Friday, June 17, 2016

Bringing the IoT to Life

On Wednesday June 15, 2016 the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) hosted our “Bringing the Internet of Things (IoT) to Life” webinar. We had the pleasure of being joined by Robby Simpson, System Architect at GE Grid Solutions, Dave Oberholzer, VP of Business and Partnership Development at WeatherBug Home, and Michel Losier, Director of Customer and Community Engagement, at NB Power. This webinar helped spark the conversation as to how increased engagement with energy usage is empowering consumers through interconnected smart home devices.

Kicking off the webinar, Robby from GE provided attendees with a high-level overview of what the “Internet of Things” really encompasses. Robby explained that as the IoT industry is still evolving, there exists differing opinions as to what qualifies as a “connected device.” Casting a wide net, the IoT has generally come to mean machine-to-machine communication and devices that use the Internet Protocol (IP) to communicate with either a connected system or a human.

Building off of his explanation of the IoT, Robby provided an analogy to help attendees further understand what the future of the “connected consumer” will really mean. Through his Analogy, Robby compared home energy usage to filling your car with fuel at a gas station. When you go to the gas station, you know the exact price of the gasoline you’re purchasing, the amount you’re putting in your vehicle, and how far you can expect to drive with that gasoline. Inversely, most consumers don’t know how much their energy really costs (until they get a bill), how much energy their home is using, and what they can do with that energy, which leads to poor energy management and un-educated usage. As IoT technologies progress, energy usage may start to look more like putting fuel in a car, where the consumer is more aware of the cost and the implication of their actions.

Additionally, IoT devices will enable the integration of energy usage information into our daily lives, whether it’s via an in home display, smart phone, or online portal. Further, these IoT devices are making it possible to design, implement, and manage next-generation demand response programs, increasing the overall health of the grid. Lastly, in the near-term, these IoT devices will enable the mass integration of distributed energy resources (renewable generation) and electric vehicle charging stations without interrupting grid operations.

While Robby explained that consumers can / will further be able to connect their devices to the grid via a smart meter, internet hubs, or third party aggregators, this successful orchestration of data is reliant upon standards. As all of the IoT devices must communicate together using a common language, it is essential that all devices adhere to the industry developed / accepted standards. While these standards are still developing, current protocols that have been widely adopted include the IEEE 2030.5 Smart Energy Profile, the Green Button, OpenADR, and Walled Gardens.

Transitioning, Dave from WeatherBug Home took the reins to explain how his company’s internet connected smart thermostats are using real-time weather data to improve home energy management. Earth Networks, the parent company of WeatherBug Home, is one of the largest collectors of weather data across the globe and for years has provided real-time weather monitoring to private companies, the federal government, schools, airports, and even major league sporting events. Understanding that 50% of home energy usage is driven by weather, WeatherBug Home is helping individuals integrate this weather data into their home energy management plan.

WeatherBug offers consumers essentially two services for free. The first service allows a homeowner to connect their smart thermostat (Honeywell, Ecobee, Nest, Emerson, etc.) to the WeatherBug Home network, giving WeatherBug Home the ability to adjust their usage based on real-time changes in the weather. For example, if you want your home to stay at 77 degrees throughout the day, your connected smart thermostat will become aware of clouds, rain, winds, and sunshine that have an impact on how hard your HVAC system must work to maintain your specified ambient temperature. The second service is a Home Energy Scorecard / mobile app that allows consumers to see their energy usage in real time, and make adjustments to decrease their bill and carbon footprint.

WeatherBug Home’s IoT service benefits the grid as it has been shown to reduce household HVAC energy usage by as much as 8%. When comparing a WeatherBug Home connected smart thermostat to the operations of a normal smart thermostat, Dave explained that integrating weather data lead to an 11.4% increase in efficiency. Furthermore, this benefits the grid by reducing peak usage throughout the summer. Additionally, WeatherBug Home is able to sell this reduction in energy usage back to the local grid–in the form of demand response–reducing the amount of costly, environmentally unfriendly energy that must be produced during hours of peak demand. WeatherBug Home is already selling demand response capacity in Texas through successful partnerships with National Grid and CenterPoint Energy.

As the last presenter, Michel from NB Power took control of the webinar to talk about the expected growth of the IoT industry, and how connected consumers are catalyzing this growth. Michel set the stage by explaining that there are roughly 25 billion connected devices currently in use. While this is a huge number–more than three times the population of the earth–the number is expected grow to 50 billion by 2020. All of these new devices will create billons of new customized data points, giving energy providers the opportunity to truly customize a consumer’s digital experience. Digitally engaged consumers offer more business value to energy providers, and energy providers have much to gain by converting and retaining digital consumers explained Michel.

Research indicates that all of these new data points are increasing energy providers’ abilities to utilize a consumer segmentation. The consumer segmentation allows for more personalized marketing based on attributes that specific subsets of the population hold as valuable. Moving on, special attention was called to the data from SGCC’s recently released The Empowered Consumer Report, which found that consumers are especially interested in adopting IoT device and enabled services such as smart appliances, usage alerts, and time varying rate plans. While Michel analyzed a variety of connected technologies, he explained that energy providers will be best served using the previously discussed consumer segmentation to engage consumers with these new products. Knowing that there is a subset of the population eager to become first adopters will help reduce barriers to adoption and develop real-world case studies and examples. Consumers’ likelihood of purchasing a smart home device increases by 90% when they know someone who has one.

Taking a look at the more immediate future, a new report released by iControl found that 50% of consumers plan to buy at least one smart home (IoT) product within the next year. Michel explained that these consumers are the most likely to buy a smart thermostat, a remote control management system, or a home audio / video security device. Lastly, looking at what is motivating people to purchase these IoT devices, Michel explained that individual security, energy efficiency, entertainment, and “keeping up with the Jones,” are the top motivating factors.

Following the presentations, all of the presenters and attendees engaged in a Question and Answer session, which can be viewed by watching the recording of this webinar. To learn more about the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, register for our “DataGuard – Energy Data Privacy and Security” webinar on July 20th, or to learn more about our recent research, please visit www.SmartGridCC.org.

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