HP’s Home Energy Experiment: Nice Display, But Now What?

HP Labs (s HPQ) has unveiled the company’s first foray into the crowded world of home energy management technology. The tech taps into the cloud, and uses a fresh way to display complicated energy-saving facts, but what will HP (s HP) ultimately do with its experiment?

The answer to that question will have to wait. HP isn’t saying yet whether it has any plans to commercialize the technology behind its so-called “Home Energy Intelligence Service” research project. But when it comes to HP Labs’ new interface, I’d say the experiment has come up with some interesting new ideas that might find their way into the broader market. (To learn more about home energy management come to our Green:Net 2011 event on April 21 in San Francisco.)

The Experiment

Using the Bay Area homes of seven HP employees, the experiment tested different variations of wireless energy sensors at the plug, appliance and household circuit level, all porting their data back to an HP-managed cloud platform. Researchers also developed an innovative set of displays to give homeowners a view into their household energy use and make suggestions for how to use power more efficiently.

Some of the aspects of the project, underway since November 2009, probably aren’t practical for commercial home energy systems. For example, the decision to pull data from an array of home sensors in three-second intervals, and aggregate it for broadband transmission to an HP cloud computing platform every two minutes, could just be too data-intensive and bandwidth-dependent for most homeowners.

The project’s interface, on the other hand, has a lot of features to differentiate it from the mass of home energy platforms out there. Martha Lyons, HP Labs distinguished technologist who worked on the project, shared some of those details in an interview with me, including a video presentation of how the interface displays its data. HP Labs will be giving a closer look at an unveiling event in San Francisco Monday afternoon.

Instead of presenting data in the form of graphs and charts, for example, it presents the home as a series of “rooms” on a screen, each sized according to its average energy use, and color-coded according to how efficiently that power is being used, Lyons said.

Red indicates the room is probably wasting energy — for example, a living room where the television and video game console are being left on overnight. Yellow rooms show where sensors or smart appliances are giving alerts to homeowners. Blue rooms indicate energy is being used in a more or less normal fashion, Lyons explained. Green, on the other hand, represents a room where homeowners have actually taken action to improve energy efficiency, which she says is a feature that helps people get involved, and stay engaged.

What’s Next?

It will be interesting to see what HP does next with all of this research. It certainly wouldn’t be the first IT giant to dip a toe into the home energy management space; Cisco (s CSCO), Intel (s INTC), Microsoft (s MSFT) and Google (s GOOG) are all taking stabs at that market, albeit via different routes.

Intel, for example, is working on a home energy platform that contains enough computing power to avoid using the cloud to manage much of the IT heavy lifting, which is a move it says it’s making to avoid potential complications involved with home energy data privacy concerns.

HP Labs, on the other hand, wants to leverage the cloud to increase the power of the system, which is a path being followed by a host of startups trying to lower the cost and complexity of the devices they’ll need to put into homes to capture enough energy use information to make them useful.

HP Labs also tried a wide array of sensors in hopes of figuring out which combinations could yield the greatest amount of accurate energy usage data at the lowest possible cost, Chandrakant Patel, the head of HP’s Sustainable Ecosystem Research Group, explained in an interview Friday.

“We wanted to see, at a home level, how we can have a single point to capture all data from the home and push it into a service like the cloud… and make sure we deliver a payback,” Patel said.

Patel said HP Labs saw home energy management as a logical extension of its existing work in data center efficiency and corporate sustainability and resource planning. As to how the research might find its way into HP’s business plans, he said the project was being looked at by HP’s business units at present, though he wouldn’t provide more details on that process.