When it comes to the smart home, the focus lately has been on privacy and security. One big call to action has been the creation of an Energy Star-style standards label for smart home devices that makes clear they were created by following a set of policies designed expressly for protecting user data. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency created an actual Energy Star program for the smart home.
The first version of the ENERGY STAR Smart Home Energy Management System, or SHEMS, came out in September 2019. The program’s goal is to certify a smart home under the Energy Star SHEMS label if they contain a cluster of connected products that help cut energy use. The EPA expects these packages of products that create a SHEMS home to hit the market by the second quarter of this year. But so far, few companies — outside of those in lighting and HVAC — have paid much attention to the EPA effort. Which is a shame, because there are some really good options here that could justify consumer investment in a smart home.
According to EPA documents, the SHEMS home must sense occupancy, control devices based on occupancy to save energy (either via automation or scheduling), report device energy use, and support optimized device control based on time-of-use electric rates. At a minimum, a SHEMS home must contain an Energy Star connected thermostat, two smart lighting devices (one of which must have the Energy Star label), and one “plug load control or management device, which could be a smart plug, smart fuse box or home energy monitor.”
I put that last bit in quotes because there’s a huge difference between a single Wemo Insight outlet and a smart load panel on the outside of a home. But Taylor Jantz-Sell, a lighting program manager and smart home strategy coordinator at the EPA, says the agency adopted the wide range because it wanted to meet the market where it is right now.
Other than the minimum devices, SHEMS homes should connect to a smart water heater and, ideally, back to the grid so that utilities can offer demand-response programs or provide updated real-time pricing. So far, real-time pricing is not an option in most utilities. California is currently working on this, though.
The EPA hopes to see companies create packages based around the hardware and service requirement that builders, homeowners, or system integrators such as Alarm.com or Control4 might install. It’s important to recognize that the hardware is only part of the SHEMS certification. A home must also have a service component that handles automation or scheduling designed to save energy.
The EPA hopes that services could also include fancier elements as time goes on, such as elder care, time of use (TOU) charging optimizations (in other words, ways to charge an electric vehicle based on the cheapest price), and security services. Matthew Carlson, CEO at Aquanta Inc., a company making a smart water heater controller, hopes the program will bring attention to the energy-saving options offered by the connected home.
Carlson says his company has struggled to get consumers interested in the energy-saving capabilities of a connected water heater which, let’s face it, is simply not as glamorous as a Nest or a color-changing light bulb. But in most homes, the water heater consumes the second-largest amount of electricity each month after the HVAC. And getting more connected water heaters into residential homes could help cut energy usage. Right now, however, most of his sales are through utility-run programs. A SHEMS designation could change that, as getting certified under the program could help convince utilities to market an easier-to-implement energy-saving package.
For now, the EPA wants to get the word out that this program exists, and hopes to hear from builders, integrators, and even consumer device companies that want to participate. After that, the EPA’s goal will be to get information on the savings associated with a SHEMS home to help drive adoption, and perhaps rebates.