Finns Trial Next-gen On-line Home Automation

A Finnish trial of home automation systems aims to let users adapt their energy consumption to varying electricity tariffs in real time, and in the process lower their energy costs, according to the companies involved.

Three companies are cooperating on the trial: energy company Helsingin Energia, home automation vendor There, and Mitox, which sells services for measuring electricity. The aim of the test is two-fold: to get feedback from users on the system's user interface and see how large the savings are, according to Kari Rantanen , vice president of marketing at There.

The most important feature of the trial is the ability to take advantage of the hourly tariffs available to energy distribution companies, using electricity when it's cheapest and avoiding usage during the most expensive hours, according to Rantanen. The changes are made automatically, based on rules defined by the user, There said.

Users will also be able to follow the energy consumption in their house or apartment in real-time on the web, and see how much electricity different products use.

At the heart of the system on trial is ThereGate, formerly known as the Nokia Home Control Center. There was formed in May 2009, when Nokia spun off its Smart Home program.

The system uses several different technologies, including Z-Wave to communicate between the ThereGate and the rest of the house. Products that don't support Z-Wave can still be connected to the system using a switch, according to Rantanen. You can't rip and replace what is already in place, which means you have to work with a number of different technologies, and the complexity that brings one of the main reasons why it has taken a long time for this sector to take off, Rantanen said.

There isn't taking sides in the standards war that is raging in the home automation space. The reason it went with Z-Wave is that there are more compatible products, Rantanen said.

Today, There is involved in a number of pilots, but this is the only public one, for now. The big question is when services will go commercial, and Rantanen expects that to happen next year, he said.

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