Nest Partners with Utilities, Aims for Peak Energy Efficiency Across the US
Saving energy is a beautiful thing—a phrase taken quite literally by the creators behind the world's first “learning thermostat,” the Nest. Its sleek and sexy interface is enough to win over the hearts of the iPhone generation, but its technological genius is starting to win over the power market. Last month, Nest Labs revealed the new and improved Nest v3.5, while at the same time making its energy-saving features available across the nation with the help of a few strategic partnerships in the US utility market.
While most of us hardly notice thermostats, the tiny boxes adorning the walls of every home in America control a whopping ten percent of the country's energy consumption. Tony Fadell—one of the great minds behind many generations of the iPod and iPhone—didn't think they mattered either until he realized they also account for half of homeowners' energy bills. Inspired and disappointed by the lack of options available on the market, he decided to redesign the inefficient and boring looking “beige box from the 90s,” and create something that makes more sense for consumers in the 21st century.
Although Nests have been abuzz throughout Silicon Valley circles since the product first came to market in late 2011, it wasn't until now that a few strategic partnerships with power companies enabled its true accessibility across the country. NRG Energy subsidiaries like Reliant, Green Mountain Energy, Austin Energy and Southern California Edison will deploy Nest's next-generation thermostats around the US this year, offering instant online rebates to Nest customers. With minimal effort, the Nest will help most users save around 20 percent on energy bills each year, teaching them how to do even better over time.
Rush Hour Rewards, Seasonal Savings
Coinciding with moves to put Nests in thousands of new homes, Fadell and fellow former top Apple employee Matt Rogers have taken Nest functionality to the next level with tech-driven features to help reduce energy demand during peak periods, without customers losing control of their own comfort. Today, energy companies spend billions of dollars in unsuccessful efforts to incentivize people to reduce power demand during peak times like hot, summer days.
Nest's Seasonal Savings and Rush Hour Rewards features make use of the built-in Auto-Tune program, designed to automatically reduce power at key moments, while employing pre-cooling or personalized air conditioning cycling techniques to keep homes at comfortable temperatures. The system essentially learns about peoples' homes and behaviors to provide feedback and options that require minimal effort.
“By expanding our relationship with NRG, we can continue working together to turn the conversation away from cost alone toward a broader discussion about energy choices,” Fadell said in a statement. “Bundling the Nest Learning Thermostat with energy plans was a great first step. Now, the integration of Nest’s new Rush Hour Rewards and Seasonal Savings services promises to spark even more conversations about energy among NRG’s customers.”
That takes a huge load of the shoulders of local utilities, often forced to power up other plants or buy more power from third parties at higher rates as everyone cranks up the AC during summer.
"We understand when peak demand is coming," Fadell told CNET, "and work with your Nest, moving the energy load around so we don't have a peak energy problem."
Following last summer's record breaking hot months, the next-generation Nest (v3.5) is revealed at an ideal time, with a number of smarter features, including:
Sunblock: the ability to track sun patterns within a house, automatically adjusting to correct temperatures under direct sunlight. Connected to WiFi, the Nest will also take into account sunrise and sunset to avoid cooling too much in the summer or heating too little in the winter.
Advanced Fan Control: modes that allow users to control when and how long fans throughout the house should run for any given day.
Cool to Dry: AC that kicks in when humidity reaches excessive levels and becomes damaging to a home.
Improved Auto-Away to predict how long the house is vacant to help users save even more energy.
Apps, available on mobile and tablet devices, with improved messages/alerts and easy remote access to the Nest
"These services are new--radically new--and dramatically different than any previous efforts by energy providers and thermostat makers to get their customers to save energy," Fadell said in a post.
The new approach to a very traditional and vital industry is just the beginning of a larger conversation sweeping the nation. For now at least, here's to a better summer.
For a more in-depth discussion, watch this interview with Tony Fadell at LeWeb Paris 2012:
UPDATED: In another announcement this month, Nest Labs, Inc acquired MyEnergy, a service that allows people to track their electric, gas and water usage in one place online, with users in all 50 US states, cover over 1,500 utility territories.
“With less than 25 percent of the U.S. population connected to the smart grid, we’ve focused on developing technology that makes it easy for people to access the information they need to make decisions about their energy use,” said Ben Bixby, co-founder and CEO of MyEnergy. “We’re excited about the opportunity to join Nest to continue giving people useful, actionable information.”
Major move forward for UK’s nascent marine energy sector
Although the industry is small and the technologies are limited, marine-based energy systems look to be taking off as “the world’s most powerful tidal turbine” begins grid-connected power generation at the European Marine Energy Centre.
At around 74 metres long, the turbine single-handedly holds the potential to supply the annual electricity demand to approximately 2,000 homes within the UK and offset 2,200 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Orbital Marine Power, a privately held Scottish-based company, announced the turbine is set to operate for around 15 years in the waters surrounding Orkney, Scotland, where the 2-megawatt O2 turbine weighing around 680 metric tons will be linked to a local on-land electricity network via a subsea cable.
How optimistic is the outlook for the UK’s turbine bid?
Described as a “major milestone for O2” by CEO of Orbital Marine Power Andrew Scott, the turbine will also supply additional power to generate ‘green hydrogen’ through the use of a land-based electrolyser in the hopes it will demonstrate the “decarbonisation of wider energy requirements.”
“Our vision is that this project is the trigger to the harnessing of tidal stream resources around the world to play a role in tackling climate change whilst creating a new, low-carbon industrial sector,” says Scott in a statement.
The Scottish Government has awarded £3.4 million through the Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund to support the project’s construction, while public lenders also contributed to the financial requirements of the tidal turbine through the ethical investment platform Abundance Investment.
“The deployment of Orbital Marine Power’s O2, the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, is a proud moment for Scotland and a significant milestone in our journey to net zero,” says Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Net-Zero, Energy and Transport for the Scottish Government.
“With our abundant natural resources, expertise and ambition, Scotland is ideally placed to harness the enormous global market for marine energy whilst helping deliver a net-zero economy.
“That’s why the Scottish Government has consistently supported the marine energy sector for over 10 years.”
However, Orbital Marine CEO Scott believes there’s potential to commercialise the technology being used in the project with the prospect of working towards more efficient and advanced marine energy projects in the future.
“We believe pioneering our vision in the UK can deliver on a broad spectrum of political initiatives across net-zero, levelling up and building back better at the same time as demonstrating global leadership in the area of low carbon innovation that is essential to creating a more sustainable future for the generations to come.”
The UK’s growing marine energy endeavours
This latest tidal turbine project isn’t a first for marine energy in the UK. The Port of London Authority permitted the River Thames to become a temporary home for trials into tidal energy technology and, more recently, a research project spanning the course of a year is set to focus on the potential tidal, wave, and floating wind technology holds for the future efficiency of renewable energy. The research is due to take place off of the Southwest coast of England on the Isles of Scilly