By Michael Kanellos
Let the home automation games begin.
British Gas customers can now buy AlertMe's hardware and services and, once they install the equipment, track their power consumption through Google PowerMeter, the software console for tracking energy consumption created by the search giant. Consumers don't need to go through PowerMeter, but the data shows up when you launch into iGoogle, which the company hopes will better integrate power consumption data better into the daily life of consumers.
The utility is on a smart grid roll. Yesterday, it announced that it would deploy software from Trilliant to lnk up millions of meters.
AlertMe next wants to come to the U.S. and over the long term use data gathered by its equipment to fine-tune power consumption. AlertMe's sensors gather data from a home's meter every second. The mass of fluctuating data, conceivably, could be mined to determine things like which appliances consume the most electricity or which seem to be aging.
"That fridge is costing me 7.70 a month," rhetorically asks CEO Pilgrim Beart.
It could even extend to other applications beyond energy. Beart and his wife, for instance, have Zigbee key fobs. The AlertMe system in their home has been tweaked to detect their presence and then pings the other one with a note that says their spouse just got in.
The company is one of several in the space – Tendril, Control4, OpenPeak, Energy Hub, GainSpan and Comverge are some of the names – and many expect to see consolidation, mergers and outright corporate collapses, along with the occasional success story. Consolidation actually just started recently with the purchase of Greenbox by Silver Spring Networks for a rumored $20 million. A potentially larger market exists for systems that control lights, HVAC systems and other devices in commercial buildings.
The competitive landscape will likely be at least in part determined by three factors: contracts or alliances with large utilities or corporation, low cost, and ease-of-use. The formulas vary. Do you let consumers have complete control or do you encourage default settings? WiMax or cheaper networks? Deliver data to the TV or simple subsets to phones? No one yet knows what will make these services magically delicious. In the early part of the decade, a number of companies tried to sell ZigBee-enabled home monitoring and security services. It didn't sweep the country by storm.
One of AlertMe's salient points is that it leverages existing broadband and cellular networks and technologies. Data from the meter and appliances in the home is collected by ZigBee sensors, but communication between a home and a utility and/or the consumer goes over the pre-existing pipelines. In a sense, it's smart grid without a smart meter or new communications networks.
"We are not just marching behind the smart meter rollouts," he said.
The basic AlertMe system consists of wireless modules that are clipped to a power meter and a home broadband gateway. Consumers then clip on additional sensors at their option to things like refrigerators and dryers. The basic hardware system costs 69 pounds, or a $114, and additional modules can cost $80. AlertMe also charges a monthly service fee of around $5.
Beart, though, asserts that consumers can cut their power bills by around 20 percent: 10 percent comes from behavioral changes that occur after consumers learn how much power they waste, and 10 percent from automated default settings geared to saving power.