Given the climatic havoc to which energy production has been a key factor, sadiq mohammed puts the Home Area Networks into perspective
THE energy problem facing humankind is real and encompasses inadequate supply, excess demand, global warming and the growing carbon footprint, which is strongly believed to have impacted weather patterns globally. The world is warming, El Niño and El Niña are for real and we have experienced this in the recent past (hurricanes Sandy and Katrina).
Given the climatic havoc, to which energy production has been a key factor, the need to manage production and consumption is urgent. Traditionally, the commercial and industrial sectors have been in the focus for energy consumption and conservation. The focus now is shifting to the retail segment, largely of home energy users, which, in some developed countries with a low manufacturing base, is as high as 80 per cent.
Most utilities (your energy provider) have Contractual Demand Management programmes for industrial customers to reduce consumption at peak demand hours so as to reduce the risk of a grid collapse and major outage (as in the case of the US Northern Grid) when demand exceeds supply.
The utilities are now shifting their gaze towards the residential customer, as it is a very large percentage of the total user base.
Education of the customer and creating awareness will push the success of larger energy management programmes, which will truly have the customer tuned in to energy conservation and utilities to better manage the supply during peak demand.
To be able to conserve energy, with the least discomfort for residential customers and the lowest impact to businesses, the answer is evolving in Home Area Networks and Building Area Networks. With these technologies, you can switch of an appliance on demand, leading the way to better energy demand and supply management.
Why, then, the lethargy? There are some realities we must contend with, namely:
n Do we need more energy-efficient appliances? This is a paradox of a problem; there is less focus here, and in the past 20 years energy efficiency in appliances has traversed this space very slowly.
The good news is you will consume about 40 per cent less on an appliance bought a year ago, compared to the one that is 10 years older. Since 2000, energy start benefits have tripled.
n The small appliance is beginning to make an impact: The demand for energy from smaller appliances is growing at a much faster rate. Between 1976-1995, this grew at a rate of 4.6 per cent and it was projected to grow 50 per cent between 1996-2010, which will equal about 1,000 TWh (or 10-15 large power plants). Twenty per cent of this will be through energy leakage, which, by itself, will have the potential to save a dollar.
n Customer education is the key ingredient. This is the biggest gap that is holding back residential customer participation in energy management and conservation. The utilities are beginning to refocus on customer awareness and reach-out programmes are on the anvil for larger participation in energy management.
How can Han help to conserve energy? It provides the homeowner with the capability of remotely switching on/off; delaying, starting and, most of all, responding better to and participating in utility signals during peak loads to conserve energy.
Who will pay? The utility or the homeowner? This brings us to a perennial problem and is kind of the chicken-and-egg story. Unless there is a proven value/benefits model, the homeowner is not buying it.
As for security concerns on exposure to private customer data, this is a biggie for privacy advocates.  Usage patterns, hacking into Home Area Networks are some of the reasons holding back the adoption of Han deployment. Still, the concept today has an esoteric appeal to the geek and the do-it-yourself enthusiast, even if mass appeal is some way off.
Han and Ban are critical components in our journey towards managing our energy management and conservation programmes.
Their adoption life cycle is in the “early adopters/innovators” space; and growth based on current trends is likely another five years away. There is no doubt that Han will be the future of home management and energy conservation. Already homebuilders in the USA are adopting Han components in the high-end segment.
A potential driver that is believed to lead the way is home security. The concern for protecting the “castle” will take on an urgency. The ability to be able to remotely open doors or receive alarms for intrusion and quickly and adequately act upon an event will become a necessity. Home security along with protection of personal property, given all things being equal, is most likely to usher in Han.
The germination of the idea has begun. The other aspect that is encouraging is the awareness of climatic damage we have created and the need to take positive steps to control the damage and that is becoming a beacon to follow for a segment of homeowners and businesses. All this is good news.
Convenience, security standards, ease of use and cost will be the prime drivers to usher in the change in perspective and adoption.

The writer is a US-based independent energy conservation and smart grid consultant