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Going Green: It's Not Easy Being Green or Is It? (3/12/2010)

By Jessica Boothe, CEA

The idea of 'going green' is far from a foreign concept to consumers; in fact they have implemented green practices into their lifestyles for years. Going green encompasses simple actions such as recycling or opting for reusable grocery bags (which is mandated in some jurisdictions). It also includes the use of energy-efficient technologies and products which many consumers are purchasing for the first time. The most well-known example is ENERGY STAR, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency programme that sets energy efficiency standards for manufacturers and allows them to affix the ENERGY STAR label to their product if they voluntarily meet those standards. The incentives for manufacturers to participate in the programme are huge: one in seven U.S. adults is familiar with the term ENERGY STAR.

The idea of 'going green' is far from a foreign concept to consumers; in fact they have implemented green practices into their lifestyles for years. Going green encompasses simple actions such as recycling or opting for reusable grocery bags (which is mandated in some jurisdictions). It also includes the use of energy-efficient technologies and products which many consumers are purchasing for the first time. The most well-known example is ENERGY STAR, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency programme that sets energy efficiency standards for manufacturers and allows them to affix the ENERGY STAR label to their product if they voluntarily meet those standards. The incentives for manufacturers to participate in the programme are huge: one in seven U.S. adults is familiar with the term ENERGY STAR.


Net Familiarity of Green Terminology. Source: CEA Market Research, Shades of Green Study, 2010

Introduced in 1992, the ENERGY STAR programme has expanded labelling to more than 60,000 products in its fairly short history - expanding beyond appliances to household goods. Another green technology gaining acceptance by consumers is the hybrid or electric vehicle, which is gaining widespread interest due to attractive tax incentives and rising petrol prices.

CEA reports that one in three online American adults is familiar with hybrid vehicles and one in four is familiar with electric vehicles. While general awareness is still fairly low, interest in the category is high, with 42% expecting to follow news stories on electric vehicles and 40% likely to test drive an electric vehicle. In each of these cases, the green concept was integrated slowly into American homes (over the course of ten years or so) but was widely accepted once there. Each concept empowered consumers with the decision to take energy cost savings into their own hands.

While penetration of these products has been slow, the biggest component for swift integration into the American home is education, ease-of-use (or plug-and-play) and price. As seen in the following chart, when considering the purchase of their next CE device, consumers indicate green is one of the top five elements they'll consider.


Purchasing CE, importance of attributes. Source: CEA Market Research, Shades of Green Study, 2010

Trend number one: a new grid and the role of technology

SmartGrid infrastructure is the next big thing in the field of green technology. Before it can be successfully integrated into American homes, however, industry and government will need to make massive investments in infrastructure upgrades. The current electrical infrastructure, known as the grid, as it stands is outdated (think Edison in the late 19th century) and cannot support advancements in renewable energy sources and technology that will satisfy our current and future electricity demands.

The present grid is not capable of supporting the fluctuations that come with renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal. Technology will be needed to help regulate the ebb and flow variance of renewable energy. For example, the grid needs storage technology to capture and contain excess energy from renewable sources, which can then be distributed at times of peak demand.

Compatibility is another dilemma thwarting an update of the infrastructure, specifically, the lack of interconnectivity within the grid (from state to state or even within counties within a state). This hinders distribution of energy between the windy fields of the Midwest or the sunny deserts of the southwest to other areas of need around the nation. If these investments can be made, SmartGrid benefits will include a reduction of greenhouse gases and carbon footprint as well as optimising energy usage on the demand side.

The SmartGrid will also be beneficial for utility companies by providing two-way connection between utilities and the demand-side, thereby reducing the need for service calls and manual meter readings. The connection will provide up-to-date information on outages reducing downtime for consumers and business alike. A two-way connection between utility and sources would also allow for a new concept, an opportunity for the end-user or the consumer to store and sell electricity back to the grid. Some test cases, such as the famous SmartGridCity test case in Boulder, Colorado, have produced negative press with participating consumers (connected to SmartGrid and SmartMeter technologies) reporting higher electricity bills than before the SmartMeter was installed. However, many studies have shown that when consumers are aware of their energy usage, they will tailor their habits to improve and reduce their energy consumption.

