The Demand for Energy Monitoring Services

Goneywell LyricThe energy monitoring business is getting interesting to watch. I looked a few years ago and found dozens of companies offering some kind of energy monitoring services. On top of that, within the last year a lot of large companies like Apple, Google (Nest), Samsung, Verizon, ADT, and Wal-Mart have entered the market. I have a number of smaller ISPs clients that offer the service in rural markets, but that is quite an array of big names to compete against.

Let me start by defining what I mean by energy monitoring, specifically. The traditional kind of monitor is a whole-house monitor. This is a device that is installed near to your electric meter and it records your energy usage over time. These devices let you see both usage and cost at different times of the day, which gives you the ability to look around your home during the times of expensive usage to see what is costing you the most money. These devices normally need to be installed by an electrician because they are on the main power feed of the home. People who use them say that they help them to curtail electricity usage.

The next step up in energy management is to install a smart thermostat. Since heating and cooling are generally a major bill for many households, a smart thermostat can help you use energy wisely. For example, you can program your system to supply less heating or cooling at different times as appropriate, like when you are sleeping. And you can tie these into a burglar alarm system to curtail electricity when you are not home.

The final step in sophistication for home monitoring is to put additional monitors on specific high-energy appliances such as a washer/dryer, pool pump, dehumidifier, hot water heater, etc. These device-specific monitors can help you save money on the devices that use the most juice in your house.

The various companies in the energy monitoring business offer a wide array of services. Some simply sell the smart devices, which are often linked to your smartphone, and then monitoring and modifying usage is up to the homeowner. But a number of these businesses are now selling monitoring services where they will look at your usage for you and make recommendations on how you can save money. Again, there is a wide range of both services offered and prices charged and there is not yet any standard way today of selling energy management services.

I saw the results of a nationwide survey published a few months ago by Parks Associates of Dallas, Texas. This survey asked people a wide range of questions energy management services. One of the most interesting results of the survey was the number of households willing to pay for monitoring services. The survey showed that 25% of households were interested in an overall energy monitoring service. 22% of households said that they were interested in an appliance monitoring service of the biggest electricity users in the home. And 26% said specifically that they were interested in a heating/air conditioning monitoring service.

Those are huge potential penetration rates for such a new industry and one would expect those to grow over time as more people attest to the benefits of watching and controlling energy consumption. However, the survey was not all good news; over 50% of homes interested in the services said that they would not be willing to spend more than $2.99 per month for all three services.

Our firm has given surveys to households for years and so we understand that when it comes to price-related questions that what people say is often different than what they do, and ideally people want things for almost nothing. But not many of the big companies going after this business are going to find a revenue that low to be attractive.

To put into perspective, according to a National Home Builder’s Association study, the average monthly electric bill in the US in 2013 was $110 per month. The estimates are that the bills in 2015 are probably slightly lower than that figure. If energy monitoring can help people save between 10-20% on their electric bills, which is the claim often made, then that average savings is $11 to $22 per month. On top of that there is a savings on the heating bills for people that heat with something other than electricity. The real question is how much are people willing to pay for those savings?

Of course, electric rates vary widely by state, which is a factor both of the cost per kilowatt hour, and also of how the electricity is used. For example, as one might expect due to the summer heat, the highest electric bills are in the southeast while the lowest are in the northwest, which has milder weather, as well as a lot of hydroelectric generation.

If you are thinking about getting into this business you need to not only look at what your local Wal-Mart is offering, but also make sure you understand what people in your area pay for electricity and heating.

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