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Custom Integrators Help Clients Monitor, Control Home Energy Usage

By Jeremy J. Glowacki June 5,2013

Savant’s SmartEnergy technology measures energy usage (and production via solar, wind, etc.) in real-time and can also deliver historical usage data from multiple energy management devices, empowering homeowners to make decisions.
Energy management was seen, for a time, as the custom integrator’s great hope for renewed relevance in a post-recession, increasingly DIYcentric, app-based home automation market. Although this so-called green movement stalled as energy prices leveled off, the economy improved, and smart-grid developments stagnated, many manufacturers in the AV integration market have remain committed to offering greener technologies and products that enable homeowners to monitor and sometimes control their electrical usage.

By nature, the high-end integrated home is an energy management paradox. On the one hand, it’s typically filled with room after room of parasitic technology that slowly sips away at the power grid, even in standby mode. Then there are products like lighting and shades control that are the epitome of efficiency. Somewhere in between are custom control systems that help monitoring and control power usage to non-essential consumer electronics, as well as smart thermostats and occupancy sensors that, in the hands of a technically astute systems integrator, can help a client feel less guilty about their technology investment’s impact on the Earth.

If you’re cynical, you may call “green technology” good marketing. Or you may prefer to embrace the steps being taken in the CI channel to address energy management and power consumption, whether the end-user client knows to ask for it or not.

“We are finding there are two segments: those who do have an interest and then those who want to be efficient but lack an interest or understanding in energy management per se,” said Reid Cram, director of marketing communications for Legrand North America’s Vantage brand. “Our approach is to continue to move the dial on energy management because, at Vantage, we believe in conserving our natural resources to protect the planet for future generations. That’s why we engineer each of our products with resource conservation in mind, allowing homeowners to both save money and protect the environment. From dimming the lights to monitoring energy usage and providing realtime feedback, Vantage Systems help homeowners responsibly manage their energy usage and lower their spending in the process.”

Specifically, Vantage offers sensor technologies for occupancy- and vacancy-based controls and daylight harvesting and is developing products to provide precise dimming of LEDs and real-time accurate energy consumption capabilities (starting with metering and sub-metering and then adding load-level tracking). The company also continues to write software routines that automate energy efficiency in its Design Center Software and plans to launch a new energy widget (or dashboard) as part of its Equinox interface.

Taking Action

Savant’s Jim Carroll said regular media coverage of “issues pertaining to energy use, efficiency, conservation, etc.,” have encouraged his company’s customer base to show more interest in energy products.

In addition to URC’s lighting control, which the company promotes for its ability to reduce electricity consumption by up to 20 percent simply by dimming a bulb 25 percent, its IP thermostat (the THZ-100), combined with its offsite access app (TC Mobile) allows users to remotely monitor and adjust building temperature via the internet.
“Typically, affluent homeowners are interested in their personal comfort but also focused on their carbon footprint–responsible behavior leading toward a greener planet for generations to come,” he noted. “At Savant, we continue to develop products that enable these consumers to be more energy efficient by providing usage data, as well as the tools to modify their behavior toward improved efficiency without sacrificing comfort and lifestyle.”

Savant’s SmartEnergy technology measures energy usage (and production via solar, wind, etc.) in real-time and can also deliver historical usage data from multiple energy management devices, empowering homeowners to make decisions. Its energy management products can monitor and provide usage data for just about anything in the home–from pools, hot tubs, appliances, and lighting systems. Once the consumer has an understanding of the power consumption data trends for each load in the home, they can then take action to become more efficient by leveraging their Savant system to adjust subsystems, such as lighting control, thermostats, window treatments and other devices that impact energy usage.

Crestron marketing solutions manager, Claudia Barbiero said that commercial applications have been his company’s primary driver for energy management, but that interest is growing in the residential market.

“Homeowners want sustainable products and energy-efficient appliances,” he said. “Homeowners are also becoming aware of technologies available to monitor energy consumption and find and eliminate waste. They definitely see the benefits of using this data to create automated events and presets within their home to save energy.”

Crestron control systems offer integration with AV, lighting control, shades and drapes, and climate control devices, of course, but its Green Light occupancy and photocell sensors also deliver ways for reducing energy costs and enhancing the functionality of lighting and environmental systems. Automation features, such as built-in motion detection automatically turn lights on only when a room is occupied, and schedule lights to turn off when the family leaves the house in the morning. Crestron also offers the option to include power metering in most of its lighting control devices and systems.

URC’s Cat Toomey said that “as stakeholders committed to the stability of the global environment,” her company is very happy to see the public embrace energy conservation initiatives, including green CE. “The nice thing about our green products, however, is that they’re highly desirable, even without their energy-saving characteristics,” she noted.

New Control4 products have implemented energy saving/measurement capabilities, including low-power modes, power measurement capability wakeup on LAN, and energy-efficient amplifiers.
URC offers conservation-oriented products in three categories. In addition to lighting control, which the company promotes for its ability to reduce electricity consumption by up to 20 percent simply by dimming a bulb 25 percent, its IP thermostat (the THZ-100), combined with its offsite access app (TC Mobile) allows users to remotely monitor and adjust building temperature via the internet. The THZ-100 also features advanced technology including “Intelligent Comfort Recovery,” which means that when the homeowner sets their HVAC schedules, it monitors the current environment and then intelligently, slowly heats or cools, accordingly, with dollar-saving efficiency, until it reaches the preset.

Although it does not yet integrate lighting and HVAC control, Gefen’s relatively new home automation system, GAVA, uses an extremely lowpower processor and high-efficiency power supply, using less than 2 watts, so it does not contribute significantly to the home’s energy usage. HVAC control will arrive by the end of the year, according to president Hagai Gefen.

