Home Energy Management: Innovating Beyond the Browser

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the role that online social networks can play in the nascent home management space. But why should Facebook and Twitter have all the fun?
Startups and software developers that cut their teeth delivering Web 2.0 goodness in recent years will soon get a chance to apply their expertise to the smart grid. What’s the draw?  Smart-grid projects are establishing a market with the potential to encompass millions of households, an opportunity that grows larger as smart meter rollouts build momentum. Microsoft and Google certainly see the value, as do startups like Efficiency 2.0 and Greenbox that are cooking up web-based home energy portals.
Although I maintain that energy information displays are a necessity, it’s time to start thinking about an ecosystem that harnesses energy consumption data and uses it to engage consumers in innovative ways. Web portals are a good start. Energy information displays can’t match the comfort and convenience of accessing consumption information on a web-enabled smartphone or pulling up to your web browser in your favorite task chair (hopefully an eco-friendly one).
Not everyone wants to take on the industry giants in the web-based energy management game, however. Let’s look at a handful of innovations that startups and developers can help bring to the smart grid.
The Personal Finance Link
Intuit, maker of QuickBooks and Quicken, is buying Mint.com for $170 million. Intuit spotted an opportunity here, and smart-grid startups could do the same: Personal finance technology is largely blind to energy bills until they take that once-a-month bite out of the bank account. Firms that link real-time energy consumption, billing and personal finance data will provide customers tools that combine energy and money management. As you know, money talks to the frugal and freewheeling alike.
Mobile Apps
I’m not bothered that there’s no Microsoft Hohm iPhone app available yet, but I will be when my smart meter is eventually installed. Take a look at screenshots of most energy management portals, and you’ll see that they’re packed with charts, graphs and itty-bitty numbers that translate poorly on mobile screens. Developers and software firms that have mastered distilling sites for smartphone consumption have an opportunity to lend their talents to utilities and fellow smart-grid startups.
Augmented Reality
GE’s smart grid web site uses it, but only to entertain you for a few moments. Firms are already drooling over augmented reality’s promise for location-based advertising, but as the technology matures and optical recognition improves, it can do more than serve up ads or remake your face. Ambitious developers might want to go after data-center budgets by offerins systems that piggyback on power and cooling management platforms to provide facilities managers and systems administrators with tools that redefine at-a-glance systems administration. Envision bringing data center thermal profiles off the computer screen and onto a handheld to guide and speed up maintenance (say, “scanning” a rack of servers for consumption and cooling statistics) and you get the idea. The leap from into meatspace may even help reveal deficiencies (or opportunities) like server placement that are tough to judge from a dashboard in a control room.
Startups don’t have to know how the first thing about distributing power or building a better smart meter.  There’s plenty opportunity for web firms to help utilities manage customer engagement in a market that may reach over 100 million households when all is said and done.

Question of the week

Can web startups that missed their Mint.com moment find their fortunes on the smart grid?