They are advertised as “tools” by which customers can smarter choices in their energy use habits and decisions, improving efficiency and lowering costs. These are SDG&E’s “Green Button Data” services accessible through the utility’s “My Energy” online portal. Using its recently deployed smart meters, SDG&E is allowing third-party companies to use individual customers’ data to provide guidance, information and feedback so that customers can use their energy more wisely and, perhaps, less expensively. We recently evaluated the five free home energy management services currently available on SDG&E’s Green Button portal. Our first impressions are mixed. Some of the services provide useful information, some less so. Because it is VERY early in this process, we aren’t jumping to any conclusions.
All of these companies are offering “home energy management services”, also referred to as HEMS in the utility industry. The next few years will mark a growth phase that will result in a number of company acquisitions, millions of homes subscribing to HEMS services, and product offerings that are more desirable for consumers. A number of HEMS vendors that have publicly announced passing the 1-million-customer mark, including: Alarm.com, Tendril, Opower and ADT. Nest will probably pass the marker as well in the next few months; iControl and EcoFactor are probably well past 1 million homes through their telecom partnerships; and a handful of other utility and non-utility HEMS firms are coming close. About 12 percent of U.S. broadband households have access to a website that shows their daily energy consumption patterns but nearly 90 percent use it less than once per week. Unfortunately, none of these higher profile companies are offering HEMS to SDG&E customers. The five management services that are free and available to SDG&E residential customers are:
Most of these “smart energy portals” are merely collecting data about residential customers and, to some limited extent, providing some of this data back to the customer in an easy-to-understand format. The primary functionalities offered are some basic energy planning/goal-setting, simple analysis and notification systems. All of these are somewhat useful but, at best, merely foundational for future energy management systems. None of them are offering any smart automated services without the purchase of some equipment, such as a smart thermostat. None are offering real-time electric usage information and only one offers hourly data. As we’ve noted in other articles, until smart automation becomes viable, residential customers won’t have a compelling proposition. Ultimately, these home energy management providers will need to offer pricing management (when dynamic pricing is finally implemented by SDG&E) as well as home appliance monitoring, home-based power generation system and electric vehicle management. Until then, SDG&E customers have five web-based portals available to them. Here are our observations about each of the energy management offerings:
Bidgely by Bidgely
Currently, this site is our favorite. Bidgely’s energy management platform allows users to control how they spend on energy with appliance-specific profiling insights. This takes the guesswork out of savings with highly personalized energy saving tips. These features are available via web and mobile applications. It is fairly powerful and easy to use. It was the only site to ask for very specific information about house and appliances and it offers a number of notification options when consumption goes up or down. However, it doesn’t appear to offer hourly data. Also etimated annual spending has not yet been enabled for Solar PV users. Most of the really useful data that Bidgely offers is only available through an energy monitor device that costs about $99. However, in order to spark customer usage, Bidgley is offering free energy monitors to qualified users who complete a survey. Try out this survey if you want to get more useful data from Bidgely and other energy management web sites.
Energy Usage Management by Incentforce
Incentforce’s Energy Usage Information applications provides energy use information and alerts through various communications channels – Web, Mobile, Email, and SMS. It shows hourly, as well as daily and monthly, but not real-time consumption. It offers a comparison to your own usage as well as a “similar home” but doesn’t seek the customer-specific data that would allow them to ascertain a truly “similar” home . It helps you fashion a “savings” plan if you are motivated to reduce your consumption. We did not find it to be a very powerful site and they made it quite difficult to change your password, but at least it offers hourly data. Again, the data would be more useful with an energy monitor hardware device.
PowerTools by Candi
It allows you to monitor your energy use and set goals to help you manage it. PowerTools is currently available for web, mobile web, Facebook, Apple iOS and Android platform versions Honeycomb (HC), Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean (JB). This app is integrated into SDG&E’s web portal and you can enroll through SDG&E only. It allows you to set consumption and savings goals and compares your usage over an “average”, although it is not clear what that average is based upon. It doesn’t appear to offer hourly or real-time consumption history. It doesn’t give you an option its assessment of your consumption based upon specific attributes to your home or your usage patterns. We expected there to be more services and options given that it was highly integrated into SDG&E’s system, yet that wasn’t the case. Seems to be more educational than interactive. Overall, a disappointment.
Smart Energy Customer Portal by Smart Utility Systems
It claims to offer its clients the most advanced Smart Grid Green Button data enabled customer engagement solution within the Energy & Utilities industry through tools and information to manage their unique energy needs wherever they are around the clock. It doesn’t meet these lofty claims — yet. In fact, it didn’t even have the City of San Diego listed in its drop-down menu of locations in San Diego County. It’s portal supposedly offers hourly data but that function didn’t work, saying “power usage data not found”. From all indications, this site is not ready for prime time; it is essentially just data mining and offering relatively little in return to its customers. Perhaps the most underwhelming of the current offerings.