‘Smart’ products installed sometimes come with an asterisk *

EnergyLines March 2019

 

As technology advances, it helps electric consumers manage their energy use in new and engaging ways. Appliance and HVAC controls provide ways to help consumers reduce energy use during times of peak load demand. While these interconnected controls and devices are not new, their use is increasing as member-consumers take their first steps toward a connected home.

 

For many, the missing link to adopt this level of technology has been access to high-speed internet. Recent member-focused surveys, 87 percent of consumers stated they have internet access at home. While the speed of these connections is unknown, the technology entering the market today benefits from a high-speed connection. Electric co-ops are choosing to be leaders in bringing these connections to rural Indiana communities, providing member-consumers with increased options to connect their homes to the “internet-of-things.” This common phrase relates to how everyday objects use the connectivity of the internet to send and receive data among devices.

 

Appliance and HVAC system controls offer early technology adopters expanded opportunities to manage their energy use. With only eight percent of member-consumers having a web-enabled smart thermostat, there is room for growth in the use of this technology. As new devices are introduced, so are new challenges.

 

Marketing by the popular thermostat manufacturer Nest says, “Programs itself. Then pays for itself.” With Nest, consumers are buying a smart device that provides them control of their HVAC operations. Gaining this level of control can bring challenges. Shane Neher, Energy Adviser at JCREMC, says there is a learning curve related to how these thermostats control heat pump systems as they operate at their limit.

 

Neher says the backup heat operation of these systems are designed to turn on after a set time programmed by the thermostat. If the system doesn’t meet the set runtime temperature, it is designed to enter the backup heat mode.

 

“A heat pump system will operate longer than expected to heat a home if the backup heat setting is turned off to reduce energy use. Consumers might think there is a problem with their HVAC system as it runs longer, when the real concern is a setting in the thermostat,” says Neher.

 

 

To avoid this confusion, consumer education is important.

 

With consumers choosing to connect their homes to smart devices, tracking their energy use can be valuable for both co-ops and their members. The speed that consumer adoption takes place is trackable. This is based on the law of diffusion of innovation states that for any given product, 13.5 percent of the population are early adopters.

 

Author Simon Sinek, speaking at a TED Talk, says, “This law tells us, if you want acceptance of an idea, you can’t have it until you achieve the tipping point of 15 to 18 percent market share.”

 

This law highlights when the tipping point for adoption begins.

 

Sinek explains, “The majority won’t try something until someone else has tried it first.”

 

With the ability to provide consumers information about their energy use on an hourly basis, Advanced Metering Infrastructure systems and the Smart Hub application are helping increase the adoption rate of smart devices.

 

“This technology is becoming more prevalent and being able to control devices in your home is not going away,” said Hoosier Energy Marketing Manager Wes McFarland.

 

Neher agrees. JCREMC has offered the Smart Hub app to its members since 2015. The app helps members review their energy use and make changes to when and how they consume energy.

 

“Consumers are educating themselves based on their energy usage, which is great,” said Neher.

 

 

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