Cisco has made a big push into the smart grid industry recently, first with two pieces of substation gear for utilities and now with a home energy display that allows users to monitor power use. The Home Energy Controller—Cisco's first piece of equipment for smart meter-equipped homes—will be tested this summer with Duke Energy customers in Charlotte, North Carolina and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Cisco's controller is, essentially, a command center for home energy management. The device acts like a hub for all networked devices in the home, including air conditioners, computers, TVs, and even plug-in electric cars. Any non-networked appliances can be connected to the device using either two-way thermostats or smart plugs that talk to Cisco's device via the Zigbee wireless protocol.
In addition to monitoring energy use, the Home Energy Controller also allows customers to set up policies that automate energy consumption based on the time of day. They can also participate in utility pricing incentive programs (i.e. a program where a utility might cut energy costs at off-peak hours).
The Home Energy Controller is far from the first device of its kind (we recently covered Tendril's slick IDEO-designed display, for example) but Cisco has a distinct advantage because of its big name. Many other entrants in the smart grid industry are startups with little brand recognition.
There is plenty of room for competition—a recent survey from Parks Associates found that two-thirds of respondents are interested in home energy monitoring systems, and between 3,100 and 3,200 utilities in the U.S. are in varying stages of transitioning to a "Smart Grid." But it only makes sense that a networking giant like Cisco gets a big piece of the newest industry to embrace wireless communication.