The latest to target the smart energy home: Time Warner Cable

The 2012 CES show hasn’t even officially kicked off and already the smart energy home has emerged as a key target for a variety of sectors, including telcos, big box retailers, startups, chip companies and now cable operators like Time Warner Cable.

Opportunities and Challenges for Energy Market Deregulation

Deregulated energy markets, with companies competing with one another for customers, could be great places to test technologies and services to get customers engaged with their utilities. Whether that will lead to them saving energy at the same time is less clear, however.

EcoDog: Home Energy Management Rides Solar’s Coattails

EcoDog is trying to sneak its high-end energy management system into homes as part of a broader rooftop solar power system. Will the high-end buyers of rooftop solar help break open the market for energy-smart home devices?

Is Privacy the Achilles Heel of Cloud-Based Home Energy Management?

The cloud could make home energy management both cheap and powerful, but could privacy concerns nip that potential in the bud? Storing home energy data in the cloud means less up-front investment in microprocessors and memory for in-home devices — in other words, cheaper systems, which is what homeowners want. But that means sending private data — when people are home or on vacation, how much TV they watch and what appliances they buy — to far-off servers and data centers for processing. That may well ignite customer fears over privacy, which could lead to backlash, unless privacy is built in from the ground up.

That’s one conclusion I reached after talking last week to Intel’s Shahram Mehraban, who is working on the chip giant’s Home Energy Dashboard product. Among his comments, Mehraban said the dashboard will be powerful enough to accomplish a host of analytic and data-crunching tasks on its own — primarily to avoid complications of letting that data out of homeowners’ control.

The list of in-device tasks — things like differentiating appliances by using electrical signatures from household wiring, or devising “home” and “away” routines without customer input — aren’t unique to Intel. Other home energy management companies are working on them, and some of their in-home offerings are in the $100 to $200 range. Intel has tended to set $200 as a minimum for its system, and adding features could boost that price up even higher.

The cheapness imperative has led many startups to avoid the extra costs involved in giving their home dashboards the beefed-up computing power and memory to do complicated tasks on their own, like a computer would. Instead, startups like People Power, AlertMe, EcoFactor, Incenergy, Intamac and others are turning to cloud-based remote platforms to manage more complex, data-intensive tasks. But that means a new level of complication in protecting private data. Similar complications could arise for home energy platforms from IT giants like Google’s PowerMeter and Microsoft’s Hohm. After all, they don’t have perfect track records in dealing with customer data privacy.

The issues surrounding homeowner energy data privacy are as political — or in some cases, as psychological — as they are technical. For example, state utility commissions don’t have legal authority over third-party users of customer energy data. The only way they can enforce any privacy rules they come up with would be to force utilities to set up their own policing systems, which opens them up to costs and responsibilities they don’t want.

At the same time, it’s hard to predict how customers will react to the idea of new data being given out to third parties — even if, as is almost universally the case today, that’s happening only after customers expressly give their permission. Given the continuing backlash over smart meters, there’s probably good reason for utilities to be on their toes.

Intel isn’t the only one making moves to protect itself from future limitations on home energy data. General Electric’s Nucleus home energy hub, for example, has enough memory to store three years of energy data on its own, at a price of $149 to $199 for it, although that doesn’t include the cost of devices to interact with it.

Utility customer data privacy is emerging as a key concern for all kinds of third-party management of utility data. Examples include eMeter’s recent collaboration with Verizon to host meter data management software on the cloud, or SmartSynch’s partnership with PayGo to host prepay meter functionality, or Digi International’s cloud-based M2M smart grid networking system. Adding a lot of new privacy rules to how these new IT systems are run could add costs and complications — but privacy advocates say that preventing privacy breaches are worth the extra cost.

Question of the week

Will privacy concerns limit the adoption of cloud-based storage for home energy?

Smarter Water Biz to Swell to $16.3B by 2020: Report

water-drop-randysonofrobert-flickrMuch of what information technology can do for the power grid, it can also do for water management. With the smart grid buildout, wireless sensor networks, software, and computing will be used to let utilities track energy use and identify problems in the network in close to real-time, delivering a more efficient grid that’s better equipped to handle renewable resources. According to a new report out from Lux Research, better information about water usage could save utilities money, make water management more efficient and provide one of the simplest solutions to the problem of water scarcity, which scientists have warned will be heightened in coming years by climate change and other factors, such as population growth.
As a result, the tide of water infotech is rising fast, and just as the smart grid buildout could be one of the largest creators of wealth in the decade, there are billions to be made in smarter water systems. Lux finds the market for water IT is set to grow to a $16.3 billion in 2020, up from just $530 million today.
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Would You Be “Lost” Without Your Mac on Vacation?

As you head out the door, you have your tickets, you set the alarm. What did you forget? Unless you’re boarding Oceanic Flight 815, you probably have little to really worry about, but there are a few things that will ease your anxiety and ensure that your trip is as stress-free as possible.

Sometimes you just can’t go back in time

Time Machine makes backups automatic, but your Time Machine drive is probably right next to the computer. You might have a problem with a magnetic disturbance, or you might simply face more mundane issues like floods or electrical storms while you are gone. Before you leave town, make a manual backup of your critical data and take your backup offsite. I keep mine in the glove compartment of my car parked at the airport (password-protected, of course).

If traveling with a laptop, don’t bring your primary Time Machine drive with you. It defeats the purpose of having your computer and backup in the same place; just ask Ed Baig from US Airways Flight 1549 — or some of the passengers of Oceanic Air…They always face disaster. Read More about Would You Be “Lost” Without Your Mac on Vacation?

Why Silver Spring Should Be Worried About Cisco

When you’re a networking giant, it’s probably a good idea to develop a strategy for participating in the biggest network build-out of the decade. This morning, Cisco is doing just that, with an announcement of its game plan for becoming a major player in the smart grid, with technology for everything from the utility data center to energy management for the light switches in your home and the VoIP phones in your office.

Cisco estimates that the smart grid communications market represents a $20 billion a year opportunity as the systems are built out over the next five years, and the company is angling to seize a substantial portion of that value. For now, Cisco’s smart grid plan lacks a lot of specific detail, but it demonstrates that the company is making aggressive movement into the space — and signals to some startups that there’s a powerful new competitor (or partner) on the scene. One company in particular should be concerned: Silver Spring Networks. Despite the recent rosy glow surrounding Silver Spring, Cisco’s size and networking experience could put a few clouds on the startup’s horizon. Read More about Why Silver Spring Should Be Worried About Cisco

Round #1 Compromise on Climate Bill: Cut Clean Energy Requirements

A “discussion draft” is what Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey called their initial proposal for a climate and energy bill last month. And the discussion has been heating up ever since, fueled in part by multimillion-dollar lobbying efforts. The U.S. oil, gas and coal industry alone has upped its lobbying budget by 50 percent, spending $44.5 million in the first three months of this year in a campaign to green up their image and defeat cap-and-trade, the UK Guardian reports.

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee were supposed to come out with a final compromise version today after a scheduled horsetrading session last night. Some details have yet to be finalized, Markey told reporters late last night, but committee members gave in on several of the more ambitious rules to win the votes of more moderate and conservative Democrats.

Cleantech players, including venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and advocates, cheered the original draft when we spoke with them about it last month. Mohr Davidow Ventures cleantech lead Erik Straser told us he thought the bill was, in a word, “terrific,” and said he was “pleasantly surprised that we’re moving this fast.” But after last night’s negotiations, we won’t be moving quite so quickly after all.

Here are some of the key compromises for clean energy:
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