Environmental IQ

Energy monitors trim those rising energy costs/

By Lyn Drummond 2nd June 2011

According to Deb Noller of Switch Automation energy prices are starting to bite hard, even in the wealthy eastern suburbs of Sydney.
Recent private clients for the real time energy management technology have included homes where the quarterly power bill has come in at an astronomical $4000 or so.

“No matter what sort of income you are on, that sort of bill is going to bite,” Noller says.

For $1200 the company can install the technology in a home and pinpoint exactly where and how the energy is being used and display the results through a friendly an Ipad style interface.

Not surprisingly Noller and her co-founder John Darlington expect demand for the company’s services to jump next year and grow well beyond the corporate offices and businesses that want to improve their environmental and social profile.

Based in the inner city suburb of Chippendale, the company has already committed to two new sales staff taking total staff numbers to eight.

“We expect significant growth in the next 12 months and that’s already evidenced from the inquiries we got from [a recent] trade show and what’s coming from our recent announcement and major partnering arrangement,” Noller says.

In general however, key customers are sustainable builders, developers and government agencies.

Noller said there were two main reasons driving the need for the product:

  • Green building codes. “We can provide access to real-time and historical data for water, power, gas and renewables” and
  • The need for buyers to convey the green building credentials of their building to visitors, tenants and residents.

“Typically a green building has a lot of features that are not necessarily obvious, we can put these features or statistics up front and into the consciousness of every building stakeholder via a green building dashboard that puts the information right into the foyer,” Noller says.

But there is now doubt that the residential market is also a huge growth area. As energy prices rise, the ability to deliver ”granular data” into the hands of consumers will become increasingly sought after.

“When I say granular I mean far more meaningful data than an electronic version of your electricity bill,” Noller says

“Users need to know where, when and what is using the energy – what rooms, what devices, what time of the day, what day of the week so they can make informed decisions.

“We can monitor the whole of house mains power but we can also drill down into circuit level power monitoring and if you are using the Switch platform as a means of control then you can drill down into room and device reporting.

“This means we can show the home owner the big ticket items that are using the most energy so they can target the things that will get the best results. Once you know where the energy goes, you can start to put strategies in place to control it.”

The Sydney based company’s traditional hardware base automation product was developed from 2002-2009.

“In 2009 we realised that cloud based, open protocol systems would be the future for our industry,” Noller says.

“What was apparent to us was that our own business model and that of all our competitors – essentially a hardware model – was never going to deliver the growth that is predicted for this industry. In addition, the advent of devices like the Apple iPad would forever change the landscape of our industry affecting all participants from the manufacturer right through to the customer.

“Home and commercial automation has to be scalable, accessible, affordable and have a totally ‘green’ focus – green automation.

“So we completely redeveloped. This is a new technical architecture, a new platform and a new business model. We have had fantastic feedback already from the market but it’s challenging as we are essentially back to being a start up again so we have to completely rebuild our revenue base.”

Switch Automation’s cloud platform was on display at the CeBIT exhibition from 31 May to 2 June at the Exhibition Centre, Darling Harbour, Sydney as part of the NSW Government’s Australian Technology Showcase.

The ATS Program identifies innovative, market ready Australian technologies with global market potential.

The cloud platform is a total change in thinking for delivering automation services into homes and buildings, Ms Noller said.

“And we are not just talking about the technology – the cloud means a new architecture, a new delivery model and a new business model. Talk about disruptive and this is it. It changes not just our business, but those of the integrators, contractors and custom installers.

“In 2009 when we first aired these futuristic plans there were so many sceptics but to us it was crystal clear. We backed ourselves and built it anyway – a totally cloud based platform for homes and buildings with an emphasis on delivering the smartest sustainable buildings on the planet.”

Customer reaction to the promotion of the platform at the recent Custom Electronics Design And Installation Association annual trade show in Sydney proved the worth of the product, Noller says.

“It was so satisfying to see the customers recognise the benefits of what the platform can deliver and also that the installers identify with a business model that brings recurring revenue in return for the loss of margin on hardware.”

So how do houses rack up a $4000 quarterly energy bill?

Mostly it’s through airconditioning, underfloor heating, pools and irrigation for gardens, Noller says.

Acreage style properties in particular are huge consumers of energy, she says.

Large houses also have more lighting and more appliances, but “significantly it’s the underfloor heating, the airconditioning and the pool pumps,” that are the worst offenders.

The technology allows owners to make informed choices – either deciding to switch off the energy guzzling item or make sure it uses only off peak energy use.

Noller says Switch Clouds will be released on 20 June 2011.

– with Tina Perinotto

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum

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