The 4 Levels of Autonomous Home Energy Management

The electric utility industry is on the cusp of a new era in energy, driven by the power and potential of an automated world.

Imagine a future where home energy management is fully automated and optimized – taking care of everything from adjusting the load of a house amid fluctuating temperatures and peak demand prices, to preventing a pipe from bursting and causing severe water damage as temperatures fall below freezing. Autonomous home energy management could fundamentally alter the way utilities manage the grid by creating a coordinated network between the smart grid and smart home.

Much like autonomous driving, fully optimized and automated homes are starting to become a reality. Every week, companies in the energy and IoT space announce new connected products and solutions to inch us closer to a futuristic vision of self-managed homes. At the center of this transition are electric utilities, who are perfectly positioned to take these innovative features beyond energy by becoming the hub that connects the whole home. There will be new opportunities for further monetization while providing the chance for utilities to not only maintain – but also strengthen their customer relationship.

However, the terms “smart home” and “home energy management” (HEM) have begun to lose their meaning as more products enter the market. The ability to control lights through a phone doesn’t make a home “smart,” but simply connected. Furthermore, analyzing last month’s bill to make energy efficient changes isn’t home energy management, it’s simply home energy awareness.

Just as the Society of Automotive Engineers defined the levels of autonomous driving – from no automation at level 0 to full automation at level 5, the convergence of artificial intelligence and IoT within the utility industry might benefit from a similar framework to move home energy management forward. The following levels (level 0 to level 4) define the path forward as we push toward home energy management reaching full autonomy.

Level 0: Historical Data Visualization

At Level 0, the homeowner is presented with historical energy data, typically in the form of home energy reports (HER) or online historical visualization tools. While this information can raise homeowner’s awareness of their past energy use, it doesn’t provide many opportunities for learning how to save power. At best, they might be able to get a 2 percent energy savings. But while only providing that small saving, it turned a light on in our heads, sparking interest in HEM and making the industry want more.

Level 1: Real-Time Energy Monitoring

In Level 1, homeowners acquire real-time energy consumption of their entire home. Products can receive this real-time data stream from different devices, such as AMI meters with Zigbee and a Zigbee-enabled gateway or current transformer (CT) clamps (the two major sources). Getting an instant look at their live energy use allows them to see exactly how much energy they are using and subsequently turn devices on or off. This is where home energy management moves from providing passive energy data that could only produce reactive change, to informing consumers on their live energy use as it happens.

This previously unused data stream is the foundation of any home energy management solution. Real-time energy monitoring can empower homeowners to make energy efficient decisions by creating a live view of electricity consumption and educating them on where energy waste is occurring.

Many home energy management solutions stop here, however, this doesn’t have to be the case. Once consumers can see their energy consumption, they naturally want the ability to better control it. They can then take home energy management to the next level through connected devices.

Level 2: Real-Time + Connected Devices

Level 2 offers true home energy management – bridging the gap between being able to see real-time energy consumption and control the devices using it. While management is still dependent upon the consumer, they gain the ability to manage their home and energy from anywhere, remotely. This is made possible through an array of connected devices in the home using protocols such as Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Wi-Fi.

With device control, users can easily command everything from connected thermostats, bulbs, door locks, and even Jacuzzis. Level 2 empowers consumers to not only become informed on what devices and appliances are consuming energy, but begin to manage their use and even set rules for devices so they perform their duties on specific schedules.

Most “smart home” solutions today are a bit of a misnomer, and fall just behind Level 2, since they lack integrated energy information. They aren’t truly “smart” – at least not yet. It’s not until Level 3 that homes begin to offer true intelligence.

Level 3: Insight-Assisted Change

At Level 3, the smart home actually earns the “smart” moniker, with technology automatically learning patterns within a home to find and suggest ways to control devices and ultimately save energy. Combing the real-time data feed with metadata from connected devices provides a home energy management platform the ability to understand exactly how appliances in the home are operating. This offers deeper insight while eliminating inaccurate information that typical “software-only” solutions are at risk for.

One form of insight-assisted-change is appliance health monitoring. This is where the platform can monitor the performance characteristics of appliances (learned from real-time energy stream + connected devices). This can then be used to alert consumers when certain thresholds are breached. For example, being alerted if an HVAC system is using little to no energy when the connected thermostat is calling for AC. Or that the refrigerator door wasn’t closed all the way, causing the compressor to continue to run.

While level 3 is an amazing leap forward for autonomous home energy management, the largest leap is still on the horizon – full autonomous home optimization.

Level 4: Autonomous Home Optimization

Level 4 – using real-time energy, connected devices, and knowledge of performance heuristics from the home and appliances, an autonomous home energy management platform coordinates a personalized and automatic optimization engine for the home. Balancing comfort and energy efficiency, learning patterns and understanding specific situations and occupancy – the home will take everything into consideration without the consumer having to lift a finger. The temperature will be adjusted automatically. Lights will turn on and off or dim depending on the context. Coffee will be ready when waking up in the morning, and high-consuming appliances will only operate at off-peak times.

The industry isn’t here yet, but we’re not far away. The beginning stages of level 3 solutions, like Powerley, are already available in the market. As Level 4 platforms make their way into a consumer’s home, autonomous home energy management stands to revolutionize the grid, with optimized features that offer the perfect balance of comfort and efficiency. This will open the door to new perks that go above and beyond energy savings, allowing for previously unseen levels of automated devices and appliances. It will create opportunities to better manage demand and integrate distributed energy resources when the grid needs it most. Level 4 could be the biggest leap forward in energy since the first power lines were installed.

Growing Consumer Trust in the Autonomous Home

As solutions begin to move through each level toward full home optimization, the volume and sensitivity of data increases quite dramatically. Level 4 solutions, in an attempt to create a hyper-personalized home energy management experience, will require the analysis and monitoring of many data streams that we may currently consider private. Access to this data, regardless of its benefits, may be enough to keep some consumers from accepting an autonomous home energy management platform.

As a result, trust will remain one of the primary barriers to entry for level 3 and 4 solutions, as consumers are asked to hand over control to a service that manages many personal aspects of family life. Utilities are already trusted and relied upon to deliver instant and reliable energy, making level 1 and level 2 relatively frictionless experiences. These two levels are often viewed as a new way to build upon the years of trust that utilities have already established with millions of consumers.

Level 3 will start introducing data privacy concerns as platforms begin to analyze home and user behavior to offer deeper and more personalized insights. It will be imperative that companies offer in-kind value and use this data solely as a means to offer the service, and not to monetize it for other use cases outside of the energy industry.

Reaching level 4 will be the greatest hurdle and will require a strong foundation of trust between the provider and the consumer. Offering high-value insights through level 3 systems, combined with careful handling of private user data, will lay the foundation for consumer acceptance of level 4 full autonomy in their homes. It is paramount that utilities strengthen their relationship with their customers by offering solutions in levels 1-3 so when level 4 solutions begin to hit the market, they can lead the way instead of becoming disintermediated from outside industries.

The Power and Potential

The utility industry is on the cusp of a new era in energy that is being driven by the power and potential of an automated world. It is more than science fiction – autonomous energy management is coming, and it will be much more efficient, personalized, and intuitive than anything we have ever seen before in the energy management space. The journey between these four levels lay out a framework to help move the industry forward and offer guidance as utilities navigate the complexities and challenges these solutions will inevitably bring on the path toward full autonomy. Though, most importantly, it illustrates the immense opportunity awaiting us as we carry home energy management into our new connected autonomous world.

Originally published on SEPA.