Home Automation Networks (HAN) provide home owners an improved interaction with a Smart Grid, providing the ability to monitor energy usage and control the cost of energy. By linking smart appliances and other smart devices, a HAN can help decide when and how to utilize electric power.

As smart appliances enter the homes of the future, they will be able to communicate with a utility company’s communications node. The problem will be to educate home owners to the benefits of connecting to the smart grid. Many people are afraid of change, others do not trust change, some do not trust a utility to control their home appliances, while others worry about the security of the system. The change-over will be slow. People might start with a smart thermostat, and then add another appliance, and so on until they are totally comfortable with a home automation network.

The smart grid must work with smart consumption to work. This is where HAN come in. A HAN connects the smart appliances with smart meters to automatically regulate power usage and respond to utility notices of cost savings, by moving flexible usage to non-peak times.

The utility providers have not seen the value of entering the home automation side of the grid, thus leaving this market segment to the system integrator. We are not yet at the point where smart home devices can respond to utility pricing with detailed costing available to the consumer. When we are able to connect smart meters, graphical energy displays and programmable switches, sensors and appliances, we will see a fully integrated controllable system. We still lack a single standard wireless protocol for home automation, which has been a limit to this market segment.

Consumers will also need to be convinced that their time and money is well spent. The rising cost of energy might just become the catalyst for adoption of home automation. At present, home automation is only being employed by the owners of large homes with expensive entertainment systems. The average consumer has some elements of home automation in their programmable thermostats, pool controllers and entertainment systems, which are not tied together in one system.

There are different protocols in home automation today, such as INSTEON, ZigBee, Z-Wave, or HomePlug. By connecting the appropriate USNAP interface in to a device, that device can connect to any HAN. USNAP is an acronym for Universal Smart Network Access Port, which allows any HAN to connect to smart meters and other devices in the home.

Source: PG&E

INSTEON is a dual-band mesh HAN employing AC power lines and a RF protocol to communicate with devices, such as light switches, thermostats, motion sensors, etc., using the power line, RF or both. All INSTEON devices can transmit, receive and repeat any message of the INSTEON protocol, without requiring a master controller or routing software. The devices have automatic error detection and correction, and act as repeaters. The power line protocol is designed so that the repetition is synchronized, using the AC frequency as the synchronization source.

Zigbee is a standard for interoperable products that control, inform and automate the delivery and use of energy. All ZigBee products are certified to perform regardless of manufacturer. Every product needed to implement a ZigBee Smart Energy HAN is available. They are secure, and easy to install. The ZigBee mesh system is innovative, self-configuring, self, healing with redundant, low-cost, low-power nodes.

Z-Wave makes any home a “smart home.” Z-Wave is a 2-way wireless communication protocol for home control applications, with more than 380 interoperable home control and energy-saving devices worldwide. It uses simple, reliable, low-power radio waves that easily travel through walls, floors and cabinets. Z-Wave control can be added to almost any electronic device in your house.

NorthQ, a manufacturer of monitoring and security solutions, has developed a new smart reader based on Z-Wave. It has been designed to visualize power consumption in private households in a way that is transparent to the consumer. The NorthQ Power Reader displays the information on the computer using clear graphics. It provides information about how much power each individual device is consuming, even in standby-mode, while measuring CO2 emissions.

The HomePlug Alliance brings together individual researchers, technologists, market experts, and product developers to create a global environment where powerline communications can thrive. They look for new ways to use PLC technology, develop it and turn it over to semi-conductor companies to produce chips that use HomePlug technology in markets such as smart grid, the digital home, HDTV, home automation, whole-house audio, etc.

Using the Control4 EMS 100, utilities can offer savings incentives to their customers or integrate other control capabilities for home appliances, including plug-in hybrid cars. Control4’s tools respond to residential power demands and ask customers to turn down their energy requirements in various ways when a utility wants to manage its grid’s power usage. Rebates and lower rates are the rewards for participating.

Nevada Energy is using the EMS 100 in 20,000 homes and Oklahoma Gas & Electric is expanding its pilot program. The full power of the Control4 EMS 100 will not be fully utilized at the beginning, being able only to control thermostats, receive messages from the utility and be part of a demand response program. In time, lights, A/V, security and PEV will be added. The EMS 100 facilitates a two-way conversation between utilities and their customers.

Tendril Inc. is another energy platform that connects between energy providers, ecosystem partners and their customers. Similar to Control4, Tendril has an intuitive interface which enables customers to control energy use and participate in demand response programs. Its Energize program reduces the amount of energy wasted, increasing savings.

Simms Energy has monitoring modules that provide daily gas, electric and water consumption reports. If it can be monitored, it can be managed. They have a bridge that will work with their monitoring system and most smart meters. Their modules are designed to retrofit into existing homes, allowing the consumer to monitor usage using a mobile device, such as a cell phone, iPad, etc. The system calculates the total cost of running a house, storing information for up to five years. It also displays the cost of running individual appliances and pin points areas of waste.

Crestron has a system powered by Core 3 OS, which was developed and engineered like an IT platform, rather than an AV system, providing a basis for advanced home control and potentially the smart grid. It’s the first control system built like an IT platform, designed for the intelligent home. Upgrades can now be accomplished on any individual subsystem without affecting the entire system.

HAI, an industry leader in custom installed Home Automation systems, offers a family of HAN products designed for use in smart grid projects for the Utility industry. HAI HAN products may be customized to meet the needs of each utility customer. Utilities can specify the exact information that appears on a PCT or IHD. These products are designed to use the ZigBee Smart Energy and many other standard and proprietary RF network technologies. They can control any type of electrical device inside of the home for demand response.

The HAI Load Control Modules allow utility customers to control a wide variety of high consumption devices, such as water heaters, pool pumps, and air conditioners, for use in Smart Grid deployments.

Lutron has a smart grid solution, which offers direct control of lighting, HVAC, shades and plug-in devices, including third party devices. As with other smart grid solutions, Lutron displays real-time energy use and analyzes ways to save energy. When a utility company sends out a price change alert, stating that the price just increased per kWh, the smart solution from Lutron automatically increases the thermostat cooling point, lowers sun-facing shades, dims appropriate lights and switches off unnecessary appliances. After checking the energy consumption and pricing via the computer, the home owner can override the system’s actions.

Panamax is expanding its BlueBolt cloud based energy management system to include energy monitoring. Panamax is introducing a plug-in load control device and a wireless bridge that communicate via ZigBee. Integrators can see the energy usage of the devices in the house and control them, using web based interfaces. A variant of the plug-in load controller will be available to electric utilities for smart grid rollouts.

We have a long way to go before AV, lighting, HVAC, and appliances come together within a home automation network that will work with smart meters and the utilities’ back office system to communicate both ways flawlessly, controlling how and when energy is wisely consumed. Strides are being made in each area and we will see more systems coming together for the perfect balance of energy consumption and energy savings.

Len started in the audio visual industry in 1975 and has contributed articles to several publications. He also writes opinion editorials for a local newspaper. He is now retired.

This article contains statements of personal opinion and comments made in good faith in the interest of the public. You should confirm all statements with the manufacturer to verify the correctness of the statements.