of appliances and household equipment. This may mean nothing since power line communications is an old idea that never seemed to get off the ground. But it reveals that Apple is at least thinking along the same lines as Google, Microsoft, and others about how to use its iPad, iPhone and other gadgets and gear to control the gateway to the customer.
And, after all, isn’t that really Steve Jobs’ business model? He wants to control the environment within which the entire range of Apple hardware, applications, software and services operate to improve the user experience and build value for his brand. Who can blame him, the hardware that Apple produces is sleek and easy to love but the money made by Apple and its growth has been propelled by the ecosystem each new ‘got to have it’ piece of gear Apple releases creates and the share of revenue from its multiple streams.
Let’s face it the home area network will not really take off based upon managing our energy use no matter how much we care about the planet. Energy management is a big hassle today and for the foreseeable future. Until we are dragged kicking and screaming to real-time pricing for energy we probably are just not going to bother. But we will get home energy management—sooner than we think—as a result of the natural convergence of energy, security, information and entertainment all controlled and managed by mobile toys and apps from Apple and others.
Steve Jobs has a shot at my home energy management business with an App from the AppStore even though I would never think for a minute about signing up for Apple Power & Light. Google also has a chance to win me over with PowerMeter but it comes with baggage in my growing anxiety about how much Google actually knows about me and how it is using that information to track, target and train me. OK, OK maybe this is being paranoid, but there is something off putting about trusting Google that I never think twice about when doing business with Apple.
But Apple and Google do not really want to sell me energy anyway. They want a slice of my energy spend for the privilege of using their apps to connect with, integrate and make sense of the information about my energy use and bill.
There are likely to be plenty of home energy management vendors after my business when that day arrives, but I don’t really get excited about my GE refrigerator talking to me, or my thermostat being programmed just like by Windows Updates, or Comcast letting me see my energy use on the HAN Energy Channel on my TV. But I admit I can be seduced into an App or two for my phone or that new iPad I lust over. Or I could wait for the Microsoft version which will let me use my X-Box to play home energy management war games against my neighbors and other around the world for the Super Bowl of HAN energy efficiency—-Call to (Green) Duty!
You noticed that my discussion of home energy management never once mentioned my local utility. Those guys are living on borrowed time, and most do not realize it. Whoever controls the gateway to the customer will be able to define the rules of engagement and you can bet they will lead with their high value-added products and services and through in a few home energy apps along the way to keep me hooked. Utilities may not have a chance in this asynchronous home energy warfare ahead. There is nothing fun about kilowatt hours and therms.