Creating An ‘Energy Playlist’ For Homes Through Solar, Smart Thermostats and …

March 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Who will sell, own and control the electrons that flow through each home?

That question may seem strange considering how the vast majority of American households get their electricity hasn’t changed much in about a century. Energy by and large comes from utilities, and it runs lights, appliances and an array of electronics that inform and entertain us.

But the rise of rooftop solar energy generation, the potential of electric cars to become mainstream and the emergence of smart thermostats are re-shaping the energy map of each household. The changes also are brewing new profit-making opportunities for companies, some of which are well-known brands that haven’t been players in the energy market at all.

“It’s not about the rooftop but what goes into the garage when you get the electric vehicles, and then you get energy storage and then you do energy efficiency. It’s all about owning that home. The rooftop is only the first step,” said Nancy Pfund, managing partner of DBL Investors, at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco last week. DBL is a venture capital firm that has invested in SolarCity SolarCity and Tesla Motors Tesla Motors. SolarCity installs solar panels and battery packs from Tesla for storing solar electricity, and SolarCity invests a lot of its resources on developing software to control all these equipment and to monitor the home’s energy use and spot energy leaks.

Dow solar shingles

How is the home energy map changing? For one thing, energy from the rooftop solar panels reduces the home’s reliance on the local utility for power and, in some cases, utilities by law have to pay for excess solar electricity that flows into the grid. If electric cars become popular, then demand for energy will rise at night, presumably when people plug in their cars. And while the cars are connected to the grid, they also could respond to the utility’s need for bursts of power to keep the grid running smoothly, a task that is currently handled by fossil fuel power plants.

Then there is Nest, which shot to fame, at least in Silicon Valley, with its sleek thermostat design and software that learns a homeowner’s temperature preferences to adjust the settings accordingly. The thermostat can also control a home’s heating and cooling systems to reduces their energy use as part of a utility’s demand-response program, which signs up homes and businesses that are willing to lower their electricity use a bit during hours of peak demand, such as a hot summer afternoon, and get paid in return.

Google’s Google’s $3.2 billion pending purchase of Nest reflects the Internet giant’s latest interest in playing a role in home energy management, a market it was keen to explore but didn’t do well in during its previous attempt to promote a web tool that helped people monitor and manage their energy use.

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