Powerley and AEP Ohio launch SHaaS in demand-response push

In a bid to improve its operational efficiency, utility AEP Ohio has commissioned Powerley to help it deploy a demand-response enabling Smart-Home-as-a-Service platform – based on smart home devices and new grid technologies. The goal is to have some control over in-home energy consumption, to boost grid-stability and avoid having to fire up expensive generation capacity.

AEP Ohio said that it will offer Powerley’s Energy Bridge home energy management hub to its residential customers with Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) – also known as smart meters. The utility will be using Powerley’s end-to-end hardware hub and software platform to encourage customers to take part in demand response events.

The utility also hopes that platform will help to add value to its relationship with its customers by enabling smart home device connectivity with the Energy Bridge – gaining a smart home in exchange for letting the utility access and control certain elements of the home’s power consumption.

Customers will be able to interact with platform Android or iOS apps on their smart phones. The Energy Bridge comes with a smart thermometer for managing HVAC systems, while also allowing customers to control smart devices from bulbs, switches and sensors.

Powerley says that its Z-Wave smart thermostat allows customers to better schedule HVAC usage – meaning that a customer will see a 10% reduction in usage, an annual saving of $65. The thermostat looks similar to ones designed by Tado, while the Energy Bridge hub houses Zigbee, Z-Wave, WiFi, Bluetooth, and Thread.

The Energy Bridge device will allow AEP to take part in demand response events, in which customers power down power hungry appliances like HVAC systems in exchange for bill credits or vouchers– meaning less energy is demanded by the household, lowering the grid-load. This can help improve network stability, or lower the utility’s energy purchasing costs when prices in the wholesale market are high.

Crucially, when it comes to customer relations, the Energy Bridge gives users the option to choose whether they would like to participate in such events. AEP will want customers to take part, and the Energy Bridge makes participation a lot easier for the household.

If customers regularly participate in the demand response events, then the utility will put less stress on the network, meaning the equipment on that network is likely to have a longer lifespan. This will enable grid operators to make savings which they can then pass on to energy providers and end consumers.

Customers using the platform are sent reminders of an upcoming demand response event and then receive feedback on the effectiveness of the actions they decided to take. This enables utilities to motivate participation in the demand response events with incentives – it is not clear AEP Ohio will be offering such a scheme.

The project will further complement AEP Ohio’s recently announced smart meter expansion to another 894,000 customers. The Powerley platform will give AEP’s customers a means with which they can interact with the smart metering data. The extra meters will be deployed on Silver Spring Network’s Wi-SUN platform – for low-power wireless communication.

In other SHaaS news, Centrica launched its Hive smart home product in the US through its subsidiary Direct Energy – which will offer a new a service plan called ‘Connect to Comfort 24’ in six states. The plan requires a 24-month commitment, and the customer receives a free installation of Hive and accompanying smart thermostat. Hive has already proven popular in the UK, being installed in over 360,000 homes.

In addition to the Hive equipment, Direct Energy is also providing a fixed-rate energy price for the two-year duration – something it may need to rely on, given that smart homes should reduce the amount of electricity required by the home in the first place. But as with all SHaaS offerings, which are also seen in TV and ISP deals, the goal is to make the current offering much stickier, by making it hard to churn away from.

SHaaS is a tool that can enable different approaches. AEP is trying to encourage its customers to take part in a particular activity it sees as beneficial, while Centrica is using SHaaS to upsell its existing services, reducing churn and tying customer into (potentially) longer more expensive agreements.

Riot anticipates a range of other service providers to offer more SHaaS products. Both Verizon and AT&T already have SHaaS offerings, mainly addressing home security, but once connectivity has been added to a home through a hub it is easy to install additional sensors for different applications. Additional equipment can easily be sold in packages, with different tiers and monthly payments.