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A Tremulous Terrain – Energy DashBoards

In an era of energy independence and increased global warming, using electricity smartly is as important as using it sparsely.

Transforming the ever increasing monthly electricity bill into richer energy information is a daunting task for smart-grid companies. In the DistribuTech Utility-Industry Conference, held earlier this month, many advanced home energy management systems were launched in the market. Schneider introduced its Wiser product set, inclusive of a wireless thermostat and a display; and Intel announced that Capgemini will use Intel’s Home Energy Dashboard in its utility consulting practice. Energate introduced a Smart Thermostat that connects to a display and other appliances on a home network, thus making it easy to control even from a laptop.

Smart Grid
A smart grid!

But manufacturing a device that stays up-to-date with the energy requirement and limits surplus use is a mammoth mission for companies. Mike Matthews, Business Development Manager, Residential Energy Efficiency at Schneider Electric Power Business states, “A lot of displays just show energy information, but because they show this all the time, it’s pretty easy to ignore as time goes on. We’re trying to give a device the consumer can really engage with.” To save money, a consumer could change the thermostat setting or delay running the dishwasher. If it’s pre-programmed and connected device, the change could happen automatically.

Demand Response Programs, that meet the elevated requirements of commercial energy consumers, are now also used by grid operators for emergencies, like power cuts during especially hot or cold days.

But, these advances are not without shortcomings. Edison Electric Institute observes variable rates show the shifting prices of daily power market, are not popular with consumers; without which they don’t have any fiscal incentive to shift their power consumption to off-peak times.

Another quandary is the high cost. Larry O’Connell, Product Line Manager at Cisco, informs that Cisco’s relatively high-end Home Energy Controller costs $500 during a trial with Ecotality’s EV chargers.

Keeping the consumers’ interests in mind, a lot of home security companies are offering smart thermostats and energy monitoring. Even smart-grid companies are concentrating on pro-consumer softwares. Cisco foresees EV charging equipment to lead the sales of its entire system, including back-end software and cloud services. Demand-Response provider Comverge published a survey of more than 100 utility executives who said that “Consumer Education and Awareness” and “Consumer Buy-in” were the prime hurdles in adoption of smart-grid.

Smart grid softwares need to keep two key points in mind – Consumer oriented product and Environment friendly technology.

Smart grids are of particular bearing for a developing country like India as it can provide a stable environment for investments in electric infrastructure, a prerequisite to fixing the fundamental problems with the grid. Without this, India will not be able to keep pace with the growing electricity needs of its cornerstone industries, and will fail to create an environment for growth of its high tech and telecommunications sectors.