How utilities are helping empower smart home energy management

In this new piece, Powerley CEO Manoj Kumar provides real world examples of how smart home energy management will fuel the future of utilities as they take on a more customer-centric role. 

Kumar sat down with Electric Light and Power (ELP) for an interview to help bring clarity to an industry that is going through a vast transformation.

ELP: You came to Powerley three years ago after working in Silicon Valley. High-tech was nothing new to you, but what is the biggest surprise you’ve seen working in the energy space?

Kumar: From the outside, the energy industry is perceived as slow to adopt new technologies even though they operate the grid at 5 sigma performance, a level most tech companies have not achieved. During my three-and-a-half-year tenure in the energy industry, one of the biggest surprises has been how utilities are becoming more customer centric, innovating and delivering breakthrough technology for their customers.  

Utilities are working in deep collaboration with technology companies such as Powerley to bring innovation to customers at faster clock speeds. For example, DTE Energy worked with us to rapidly develop and unlock the customer-side value proposition of the AMI meter, enabling their customers to visualize energy usage, in real-time including every connected appliance and device within it. DTE Energy is now delivering a curated DIY mass market solution for their customers to eliminate energy waste and reduce their bill through actionable insights developed through AI and energy usage data. The first generation of the DTE Insight app alone drove 15 million engagements.

ELP: How are utilities using the Powerley Home Energy Management platform to drive imperative change? For instance, creating new business models which are both profitable and yet adaptive. And giving utilities a channel to empower a customer base that wants to take control of their energy.

Kumar: Utilities are uniquely qualified to deliver and proliferate home energy management for three key reasons. First, energy is a necessary ingredient for home energy management. Utilities are the ones that have access and ownership of the meter, energy, billing, and rate data. Second, utilities have advantaged economics from energy efficiency requirements, need for demand management to avoid capex investments, and the ability to capitalize and earn on assets. All of these allow them to subsidize the solution for the end customer. Third, they are the most trusted channel for the home. Utilities can leverage this to become the channel to deliver a curated product that is guaranteed by the utility to not only provide robust support but ensure data protection, which address the key customer adoption impediments. 

The Powerley platform is enabling utilities to pilot and scale several new business models. Some utilities are capitalizing on our hardware and providing it to the customer free or subsidized, while others are selling it to the customer. DTE Energy is already implementing a paid business model, charging $1.99 per month for smart home energy management. This full smart home energy management platform enables customers to include any endpoint, for example, bulbs, sensors or lights, and fully control and automate their devices through a mobile app or voice assistant. 

ELP: Adoption of the smart home has been growing substantially. As more people adopt their own smart home technology, why is energy data a key aspect of the smart home and how is it being used?

Kumar: We have data on pretty much everything we do outside the house, where we travel, what we buy how much we exercise, where and what we eat. But on our greatest investment, our home, we have limited information on how it and the appliances within it are performing. Energy data is key to unlocking the enigma of our homes’ health. Tech giants are trying to fill the void, while also attempting to take over the customer relationship from utilities.

With AMI infrastructure being deployed by utilities, access and leverage of real-time usage data will be key to create actionable insights for customers and demystify the health of the home. We at Powerley are able to generate 1200X more data than average AMI interval data generated in a single day. And we are using the data to generate actionable insights to reduce energy waste and customers’ bill by more than 10%. This is driving up customer engagement from 20 min year to 720 min per year — a 36X increase. Energy data is empowering utilities to introduce new value-added services, like appliance health monitoring and maintenance for the customers, all building toward our vision of delivering an autonomous home. This intelligent home will use electricity as a data point — delivering us personal and prescriptive recommendations to balance comfort, cost and convenience.

ELP: Customers certainly can feel overwhelmed by all the potential information out there. How does Powerley go about simplifying a very complex energy management world for them?

Kumar: Have you ever tried to explain to someone the taste of chocolate? It’s very difficult. One has to taste chocolate to appreciate it. Similarly, home energy management cannot be a one and done play. It is a customer journey that starts with awareness and understanding, leading to increased levels of sophistication within home energy management. With that in mind, Powerley starts by simply giving customers access to their historical energy usage via interval AMI data. The 24hr Energy Clock lets customers uniquely visualize how their schedule pertains to their kWhs spent. 

Laying the foundation for energy awareness, customers are getting entuned with their bill. Once customers have a solid understanding of how their energy usage applies to their life, they are ready for a more in-depth experience. Requesting an Energy Bridge, they get access to real-time energy information that can translate into action. Now they can see their energy live and are making changes to their behavior instantly. 

This upgraded energy monitoring experience also includes a lite smart home experience with a connected thermostat, allowing customers to start to get used to controlling and automating their energy usage before moving onto the full smart home experience. Access to real-time energy data is also key for customers to understand and for utilities to deploy new rate structures like Time-Of-Use (TOU) and Dynamic Pricing (DP). 

Recently, we’ve taken this journey to the next level at Powerley, with the Powerley Advisor, a personalized home and energy assistant that delivers a deeper and more intelligent connection to the home. It helps empower greater action and understanding by giving the home a voice — alerting you if there is an unusually high spike in energy, and even showing how much it will cost if it continues. Advisor monitors appliance health, budget and even your smart home to give tips on how you can optimize your home and energy. And most importantly, it is making it easy to take action. Unlike other solutions out there we aren’t putting the responsibility of analyzing the energy information on the customer, but instead giving them poignant, insightful guidance that is absolutely required to achieve their energy and smart home goals.  

ELP: It’s crazy how home automation and energy management has changed the world in a relatively short time. Any thoughts on where you see it in five years? 

Kumar: Smart home energy management has been making amazing strides. The electric utility industry is entering into a new era in energy that is being driven by the potential of an automated world. Recently, Powerley’s CTO, Kevin Foreman, came out with a visionary article on SEPA that creates a necessary framework for autonomous home energy management now and in the coming years. 

While today we talk about the smart home and energy management in terms of control and insight, in the next five years, we are quickly headed toward a more autonomous future. Through the combination of real-time energy, smart devices, and knowledge of performance heuristics, an autonomous home energy management platform could coordinate a personalized and automatic optimization engine for the home. This would balance comfort and energy efficiency by learning to understand peoples’ patterns, specific situations and occupancy. I wouldn’t say it is a stretch that the development needed to achieve this take place in the next five years. 

As the CEO of Powerley, Manoj Kumar is implementing a vision to proliferate intelligent home solutions through the utility channel. Powerley is working with global utilities to deliver an entirely new smart home experience by blending home energy management and home automation — delivering new levels of efficiency, new consumer experiences and new connected revenue streams. 

Prior to Powerley, Manoj was a Partner at McKinsey & Co.’s Silicon Valley office, helping clients with strategy and operations advice to scale and grow. Prior to McKinsey, Manoj was a Partner at PwC and PRTM (acquired by PwC). And, earlier in his career held engineering roles at Cypress Semiconductor and Allied Signal.

Manoj has earned an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan, an M.S. in Semiconductor Physics/Computer Engineering from Michigan State University, and a B.E. in Electrical Engineering from Mangalore University, India.


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