THE HYBRID HOME

THE HYBRID HOME

Innovative UK energy tech experts GEO (Green Energy Options) coined the term ‘Hybrid Home’ a few years ago. You’re going to hear those words a lot over the next few years.

Have a think about telephone companies for a minute. A few decades ago they needed to install thousands of miles of cabling around the country, build and staff expensive telephone exchanges and fit their own equipment in the homes and offices of their customers. These days they can erect a few cellular masts, rent some space in a data centre for their routing and billing software, and encourage you to buy the kit you need. That model works well for broadband too, especially when 5G launches in anger later this year. Cheaper, easier, quicker to upgrade.

A similar transformation is taking place today in the utility arena for some homeowners: Rather than rely on the heavy, old-school power stations and infrastructure of their supplier, many of us – especially those in modern, well-insulated, homes are buying as little electricity as possible from the grid (using the information and functionality of their smart thermostat), generating a little themselves (with solar panels, say) storing some with batteries (in their home or electric car) and using their energy as intelligently and sparingly as possible, That’s the hybrid home. The government is even looking at incentives, such as ‘green mortgages’ to incentivise such homes, a bit like the subsidies electric vehicles currently attract.

This sort of thing is made possible thanks to what’s called ‘the internet of energy’

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article exploring the efforts of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Amazon in this space. Neither of these technology behemoths are interested (yet) in selling power, but they do want to use the tech you use (smart speakers, your search engine, your smart thermostat and other devices) to understand as much as they can about your use. They can then incentivise you to use less electricity during peak times. This sort of thinking has been around for a while – a lovely US company called OhmConnect started ‘game-ifying’ your energy use over a decade ago. Companies that understand your use, where you are, what you do at home, and what motivates you, will succeed. It’s not too difficult to think of who those companies are.

Many people think that, in 10 or 20 years, the dominant power providers will be the large technology companies – or at least supported by them. David Crane, the former CEO of NRG Energy says “They can provide lower cost and better service.” Both Amazon and Google have made huge investments in the smart home market (acquiring Ring and Nest respectively) and Amazon have recently invested heavily in ecobee- a smart thermostat manufacturer. Amazon are also installing vehicle chargers for Audi’s new eTron SUV (Audi have announced they are working to allow owners to use the vehicle’s battery for home energy storage too).

There’s a lot of great competition in the unregulated UK energy market, and consumers can choose to save the most money, save the planet (or a bit of both) or include home services in their tariff.

This is all exciting stuff, but don’t count out the impact digital technology will have on your hybrid home – now, and in years to come. If you’d like to explore this further, please talk to SMC.