An AMX home automation system allows customers to remotely and/or automatically power down or adjust settings on virtually any device or system to manage energy consumption. “Our control systems can receive feedback from sensors, such as motion, light, temperature, or moisture and send commands to media equipment, lighting, window shading, irrigation, HVAC, and other systems to increase energy conservation and extend the life of systems and devices,” John Watts, AMX residential sales manager.

You Don’t Always Get What You Want

In 2009, Control4 made an investment in energy management, with its Home Area Networks (HAN) solutions to complement its home automation products. These efforts centered on working with utilities to create compelling products and programs to engage consumers in conserving energy and participate in demand response programs. After a lack of general public interest in these energy management specific applications, the company adjusted its product focus back to its core value proposition of integrating consumer devices for better ease of use and convenience.

“We shifted focus from HAN-centric devices that tracked current energy use to enabling core technology enhancements to our products,” said Paul Nagel, VP of lighting and comfort at Control4. “New Control4 products have implemented energy saving/measurement capabilities. This includes low-power modes, power measurement capability wakeup on LAN, and energy-efficient amplifiers. Our new lighting solutions report energy use including ‘minutes off,’ ‘minutes on,’ ‘current power consumption,’ ‘energy used,’ and ‘energy used today.’ This information can be used by the dealer via ComposerPro to setup conditional programming around these attributes.”

Greg Rhoades, director of security and automation marketing for Leviton Manufacturing, which recently absorbed the HAI brand of products, points to his company’s ability to control ZigBee-based light switches and Z-Wave window coverings, and utilizing traditional hard-wired controls, as well.

“Temperature and humidity controls can be located throughout the home and can even monitor and control humidors, wine cellars, attics, greenhouses, or basements,” he said. “[The integrator can] utilize wireless devices for control over high-draw devices like pool or spa pumps, fountains, and electric water heaters,” he said. “The homeowner can dial into a specific load and see the instantaneous demand on that load, and choose to turn it off if they desire, or they can automate based on schedule or event. We’re working with utility companies across the country to help customers understand where they’re spending their money and encouraging them to act to reduce those expenses. We’re even sending messages from the utility direct to the consumer and displaying them on the thermostat.”

From the Power Management Perspective

John Benz, director of Core Brands’ power and accessories business segment, represents a product category that addresses energy management in a different way. While the BlueBOLT brand was designed to reboot electronics remotely, its hardware also measures energy and software to report that usage. You can track energy usage in real time or over time, and if you put in your utility rate, you can see that energy usage in dollars.

Despite these features, Benz said that often it seems that homeowners are interested in saving energy, but not interested in paying to do so. This challenges integrators to show an ROI for the homeowner to justify the costs. This could take significant time and effort, and still does not guarantee payback for the integrator. A key driver, he noted, is the relatively low price of energy, particularly natural gas.

Not that that’s a bad thing, but Benz’s hope is that an eventual shift to a smart power grid will enable utility providers to change residential billing to time-of-use structure, encouraging customers to spread energy usage throughout the day. “This type of behavior change will require enabling technologies to keep customers informed, and

automation technologies to keep usage efficient and scheduled. It is likely that these rate and billing changes will spur on interest and demand for new technologies,” he said.

Shannon Townley, president of power management brand SurgeX, said that he believes an increase in severe weather and the price of energy is forcing people to be more knowledgeable on the topic of energy management. “We view this thirst for solutions as an opportunity to educate both our dealers and customers on how they can use SurgeX products to protect their most valuable systems and manage them in a way that reduces waste as much as possible,” he explained.

SurgeX was one of the first brands to introduce a smart energy management platform with alerts, scheduling capabilities, and diagnostics, and the only manufacturer to offer non-sacrificial surge elimination as part of the system.

Energy management is a key component of the Richard Gray’s Power Company product line. In fact, the lineup was designed not only to resolve AC power infrastructure issues, but also to provide energy management benefits that enhance performance and increase overall system reliability. “We now support integrators by providing a host of new tools that allow them to control power products, monitor power usage and deliver stable, noise-free power to their customers,” said Jim Pelegris, VP of technology and business development. “One such product is the new IPAC-8, an IP-controlled remote AC power management system that incorporates both energy monitoring and IP control, along with a software application for utilizing multiple IPAC-8 units in a system.”

To meet the growing interest in energy management, Middle Atlantic Products’ offerings are developed not only to manage, track, log, and report energy consumption and device state, but also to make the data readily accessible and “futureproof.” More advanced power management and cooling options play a vital role in ensuring powerefficient AV systems that MAP’s racks house on large projects. The company also addresses this in several product families by enabling the system to reduce power consumption, turning any number of things off when they aren’t needed.

“Currently we offer that capability through power monitoring and control actions via our RackLink System,” public relations manager Becky Villareale said. “We also address energy management with variable-speed thermostatic fan controls; they run only when a certain temperature threshold is crossed and only run as fast and as long as needed to bring the temperature down to an appropriate level. Our UPS systems also save energy by bypassing the inverter when the voltage is within acceptable range, saving energy (and reducing heat).”

Although, as Control4 stated, efforts by utilities and technology providers to change homeowner behaviors and awareness regarding smart grid, smart energy, and energy conservation have not been very successful, many manufacturers in the industry are still encouraged enough by general consumer interest in managing power consumption to pursue it anyway.

“We like to think that we are continuously adapting to the changing needs of integrators and their consumer clients,” said URC’s Toomey. “As our Total Control system grows and expands, we’ll add more energy monitoring and management devices as required by the marketplace. We are always evaluating new feature sets that allow for things such as conditional and variable logic and sensors to monitor a home’s status.”

Jeremy Glowacki is editorial director of Residential Systems.