What home energy technology do you expect to see as a breakthrough in the next 12 months?

Prasad Dhond, marketing manager for smart home and building solutions at Texas Instruments,
Wi-Fi is ubiquitous in most homes today.  However, smart meters and other home automation products typically use Low Power RF (LPRF) standards such as ZigBee for communication, which consume much less power compared to Wi-Fi.  A home gateway bridges between ZigBee or similar LPRF standards and Wi-Fi or Ethernet to enable control and monitoring of home automation and smart energy devices using any Wi-Fi enabled phone or tablet. These gateways will be provided by home automation vendors and service providers as companion devices that attach to a consumer’s broadband router.   The complexity of the gateway will vary depending on the services it provides and the different communication interfaces it supports.   The gateway will allow applications such as electricity meters, thermostats, LED bulbs and smart plugs to be controlled and/or monitored by any Wi-Fi enabled device.  As these applications gain popularity, the home gateway is sure to have a breakthrough year in 2013. 

Bill Kutsche, Business Development Manager, Murata Americas,
Energy storage, system software and the aggregation of more consumer-oriented feature sets, I believe, are set to advance the HEMS market within the next twelve months. One example of this is a growing offering by utilities of in-home connectivity, e.g, IEEE802.15.4g, ZigBee® 2.4GHz, WiFi™, 915MHz ISM, proprietary protocols, etc., as part of a suite of compatible components such as in-home devices (IHDs) enabling time-of-use (TOU) and demand response services. Increasingly these technologies will become an integral part of home energy systems. But this integration will only be successful in those markets where utility companies can recognize a strong potential for high customer participation and usage of these services. Expanded service and feature set offerings including TOU, demand-side management, remote monitoring and control via the cloud through mobile devices, etc., as well as software advancements will encourage the expanded embrace of home energy management systems.Energy storage developments too should affect the HEMS market. Effective and reliable grid storage solutions for energy produced by intermittent sources such as solar and wind have been an elusive goal. But progress is being made. One example of energy storage technology involves a liquid metal battery cell that is scalable. The technology promises to undergo little to no charge degradation over the lifetime of the renewable energy sources it will support. If successful, this and other new storage solutions will enable renewable generation to surge into mainstream energy management systems.

Oleg Logvinov, IEEE senior member, Director, Market Development, STMicroelectronics,
The concept of energy management systems has been around for a while but in most cases such systems are seen only in high-end homes or in homes of DIY enthusiasts. What technological breakthrough would energy management systems need to become as common as refrigerators in our homes? By recognizing what makes an energy management system perform its main functions well, we can identify where we can expect a technology breakthrough. We need a system to measure environmental parameters including room temperature, control zone valves and motorized dampers, among other things. We need good communications to gather data from sensors and send control signals to actuators. We have technologies for both. We also need to process the data and generate control signals to actuators. Today’s powerful microcontrollers are capable of performing these computations, but in order to perform computations we need to know what to compute, what kind of rules and algorithms to apply. What we need is software and the requirements for energy management software are quite complex. We are moving to a new generation of systems where software has the capability to implement learning algorithms and adjust environmental conditions based on rules that may include occupancy indication and other parameters. Another important function for this software is to support interaction with the user. The User Interface has to be designed to maintain a consistent look and feel regardless of the display it uses and it has to be capable of scaling from a small local display to a smart phone, tablet or large TV screen. Natural voice and gesture recognition are also mandatory features. Look for the answer in the new crop of devices that are capable of extracting such rules from our commands. The NEST intelligent thermostat is an early example.

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