Through the continuation of tests, utility companies, technology companies and government agencies must all work together to perfect the system before nationwide implementation. While the obstacles continue to be worked out, advancements continue fuelling innovations for products that will one day connect to the grid. From control panels to kinetic energy, green technology will be abundant in the coming years. Here' s a look at some of the top trends to watch from now until 2012 that will benefit from the further development of the SmartGrid and help consumers go green.

Trend number two: the face of energy usage

For a society constantly connected to the Internet to update a status, post photos, view the latest news or videos, monitoring our energy consumption online is not an unwelcome idea for most consumers. Just as the Internet revolutionised the world of online banking, telecommuting and shopping, SmartMeters and their interface will modernise energy consumption and allow consumers to be more in tune with their consumption habits.

Poised to enter more than 40 million U.S. homes by 2015, SmartMeters depend the most on the successful development and implementation of the SmartGrid. As grid advancements continue, software and hardware manufacturers hustle to become part of the face of energy management - an interface or dashboard that consumers interact with to monitor and control their energy consumption.

One big name lining up includes a Web-based solution from Google, called the PowerMeter. According to Google' s webpage, the Google PowerMeter will be a free monitoring system to help consumers save energy and money. From Microsoft' s website, another Web-based solution, the Microsoft' s Hohm interface provides consumers with monitoring capabilities and provides a free energy report that will then provide recommendations for how to save.

While these don' t begin to cover the array of interfaces that will be available, they do provide a glimpse at the offerings for consumers. The core functionality interfaces such as PowerMeter and Hohm provide consumers with real-time energy consumption and price data, empowering them to make smart decisions about when to run their dishwasher or turn down the air conditioning. Ideally these products will be able to go beyond energy consumption figures and can incorporate operation of appliances and other household items so that when energy prices are lower, regardless of a consumer's location (work, vacation) they can take advantage.

For many, home automation control is a familiar concept, but the ability to incorporate energy data and real-time pricing will be new. While this concept will be more easily incorporated into new homes, a bigger market will be the retrofitting of existing homes. The ability to connect one' s current appliances and other household products to this 21st century network will be very appealing to the mass market. From installers to do-it-yourselfers, many consumers will rely on CE companies to come up with solutions to fit their pre-green revolution housing needs.

Trend number three: consumer becomes producer

Not only will consumers be able to purchase electricity from utility companies, they will also be able to generate, sell back excess energy and store their own energy needs as the SmartGrid progresses. From solar roofing shingles to wind turbines, advancing technology has made these ideas into a reality by offering consumers the ability to purchase affordable energy producing products for the home.

Cutting back on dependency from the utility companies and in addition earning money, the at-home energy producing products will no longer be as gruelling as the Flintstone's foot-powered car (Editor's note: The Flintstones was a TV cartoon series). For example, solar shingles (solar panels) provide a way to capture energy with little to no effort, after installation.

As another example of the consumer becoming the producer, many have speculated on the possibility of using home water heaters as a possible energy source. Again, with little to no impact on the consumer side, the idea of becoming a producer becomes more and more attractive and lucrative.

When consumers begin to better understand their energy needs and have the ability to produce some, if not all, of their own energy they open up the possibility of being energy producers by selling excess energy back to the grid. While the idea of selling electricity and the functionality to actually feed energy back into the grid is still far from a reality, with the advancements of the grid, it will no doubt be a popular idea that will encourage consumers to equip their houses to capture renewable energy sources.

