One of the great things about CES is seeing the unexpected. One of my picks for best tech from CES 2021 was the new Square D Energy Center from Schneider Electric, one of the leading companies in energy management solutions. The consumer electronics market has been flooded with smart home gadgets for several years, but this Schneider Electric product looks at the smart home from a different perspective by starting at the power source first. The Square D Energy Center puts the intelligence in the heart of your home.
The most notable feature about the new Energy Center is that it looks like a standard breaker box with 60 circuits and can replace the 225A main breaker box that is already in most homes without any significant changes. However, the similarities end there. Not only can the Energy Center connect to the regular power grid, but it is also designed to connect to other power sources, including solar, stand-alone generators, batteries, or practically any other type of energy generation or storage solution. There is a direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) inverter from Solar Edge that connects right onto the back of the box. This solves one of the biggest challenges of incorporating additional power sources to a house and/or trying to leverage multiple sources for off-grid applications that need to be converted from DC to AC to power appliances. The Energy Center is also set up to support electric vehicle (EV) charging systems. As a result, the Energy Center can perform the functions that normally take three or four boxes – the breaker panel and the add-on connectors and controllers for both power and auto charging systems – while also providing surge protection for the entire home.
In addition, the Energy Center works as an intelligent hub for controlling the power throughout the home. Using the “Wiser” hardware and software integrated into the Energy Center, a consumer now has a single point of power information and control for the home. The Wiser software is impressive. Using AI and analytics, the platform can determine what products are connected to what breakers, even when multiple products are connected to the same electrical line through one or multiple outlets. Ideally, you would want each product on a single line, but it is impractical to wire each device and would require many more breakers and wires through a house. The way other smart home solutions get around this is by using the IP address for each unit connected through a hub or router. The downside of this method is that you may end up having to use multiple hubs and interface standards and using multiple applications to control your home. In addition to identifying the power draw on each line, the Energy Center can provide information as to the best time of day to use major appliances based on the power draw and available power sources. It can also determine when an appliance may be experiencing problems or about to fail due to higher-than-normal power requirements. Through the power lines, the Energy Center allows you to control the power to smart or dumb products from the breaker using a single application. Granted, this only allows control of the power, but that is a key place to start.
Another interesting feature of the Energy Center is the ability to classify lines and appliances and control items when power is lost in what is called “critical load” mode. For example, if you lose grid power and your system switches over to a generator or backup batteries, the Energy Center lets you program and control which appliance(s) would still have access to power, like the refrigerator, certain low-power LED lights, and maybe a heater on a cold night. Other energy vipers like PCs and TVs can be blocked from access to power. Likewise, you can program other control conditions for the various lines. This is limited to the line, but most major appliances typically have their own electrical lines and breakers. And what parent has not thought about being able to turn off everything in their child’s room when it is bedtime?
In addition to the Energy Center, Schneider Electric also introduced some smart outlets that will work in conjunction with the Energy Center to provide additional information and control and has plans for additional smart home products. The outlets are controlled over Wi-Fi or Z-Wave and through virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Wiser application software works on an Android or iOS phone with access to the Energy Center via a Wi-Fi internet connection.
Schneider Electric positions the Energy Center as both a smart and sustainable product capable of reducing the energy consumption in the home by up to 50%. The Energy Center will be available starting in April through Schneider Electric retailers and distributors and the company will provide pricing closer to the formal launch.
Sustainability was a key theme at CES 2021, and this product definitely fits into a sustainable living category. One reason the Energy Center caught my eye was that I am currently building a sustainable house and a sustainable ranch. As a result, I have been looking at and reviewing smart home products for the past three years. What I have found is that if I want to make my home the smartest it can be, it will result in at least 150 IP addresses and cost me at least $30,000 extra. Not only is the cost a concern, but I am also worried about selecting products now and having to worry about support for them as standards and interface technologies change or being able to replace them with similar units in 5 to 10 years. I also worry about the additional power these smart products will draw because I am trying to minimize energy consumption by building an energy-efficient house from Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) and using passive solar and geothermal heating and cooling. In addition, I must rely on a satellite for internet connection, which is data capped. Granted smart devices are not going to be using much more power or will be sending and receiving significant amounts of data, but when you have over 100 of them, the power and data begin to add up.
What I like about the Energy Center is how it solves many of the complex issues homeowners are facing as they think about sustainability and as EVs become more prevalent. I am also impressed with the intelligence of the platform and programmable control capabilities. However, it would be nice to see the use of powerline communications to avoid having to send all the information over the internet, which creates data security concerns and limits control of devices during a power outage. However, I expect to see other Square D Energy Center enhancements as the platform matures and the company introduces additional smart home products.
The Energy Center also marks a critical transformation for Schneider Electric from what would best be described as an industrial company to a consumer electronics company, creating new opportunities for the company going forward. It is also another example of the market adopting AI. Tirias Research believes that by 2025 almost all new products will use AI in the development, manufacture, and/or use natively, through the cloud, or both. Companies that do not adopt AI to both their processes and products/services will be left behind. Schneider Electric is not the only company working on smart home energy management solutions, but the Energy Center has the highest level of integration and functionality we have seen thus far giving the company a step up on the competition.
About Schneider Electric
Schneider Electric is leading the Digital Transformation of Energy Management and Automation in Homes, Buildings, Data Centers, Infrastructure and Industries. With global presence in over 100 countries, Schneider is the undisputable leader in Power Management – Medium Voltage, Low Voltage and Secure Power, and in Automation Systems. We provide integrated efficiency solutions, combining energy, automation and software. In our global Ecosystem, we collaborate with the largest Partner, Integrator and Developer Community on our Open Platform to deliver real-time control and operational efficiency. We believe that great people and partners make Schneider a great company and that our commitment to Innovation, Diversity and Sustainability ensures that Life Is On everywhere, for everyone and at every moment.