Energy efficiency makes sense. It’s true whether we’re facing an energy crunch in the near or in the slightly more distant future. It’s true whether you’re motivated by economics, the environment, or because you dream of building your dream home somewhere off the power supply grid and you want to become self-sufficient.

It’s also true from a perspective of enlightened self interest. If, collectively, we use more energy than our system will handle at any given point, it may come crashing down, and in this energy-dependent world, that can be both expensive and life threatening.

In most areas of the country, annual per household energy costs amount to at least $1000. Many of us however, pay substantially more. If we live in extreme climate zones, in larger homes, or in homes abundant with technology we might easily see average annual bills of $2000 per year.

That may seem a reasonable cost to pay for all the convenience and comfort we get in return, but with increased demand and an antiquated power grid stretched to maximum capacity, many analysts predict energy costs will continue to rise. (See my article Residential Gateways to Remedy Energy Cost and Deregulation Woes) For many households, exorbitant prices are a hardship that will require families to look for new solutions to conserve energy and keep costs down.

Knowledge and Control

Energy outflow is invisible, and most of us take it for granted as a guaranteed commodity and as a monthly static expense. But when costs increase, as they have in recent months in certain areas of the country, we consumers begin to get more involved. Fortunately technology solutions exist to enable us to conserve energy and manage monthly bills. The residential gateway (RG), an integral part of the automated home, helps manage energy more efficiently by providing both knowledge and control.

First, the residential gateway offers a window of intelligence about your home. With tangible and specific feedback on your own energy use, you’re more equipped to make changes that have a bottom line result. For example, if you know exactly how much it costs to run a hot tub in the winter or to keep the air conditioning on full blast when the family is at work, you are likely to make some smart, cost-cutting choices.

Second, the residential gateway offers the control to conserve resources and cut costs. Once you have the knowledge, you can act on it by making changes remotely if necessary, from any web browser. So if you’re away on winter vacation, and realize you left the central heating set at 70 degrees, you can switch it to zero to conserve energy and still warm the house to a comfortable level in time for your return.

The Residential Gateway Advantage

The gateway we’re talking about is an unobtrusive, thermostat-sized device likely to be installed by your local utility, telephone, or broadband service provider.

This gateway connects to all those energy-consuming, high and low technology features that make your home comfortable and convenient. The residential gateway connects these features to one another — for example the lighting to the security system — and then it connects them all to the Internet. That means it connects everything to you, wherever you are, and to whatever service providers you designate, by way of a PC, cell phone or PDA. You gain real-time, personal information and help with:

Device management – You can see just where your energy is being used in order to pinpoint targets for change. You can predict and then measure the results of implementing those changes, such as setting the refrigerator to cycle instead of run continuously.

Appliance control services – You can receive alerts when important appliances and devices malfunction. For example an alert can be sent when the water heater begins to leak or overheat.

Load monitoring – You can set maximum energy usage limits that may correspond with price thresholds your local utility sets. And you can view whole house energy use from any Web browser. If you’re thinking of supplementing your energy with fuel cells or home generation sources such as solar panels, the residential gateway will be indispensable for monitoring load levels.

RG -Standard Home Equipment

With an energy meter installed at your electrical panel, a residential gateway can deliver home monitoring e-services that let you see, analyze and control your energy usage. The efficiency comes from using only what you need.

Once you have a handle on your energy use, you can use automated control programming or remote manual control. Your focus will likely be on top energy users, such as heating and cooling, which comprise approximately 40 percent of the output of a typical home. There’s no need to keep the water heated all day if you can make sure it’s hot when you need it. Or you may realize a benefit in moving the source of water heating closer to where the water is used. For every change, you’ll be able to get clear feedback on the results and savings.

In the near future, this technology is destined to become a standard feature in homes across the country. You won’t need go out and purchase, install or maintain it. Typically it will come to you, complete with an offering of energy management and other convenience-enhancing e-services. Within a few short years, the residential gateway will gain momentum as large-scale installations are implemented by your electric utility, telephone, or broadband service provider.

David Gaw: President, CEO, and co-founder of Coactive Networks, has been at the forefront of emerging technologies in intelligent systems development for over a decade. Since the company’s inception in 1993, Gaw has led a stellar technical team in pioneering break-through synergies between networking, broadband connections and mobile Internet access. With the Coactive Connector® product series and patent-pending IOConnect Architecture™, they have quickly become the leader in commercial and residential gateways, connecting networks to the real world.