In my last article I talked about my thermostat and the Internet of Everything [read here] I questioned the true value my smart meter was providing to my home and my wallet. I said what’s missing is a thermostat that helps me understand my energy consumption habits, allows me to stay within budget (and save money!) and eventually take advance of spot prices on energy. Wouldn’t that be cool?!
The good news is that there are products on the market today that are heading in the right direction. Nest, recently acquired by Google for $3.2 billion [read here], offers a “learning thermostat” which Bill MacGowen wrote about earlier in his post: My home thermostat and the Internet of Everything” [read here].
The Nest acquisition is a big deal and there’s already discussions starting to surface on what Google plans to do with the data they will gather from Nest devices. Why is Google getting into the energy management and HVAC market? What will they do with the data? Will there be ads showing up on my Google thermostat? This led me to wonder who else was in this market space? Are there any alternatives to Nest? Of course there are but they’ve been overshadowed by Nest because of the origins of it’s founder (Apple) and Google’s recent purchase.
One of them is ecobee, a Canadian company. While they may not be a household name (yet) they’ve been around since 2007 plugging away and growing their business organically. I reached out to ecobee because I wanted to learn more about the company, it’s founder and his thoughts on where he sees the future heading for IoT/IoE. Below is part one of my email conversation with the founder and CEO of ecobee, Stuart Lombard.
1)Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company?
I started my career building control systems for large international electric utilities. Then I caught the ‘Internet’ bug and founded two successful companies – one of the first internet service providers in Canada, InfoRamp Inc., and one of the first virtual private networking companies, at the time called Isolation Systems Ltd.
After selling both companies and trying to decide what to do next, I became passionate about reducing my environmental impact. I looked into installing solar panels on my home, and buying a hybrid electric car, however both were expensive solutions. During my research, I was astonished to find out that heating and cooling represents 50-70% of a home’s energy use. With this new knowledge, I wanted to engage in ways to easily reduce my energy consumption when heating and cooling my home. After all, it should be one of the easiest things to manage, with little to no impact on your lifestyle.
So I committed to program my thermostat. It sounds easy, but as it turned out, traditional ‘programmable’ thermostats were hard to use. Even with my engineering degree, I couldn’t figure out how to program my ‘dumb’ thermostat and it took way too much time.
I knew there had to be a better way to stop wasting energy in my home. And so began the story of ecobee. Based in Toronto, ecobee introduced the world’s first Wi-Fi enabled thermostat in 2009 and today, the company has helped hundreds of thousands of North American homeowners and businesses save energy and money by giving them greater control of their thermostat. Currently we have a team of 50 (and growing), and we service homeowners, businesses, HVAC and the utilities industry.
2) Tell us a bit about your product and the role it plays now and potentially in the future.
Every year, billions of dollars and energy are wasted heating and cooling homes when no one is there. You wouldn’t leave your car running in the parking lot while you are at work, so why heat and cool your home while you’re out for the day?
ecobee’s line of Wi-Fi connected thermostats make it simple to save energy and money without sacrificing comfort . Using smart technology, our thermostats understand how your home uses energy, and takes into account local weather conditions to optimize energy savings. And you can adjust the temperature of your home, anytime, anywhere, using your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Americans spend an astonishing $241 billion on energy each year (Home Energy Savers). As smart technology becomes widely adopted, there are simpler solutions to save energy where extensive waste has occurred in the past. According to Navigant Research, by 2020 nearly 32 million smart thermostats will be installed worldwide. The opportunities for energy savings from homeowners, utilities and commercial customers adopting this kind of technology are massive. We’re proud to be a part of this revolution in the way we consume energy.
3) There are many standards and protocols that can be used for IoT products and solutions. Almost too many! What standards and protocols do you think will be widely adopted and used?
The Internet of Things is developing faster than standards can keep up. There are varying views of how a product should integrate with IoT. For example, I recently sat on a panel with someone who stated “A thermostat should never do more than six things.” I respectfully disagreed – weather, scheduling, time of use electricity rates, utility demand response programs, occupancy, sensor networks and analytics – can all be used to achieve significant benefits.
Product developers today have a choice. They can either build products based on more rigid application layer standards that will only allow the feature set of the lowest common denominator, or they can build a truly innovative product that delivers more value, based on flexible lower level standards, such as Wi-Fi, IP and web services.
We believe the latter will win out because the customer experience and value is significantly better. To that end, ecobee supports Wi-Fi and open APIs as well as standards like OpenADR and Zigbee SE for more narrow use cases like utility demand response and meter connectivity.
Check out the “A day in the Life” video by ecobee below!
In part two of this interview we discuss the Internet of Things, the benefits of smart meters and Stuart’s take on the Nest/Google Acquisition.