30 May, 17:39

Whole Home Automation: Promising for Consumers and Climate

Whole Home Automation: Promising for Consumers and Climate

By David Kerans

WASHINGTON (VR)— The inexorable advance of smart technologies is reworking the $400 billion per year residential energy market, and the technologies already within reach promise to reduce peak US energy demand by about 10% by 2030. The race is on between traditional utility companies and a raft of innovative companies to capitalize on the new landscape, wherein home energy systems (think rooftop solar) can take pressure off of energy grids and also generate revenue for their owners by selling excess power back into the grid.

For insight into the technologies, the transformation of the residential power market, and the consequences for carbon emissions, Radio VR’s David Kerans spoke with Marita Mirzatuny, US Climate and Energy Project Manager at the Environmental Defense Fund, whose mission is to “work to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends, focusing on the most critical environmental problems.”

Mirzatuny explained that while the utility companies’ monopoly of the residential power sector is already a thing of the past, the future market mechanisms of the sector are still taking shape. Home owners will be acquiring ever more options concerning power generation, use, resale, etc. But the companies that make and install the relevant systems are striving to retain control of the power involved for themselves, not resting content as equipment providers.

The utility companies are not standing still either. Much like cable companies who shouldered the capital expenditures required to bring fiber-optic connectivity to the curbside, utility companies set up networks of power lines and distribution systems, on which basis many of them are justifying the imposition of special charges to residences that install their own solar power systems (the so-called “solar tax”).

Mirzatuny also detailed some of the complexities of the regulatory environment as regards residential power. In contrast to the Federal Communications Commission’s hegemony over regulation of the cable industry, for example, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not enjoy comprehensive control. The regulatory picture varies by state, and even within states, so it will take time for the commercial landscape to clarify and for market winners to emerge.

While the commercial players are battling it out in the residential power sector, “whole home automation” will proceed apace. But we probably shouldn’t expect smooth sailing. Utility companies or other big players may orchestrate regulations that can gum up progress in some or another respect, if that is in their interest. As the EDF’s John Finnegan commented recently on energy efficiency programs in Ohio:

“Utilities and large industrial companies have a strong motive to kill these programs, just as horse and buggy makers might have wished to kill the automobile. Utilities make money by selling more electricity, so when customers use energy efficiency programs to lower their electricity bills, the utilities lose revenue.”

Listen to the conversation between Kerans and Mirzatuny here:

Download audio file


David kerans, Environmental Defense Fund, Marita Mirzatuny, Politics
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