People Power gets an Origin story, launches smart home down under

Origin Energy has launched a smart home offering for its utility customers in Australia, using People Power’s Home HQ system – a smart home platform that uses some of People Power’s AI-bots. It follows a $1.2m investment in People Power by Origin Energy, which will initially be launching in the state of Victoria.

Currently priced at $199 AUD ($152 USD), the Home HQ Starter Kit contains a gateway, a smart plug, smart light bulb, temperature and humidity sensor, a motion sensor, and two entry sensors. Connected to a smartphone app, to allow a user to monitor and control these devices, the system seems pretty comprehensive for the price.

People Power’s IoT Suite is the system behind Origin’s new service. Riot covered the news that GreenPeak’s (now Qorvo) silicon was behind the then newly launched Presence Security system – one of three modular whitelabel platforms that People Power had developed, to offer to service providers to adopt and resell. The Bot Services are pretty interesting, and aim to improve the services over time – helping to reduce false alarms. The gateway design includes WiFi, BLE, Zigbee 3.0, and optional Z-Wave and cellular, with SD storage and USB 2.0 dongle options.

There are 6m people in Victoria (Australia has a population of around 24m), giving Origin a nice footprint to sell the smart home service into. Origin is the largest energy retailer in Australia, and has around 4.2m customers – and there are around 9m homes in the country. Origin says it will announce details on expanding into the other states in 2018, presumably pending results in Victoria.

For People Power, this is a big win – scoring the largest retail utility in Australia should provide it with some very useful operational data. This should let it refine its machine-learning tools, which power the microservices on offer to the likes of Origin – who are looking to tie consumers into contracts for services. For utilities like Origin, a smart home service could help to seriously reduce customer churn.

The sorts of microservices on offer include geolocation rules for triggering home appliances or controlling connected lights. For non-connected appliances, the smart plug should enable remote control, such as pre-cycling fans or heaters, or triggering washing machines.

Of course, this road eventually leads to utilities being able to use the platform to enable demand response (DR) applications, which will let them adjust in-home energy usage so that they can more efficiently manage their grids – helping them avoid firing up the reserve generation assets (costly, polluting) by tweaking a neighborhood’s thermostats, for example.

But the earlier stages will see customers reduce their own usage, simply by being able to automate or intervene in their homes. Being able to turn off heating when occupants are away from home, or setting AC to pre-cool a home so that it doesn’t have to be cranked all the way up when people get back, could allow the homes to cut their usage.

Origin will likely move to integrate its new smart home service with its battery storage offerings. It currently sells Tesla Powerwall and LG Chem RESU units, as well as offering solar panels for owners – with 80,000 Origin homes adopting solar, apparently. The next collective evolution for utilities will be tying the smart home systems together with the Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), like solar and storage.

Eventually, we see utilities moving to offering Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS), instead of these separate systems, which will use a lot of sensors inside the home to intelligently optimize energy usage. This will allow a utility to treat homes as grid assets, to dynamically route energy generated from renewable assets into batteries for later use.

Over time, the percentage of renewables inside a utility’s generation portfolio is going to rise, and solar and wind are already beating out coal and gas in many markets. However, they require some form of storage to accommodate their variable outputs, and utilities will be able to use these HEMS to this end – especially once HEMS penetration gets high enough.

As such, we expect HEMS to be offered by way of discounts or incentives, as it is probably going to be in both parties’ interest to use them. Traditional smart home devices can be used to flesh out the HEMS offering, making it more attractive to a consumer that might not be all that enthusiastic about renewable adoption – but who could be enticed by bill reductions and services like home monitoring.

But it’s a balancing act for utilities. On the one hand, wanting to sell less electricity seems antithetical to the business model, until you consider that all of this SHaaS and HEMS tech is intended to allow the utility to manage its generation costs more effectively.

Eventually, it might be able to forgo the emergency peak generation assets entirely, using a wide portfolio of cheap renewables to keep home or grid-scale batteries topped up to a level that can handle deviations from the norm. With all the data generated by these homes, the utility should be able to spot patterns emerging, and act accordingly.

Collectively, this should allow it to reduce its per-unit energy generation or purchasing costs, or at least smooth out the curves. It can then enjoy better margins on the energy it sells, as well as augmenting revenues by offering those SHaaS or HEMS services to customer – a greenfield opportunity, currently.

“Origin is actively planning for a cleaner and smarter energy future where customers are more empowered and have greater transparency and control over their energy use. Our investment in People Power is part of our strategy to develop digital led solutions for our customers that are simple, personalized, and effortless,” said Tony Lucas, Executive GM Future Energy and Business Development at Origin. “This collaboration with People Power has been critical in allowing us to rapidly prototype and trial a connected smart home solution and apply what we learnt into the product we are now launching for sale.”

“Delivering smart home solutions with a truly innovative partner like Origin, who share our commitment to develop new services that deliver comfort and control in the home, is inspiring,” said People Power’s CEO, Gene Wang. “Home HQ combines the attractiveness of a low cost, easy to install and use smart home service paired with a well-positioned consumer brand, to bring peace of mind to the people of Australia.”