As we kick off 2015, there is still massive interest in the Smart Home vision. At CES earlier this month there were hundreds of smart home solutions on offer from smart doors to connected coffee machines and still massive excitement about the potential of this market.

It is early days, but the vast majority of these are actually showing very limited growth. Smart monitoring and security systems have proven attractive within their segment, but with little sign of mass penetration, whilst pretty much everything else remains a hammer looking for a nail.

The fact is that manufacturers are busy trying to make their products smart, without really understanding the consumer problem they’re trying to solve:

  • Take lighting – Personally, I don’t have an issue turning lights on/off when I enter or leave a room, but the user experience of smart lights is actually worse with either of the 2 main technical solutions: If I choose smart light bulbs, which are actually more expensive than their standard cousins, I have to change my behavior (along with everybody else around me) to NOT use the wall switch which I’ve used all my life otherwise the smart one won’t work. Plus every time it blows, I need a new more expensive lightbulb. Or I can get an electrician to rewire my house with smart wall switches – not cheap! All for the ability to turn a light on or off in a room I’m not in.
  • Take the smart coffee maker – actually why bother. You get the point. Let’s move on.

The reality is that only one smart homes’ device is showing potential for mass market take-off right now. The smart thermostat.

Smart thermostats work because they genuinely make my life better – they save real money by allowing me to turn the heating off if I’m out and don’t need it, the interface is far easier to use than the old wall unit, which combined with the fact the controls are now in my hand whilst I’m in bed or on the sofa rather than always out in the hall, I can be more comfortable with zero hassle by adjusting the temperature when I want. Great.

Now the smart thermostat market represents a massive opportunity for the utilities.

  • Recent research by Park Associates found that 14% of US broadband customers plan to install a smart thermostat this year. That is tens of millions of customers.
  • Pike Research shows customers are 4 times more likely to look to their utility than any other provider for energy management systems.
  • Further, smart thermostats provide lots of opportunities to help utilities meet their energy efficiency targets, help customers manage their bills, and establish a base for the broader smart home vision (if that materializes!).

Yet… you think about smart thermostats, and you think Nest. You search for smart thermostats on google and you get the likes of Ecobee, Honeywell, even Home Depot – but not a single utility on the first results page.

Where are the utilities? With some searching, there are a few offering them, such as Reliant Energy, but none of them are taking advantage right now whilst there is an easy window of opportunity.

Come on utilities – let’s see some action!