Can gorgeous design, learning algorithms and millions in venture capital funding make a simple home thermostat as coveted as the iPhone? If anyone can achieve such a lofty goal it’s Tony Fadell, the godfather of the iPod and iPhone, who has founded connected thermostat company Nest.
Build your energy-smart home with iPhone-compatible thermostats from Home Depot. That’s the new product from Radio Thermostat, as well as the goal of the U-SNAP Alliance, which seeks to bundle Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z Wave, FM radio and other flavors of communications for the energy-aware home.
The smart grid-smart home nexus needs standards for communications and interoperability to emerge before appliance makers, consumer electronics manufacturers and IT players can start rolling out energy-smart household gear en masse. One of those potential new standards, U-SNAP (Utility Smart Network Access Port), took another step towards commercialization on Friday with the release of its 2.0 specification (PDF). The U-SNAP Alliance membership roster includes Google, General Electric, Comverge, Trilliant, 4Home and smart meter maker Sensus, and wants to be a USB-like standard for switching different communications modules – such as ZigBee, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave and FM radio – in and out of mass-market gear like smart appliances and home energy dashboards. That would mean that new communications technologies could come into the home as a module, without having to replace all the hardware. As for real-world application of the U-SNAP model, some alliance members are moving faster than others — while Radio Thermostat plans to have U-SNAP modular thermostats on the market in 2011, GE plans to keep its smart appliances and Nucleus home energy management hubs in utility projects and “retail trials” through next year, and hasn’t made any specific commitment to using U-SNAP.
In the race between ZigBee and Wi-Fi to network energy-smart homes, ZigBee has so far taken the lead, but that doesn’t mean Wi-Fi is giving up. Here is how the two technologies place in the race for the home energy management market.