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Connected Homes March 2021 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: David Strachan-Olson

Amazon's Energy Dashboard

Why is this topic significant?

Amazon's introduction of an energy dashboard feature in the Alexa app might signal Amazon's interest in developing solutions for home‑energy management.

Description

Amazon.com recently updated the Alexa app with a new energy-dashboard feature that estimates the energy use of certain connected‑home devices. At launch, the system works for a few specific products across a variety of device categories including smart lights, thermostats, water heaters, televisions, and Echo devices. The system also works with smart plugs and switches, so users can connect any device for monitoring. Some devices support tracking exact power-consumption metrics, but others only estimate power consumption by multiplying a preset value by a device's time in use.

The app shows graphs of the energy consumption of individual devices and device categories over time. Amazon's stated goal for the app is to help residents track home-energy use and to encourage behavior changes that reduce energy use. Amazon is also adding a "Hunches" feature that will recommend automation actions that could reduce energy use on the basis of household activity—for example, automatically turning off the living-room lights at 11 p.m.

Implications

Although the energy dashboard is rather simple, it does provide basic insights into aspects of home-energy use that consumers might not otherwise think about. However, the system misses a number of appliances that are major consumers of energy, such as electric ovens, stoves, washers, dryers, and refrigerators. Imaginably, Amazon will work to add other device categories to the system in coming years.

Another limitation of the energy dashboard is that the system provides primarily monitoring features, with limited capabilities to take action to change energy consumption. Amazon could work with appliance and device manufacturers to implement APIs (application programming interfaces) for changing device behavior to control energy consumption. Many smart thermostats already have such features. Potentially, future versions of the energy dashboard and automation actions could help electricity customers respond to demand-response signals and help those subject to time‑of‑use electricity rates shift energy use to save money, such as by not starting a dishwasher until the price of electricity decreases.

Impacts/Disruptions

The energy dashboard is a small part of the Alexa app, but it might signify Amazon's interest in creating products and services for home energy and home-energy management. Home-energy management is a major opportunity area for connected-home technologies, and the area is likely to expand as homeowners adopt electric vehicles, rooftop solar-energy generation, and stationary energy storage. Other companies, such as Curb and Sense, have attempted to enter this market but have struggled to gain traction and interest from consumers. Potentially, Amazon could leverage its influence with households to raise awareness of home-energy management. However, Amazon might also leverage its influence to dictate to device and appliance manufacturers the exact types of energy features and capabilities new appliances need to be compatible with the Alexa ecosystem. This could further erode appliance manufacturers' agency to develop their own smart features for their products.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Energy management, smart appliances, home automation, demand response, smart grids, utilities

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Big Picture: Home Energy

Why is this topic significant?

Home-energy use represents a number of important opportunities—including home-energy management, smart appliances, renewable generation, and energy storage—in connected homes.

Users are interested in reducing energy costs, and making home improvements such as installing new windows and improving insulation, heating, ventilation, and air‑conditioning equipment may be the most important ways to do so. But home networks could also play a role in saving money and reducing greenhouse‑gas emissions. From the 1990s to today, many technology suppliers have advocated for energy-management techniques that rely on user control, such as monitoring and controlling air conditioners and heaters using a smartphone, web app, or on‑device energy profiles that users create.

Fast-growing momentum among governments, utility companies, and other organizations to install smart‑grid technology may drive the widespread adoption of sophisticated home‑energy-management technologies. Many regions have deployed smart meters to customers to decrease meter-reading costs but also to allow new capabilities such as real-time monitoring of electricity usage and for demand-response (DR) programs. However, in many cases, smart meters have failed to fulfill grand visions of smart grids and real-time monitoring. Instead, alternative solutions for real-time monitoring of electricity consumption have emerged. Inexpensive plug‑and-play solutions monitor a single electrical appliance, receptacle, or power strip. Whole-house monitoring of electricity use relies on inductive coils that install in a clip‑on fashion over electric-junction lines and connect to wireless-transmission modules. Solutions for monitoring natural‑gas and water use exist but are rare.

In the long term, as regions transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable-energy sources, governments and utilities might enact policies and tariffs to make electric grids greener. Policies could encourage consumers to decrease demand for electricity during peak periods and to time‑shift energy use to periods of high renewable-energy generation. A simple technological solution might set appliances to run during off‑peak hours. Alternatively, a utility company's central energy-management server could decide on an appropriate start time within the off‑peak window. A new paradigm for energy-managed appliances could have users specifying a deadline for a dishwasher's or clothes dryer's cycle to complete, rather than setting a start time. In some markets, utilities and their regulators have begun incentivizing third-party companies to develop, market, and manage aggregated DR programs to grid users. For example, OhmConnect tracks and aggregates small reductions made by its thousands of household subscribers, whom it compensates directly out of DR sales to grid operators.

Government regulations and policies to tackle climate change will, very likely, have significant impacts on energy use in future connected homes. Residential homes can make use of various distributed-energy-generation technologies—including rooftop solar panels and geothermal heat pumps. Behind‑the-meter energy storage, typically in the form of batteries, can store the excess energy residential renewables generate, time shift energy use, and act as an emergency backup. The introduction of electric vehicles to connected homes will also increase the energy use of homes sizably. Stakeholders have the opportunity to develop technologies and systems to integrate these various devices with existing home-energy systems and the electric grid to minimize energy use and energy costs.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 15 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Energy management, smart appliances, home automation, demand response, smart grids, utilities

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: