Editor’s Note: EarthTechling, always looking to forward the cleantech revolution discussion, is proud to bring you this column via a repost from partner GreenTech Advocates. Author credit goes to Steven Castle.
Will 2012 finally be the year of energy management? The movement is gaining momentum, especially in the commercial sector, where saving energy by integrating and automating building systems has become a best business practice, potentially saving companies millions of dollars.
The home market appears to be much slower to develop. But it is developing. And there has been some good news on that front.
The U.S. Department of Energy, for one, says it will put more of its muscle behind energy efficiency in homes and businesses, as well as electric vehicles, the latter of which could be the biggest driver of energy management in homes. Citing the DOE here may seem terribly wonky, but if the agency puts half of the effort into energy efficiency in homes and small businesses that it put into keeping solar company Solyndra alive, we may have something. Now to just get a Home Star program that offers people real incentives for making energy efficiency retrofits. …
Here are GreenTech Advocates’ predictions for 2012:
Energy efficiency becomes mainstream. I keep saying it, but one of these years I’m going to be right. 2012 looks like it could be the year. Already, energy efficiency is being viewed as a way to save money and cut waste, not necessarily to be “green.” And that isn’t a bad thing, because it gets more people thinking about efficiency. According to a poll by the University of Texas at Austin, 69 percent expect their household spending on energy to increase in the next 12 months. A whopping 80 percent of respondents said they would like to learn more about being energy efficient. This will only accelerate as energy costs rise. If energy efficiency isn’t mainstream now, it will be soon.
Energy management services begin to take off. Basic energy management services such as controlling a few lights and wireless thermostats from smartphones are being offered by big service companies ADT, Comcast, Verizon, Vivint, Alarm.com and likely AT&T, as part of home security/connectivity services. Reports indicate that the sales haven’t been stellar, but these behemoth companies are just starting out—and they have very vested interests in making these connectivity/pseudo-automation systems work for their businesses. Sales of their other services—be it security, cable TV, telephony, broadband Internet access—has plateaued, and they need to branch out. They will make this work, and many more people will be exposed to energy management, even of the most basic kind. On the custom side, we’ll see more and more energy monitoring systems incorporated into home control, from companies like HAI, Control4 and its Eragy app, Savant, Crestron, Vantage and others. These systems are already out there or coming out. And they’ll attract more users.
LED lamps come down in price. Ed Crawford, CEO of Lamps, Lighting Systems and Controls forPhilips Lighting, said last week that the “sweet spot” in a price for an LED lamp will be about $10. He points to his own company’s 12-watt EnduraLED (a 60-watt replacement). “When we were selling the lamp for $40, it was selling well. When we lowered it to $24.97, demand increase four times. At $9.99, LED technology will totally outpace everything else.” Of course, you can get cheap LED lamps at those prices now, but we’re talking about name brands here, like Philips, Sylvania, Cooper and Juno. Will we see the $10 sweet spot this year? Maybe not, but we’ll get a lot closer.
More solar on rooftops. Service provider Vivint is offering solar panel installations via lease-like power purchase agreements (PPAs). Some energy-efficiency tax breaks have been taken off the table in 2012, but not the 30 percent federal tax credit for installing solar PV, solar thermal and other forms of renewable energies, which runs through 2016. The price of solar panels has also dropped significantly, which is one reason why some solar firms have failed. Bottom line: Solar is more available and more affordable than ever. The market should continue to grow.
Smart grid programs will slowly roll out. About 20 million two-way communicating smart meters now grace homes in the United States. Millions more are on the way. But few are being used for actual smart grid services like demand response and Time of Use rates. This has got to change as utilities come out of “pilot land” and start rolling out actually smart grid services. And that will mean more smart appliances. There should be at least some progress on this front this year, by both small and large utilities, and likely in places where smart meters are in place, like California and Texas. Residents there should see more pricing options like Time of Use rates. Most utilities that have installed smart meters are collecting data and determining what to do with it. Unresolved security and privacy issues should also slow the rollouts. And some utilities may decide whether smart meters are even worth it.
Electric vehicles? We should see plug-in EVs from several car companies this year, and some are predicting that electric vehicles will quickly reach a critical mass. I wouldn’t be so bold. Unless gas rises above $4 a gallon in the United States, EV sales will likely show moderate growth, at best. Simply put, electric vehicles represent a sea change in our culture, and people likely won’t spend a lot more for the vehicles. Problems this year with the Chevy Volt could hurt the market as well. EVs may well become the biggest driver of home energy management, due to the need to “smart charge” vehicles at off-peak hours, but that’s unlikely to take place this year.