Smart Homes and Energy Efficiency at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show
Earlier this month, Director of Information Technologies Tom Spielman traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada to attend the Consumer Electronics Show known as CES. I sat down with Tom to hear more about the various new technologies he saw and his overall experience attending the event.
Helen: What is CES and have you attended before?
Tom: CES is the Consumer Electronics Show and it is huge. It’s held every year in Las Vegas and features any kind of electronic device that’s targeted at a consumer, homeowner or individual. This included everything from robotics to smart phones to appliances to sound systems to lighting systems. A big showcase this year was home automation and smart homes. This was my first time going to the show.
Helen: Why did you decide to attend this year and why did you find it useful?
Tom: A few different reasons, but the big presence of smart homes was the main one. The concept of smart homes is something that I’m personally interested in. I wanted to see what the industry is doing in terms of smart homes, learn more about where smart home technology is headed, and hear the industry perspective on potential road blocks. I also think how smart homes pertain to energy efficiency will make it something that CEE will want to get involved with in the near future.
Helen: Were there any attendees you were especially interested in seeing?
Tom: SmartThings, a local Minnesota company, had a big presence at CES this year and that really piqued my interest in attending. They are a relatively new company that was recently bought by Samsung. We had some conversations with them prior to CES and I met with someone from the company while I was there.
In terms of presentations, there was an entire day-long session track devoted to smart homes, and several sessions on the Internet of Things. The presenters were from a variety of different places, with people from Lowe’s Home Improvement, IBM, Samsung, various security vendors, and even whirlpool companies.
Helen: What were the most interesting things you learned or saw?
Tom: The big thing that surprised me was how many people were interested in smart homes. Everyone was there showcasing some kind of smart appliance and it seemed that they were all starting to see this as a huge potential market.
One thing the industry is struggling with is that even though all of this technology is available, there are still barriers to getting consumers to adopt it. The main ones being ease of use and cost. There is not enough interest out there for a typical homeowner or apartment dweller to pay thousands of dollars for these technologies. One solution that was discussed was subsidizing the technologies. For example, insurance companies could give people a break on their insurance for putting in a specific smart home technology.
Helen: Was there anything that you learned that is especially applicable to the work we are doing at CEE?
Tom: WeatherBug is working on something that is definitely applicable to CEE. WeatherBug is a company that delivers weather information through their website and apps. They have a new project called WeatherBug Home that is directly related to home energy efficiency. They are taking all of their weather data and partnering with SmartThings to make use of their sensors that attach to windows and doors. These sensors are typically used to tell if windows and doors are open or closed, but they also have temperature sensors on them. Using the sensors, WeatherBug Home can tell the temperature around windows, doors and various other areas of the house. They also collect information when the thermostat is turned on or off. Combining this in-home data with all of the weather data that shows what is going on outside of the home can essentially provide an ongoing home audit that accounts for day-to-day behavior changes. Using these combined technologies and data collection, WeatherBug Home can tell if windows are leaking, or when a home needs more insulation or air sealing. They can also provide regular feedback on a home’s energy usage. It is a completely different approach, but it is very similar to what we do with our residential program. Although our program has the benefit of seeing insulation level in person, it is just one instance. WeatherBug Home would be able to take into account homeowner behavior and provide snapshots of the home over time.
Helen: Were there any other technologies that stood out to you?
Tom: One company that I didn’t expect to see there was Pella Windows. They have their own system of windows with automated blinds built-in so that they can close automatically, even when no one is at home. This would be especially helpful with south-facing windows on hot, sunny days.
Another popular technology was smart bulbs – it seemed like everyone had them. The general idea is that you can control the lights from your phone, but the concept is still a little gimmicky and it’s hard to tell if there is any real value for the average consumer. However, some of these lights are now gesture based. This kind of change, or even accurate voice control, could be more user-friendly. I think that control of this type of technology, making them easy and not cumbersome, is going to be a big deal as the technology advances.
The technology that would allow you to control things in your home with gestures is not just applicable to lights. There was a company selling a ring that would allow you to use different gestures to turn on lights, unlock doors, or change the channel on your TV.
Helen: Is there anything that you are especially energized about after the conference?
Tom: Seeing the energy and the money being invested into smart homes makes it pretty clear that it is going to happen. Even if it’s still a few years out, I am pretty much convinced there are going to be some good energy efficiency applications with smart homes technology. The challenge for CEE is how we react to and take advantage of these new opportunities.