Beyond producing energy at home, harvesting energy produced by movement (also known as kinetic energy) is increasing in popularity. From walking, biking and even jumping, many new products are being created to capture a body's movement throughout the day or through exercise. One company sporting kinetic energy products is High Tide (RollerGen.com), a California-based company offering energy solutions that fit on a bicycle. While enjoying a leisurely ride on your bike you'll be generating energy to power your cell phone (or other small electronics gadget). For the less bike-savvy consumer, Tremont Electronics offers the nPowerPEG. According to the company's website (npowerpeg.com) "the lightweight device generates energy while you walk, run, or bike." By carrying this 'peg' in your bag, purse, or backpack, you'll be producing energy from your daily routines.

While technology is still far behind in providing more than a single charge for a cell phone or other small electronic gadget, it is moving to free consumers from wires and adaptors joined to the wall. On a larger scale, kinetic energy harvesting has been tested in Japan and implemented on a small scale such as to power holiday signage. Back in 2008, the firm Soundpower installed piezoelectric power mats in popular subway stations to garner energy from walking pedestrians. The project estimated that 2.4 million people passed through the station, and for each person (based on an average weight of 135 lbs.) walking on the mat produced 0.1 watts. While implementation of kinetic energy harvesting is mainly being tested for military purposes at this time, the implications of kinetic mats or bikes on a public scale, such as in malls, subway stations, or concert venues could possibly produce enough energy to power lighting and signage across the nation. That said, all of these scenarios are highly speculative.

Trend number four: energy, storage and batteries

From supplying excess energy to utility companies to storing energy to power (additional battery) your electric vehicle, storage will become a premium in the coming years. Currently, many projects are in the works in the power storage and battery arena, from longevity solutions to those that provide quick bursts of energy. At this time the ultracapacitor is the predominant technology in the storage market. While the technology has proven to have the ability to be recharged many times over it has limited storage capabilities. Other battery technologies under development derive from natural components, such as paper. Regardless of chemical or component, the importance of developing the storage market will not only benefit the electric vehicle market and utility companies but the technology will improve the battery life of other CE devices providing them longer 'on' times than previously seen, with little charge time. The improvement in the battery sector will also cut down battery replacement, with batteries capable of recharging many times over.

Parting thoughts

Like most innovation, the goal of green technology is to empower consumers with choice. In the case of green technologies however, it is providing consumers with a solution to their energy gluttony in the face of an energy crisis. Beyond money-saving solutions, green technology will provide a better world for future generations. As seen in CEA's Shades of Green study, nine in ten American adults indicate wanting to provide a healthy environment for future generations as a key motivator for 'going green'. What does this mean for the CE industry? Consumers will be looking for CE devices to have greener options such as compatibility with current energy management systems, the ability to produce their own energy and/or act as a storage device. That said, green will be a key consideration by consumers when purchasing their next CE devices.


Reasons for going green. Source: CEA Market Research, Shades of Green Study, 2010

While eight in ten (78%) consumers look to reduce energy consumption in favour of their pocketbooks, most wish to do so without sacrificing any convenience, thus placing greater importance among utility companies for easy integration into the consumer's daily life. One solution for providing seamless energy reduction to consumers is to grant utility companies access to the controls. In early test cases, consumers have signed up to allow utility companies access to their home appliances, such as the air conditioner unit, so that the utilities can power down or reduce settings during peak times of energy demand.

Many consumers balk at the idea of having an outside entity controlling systems within their home, but test cases have shown that consumers experience little to no difference in settings. We anticipate that as the nation continues on the road to a greener horizon, the market will continue to evolve around innovation.

With increased awareness of the myriad and positive manifestations of 'going green' we are likely to see the momentum continue. The combination of innovation and awareness will, as always, put the CE industry at the forefront of a more progressive and inclusive environment. Poised at the centre of these advancements, the CE industry which lends itself to an adage from the popular 1990's movie Back to the Future III "The future is what you make it. Make it a good one!"

Jessica Boothe is the Manager of Strategic Research at Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). This abridged version of the article, published with permission, originates from the CEA's '5 Technologies Trends to Watch' paper.

www.ce.org

 

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