Nearly three quarters of U.S. households subscribe to high-speed, broadband Internet service, and most of them are blanketed in Wi-Fi networks. Most households, in other words, are already high-speed Internet gateways, and Americans are increasingly filling them with more connected devices, expanding the universe of products — smart appliances, streaming media players, smart thermostats, and “traditional” networked devices like computers and mobile devices — that can communicate with each other and the Internet.

Homeowners use networks for a variety of purposes, including security, productivity and entertainment, but as network connectivity and control expand to large residential end uses like appliances, heating, air conditioning, lighting and electronics, these networks can increasingly be leveraged for energy monitoring. These home energy networks connect energy-using devices to provide services related to the consumption of energy.

At their most basic, home energy networks provide information on energy use and control over connected devices. Forget to turn off the lights or turn down the thermostat before going on vacation? Need to see how much money you’re spending to run laundry equipment? With home energy networks, there’s an app for that.

Advanced home energy networks can analyze use trends, suggest behavior changes, automate/optimize the setup of certain devices and frequently provide mobile apps to centralize settings and controls. A well-known example is the Nest Learning Thermostat, which users train to recognize their temperature preferences and away-from-home schedules. The more complicated the network and the greater number of connected devices, the deeper the potential energy savings and the more sophisticated these “orchestrations” become. In the most advanced systems, homeowners can create scenarios that effectively provide a “sleep” or “standby” mode for the entire house.

Home energy networks require a lot more than a smartphone and software wizardry. There can be significant hardware investments. Often systems cannot effectively communicate between manufacturers. Of course, some systems will be difficult to set up and configure. But some can be up and running in under two minutes. The combinations of systems are almost endless, and the array of options can be confusing. New players are constantly entering the market offering the killer app to solve all of your home networking problems.

Anyone looking to automate their home or monitor their home remotely should first ask what one or two things they really want to use — not what is trendy, but what is practical and useful. If your schedule is unpredictable, then a smart thermostat may be the best option. It will help you to make your home comfortable when you arrive while saving money when you are away. If you entertain a lot, then one of the smart lighting systems may be the best bet. They allow you to change the light output and color based on how you are using the room. They can help you make the room more romantic for that special someone or set the right light level for watching a movie.

Big box stores are devoting prominent shelf space to a plethora of home energy network systems and devices. The challenge for consumers will be to find systems that perform a useful function and can be installed without having to consult customer support — or a third grader.


Brian Sloboda is a senior program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a service of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Laura Moorefield is the founder Moorefield Research & Consulting, LLC in 2013. She currently resides in Durango, CO and is a member of La Plata Electric Association.

Peter May-Ostendorp is the founder of Xergy Consulting in Durango, CO and is a member of La Plata Electric Association.

There is little, if anything, you can buy today that does not have some electronic component. Even clothing as wearable electronics are starting to take hold. Not to mention a device ( that allows you to make a keyboard from bananas. So, it’s time to take a look at making sure your electronics last as long as possible. I’m not talking  about replacement plans or extended warranties. Today we’re talking about protecting your products from electrical surges.

The first order of business is to define a surge. Here’s one from Computer Hope ( on the ‘Net. “Alternatively known as a line surge, a surge is an unexpected increase in voltage in an electrical current that causes damage to electrical equipment. For example, the standard United States voltage is 120V. If an electrical current above this rating was to come through a power outlet for more than three nanoseconds, this would be considered a surge, anything less is considered a spike. A surge is usually created by lightning and can damage unprotected computers and sometimes even protected computers.”

Many people think a blink from your local power company is a surge, but these are generally caused by something like a tree contacting a line. In such cases, the system’s protective devices work, causing an interruption to protect the wires and other components. These are not surges, but more like turning a light on and off.

True surges will enter a home through any number of avenues. The most obvious is through the power lines. Less obvious is through the telephone lines, cable/satellite connections, water lines and any other metallic system that connects to your home. So, to protect against surges, you need to take a three-pronged approach.

Perhaps the most important thing to do is to be sure all the grounds in your home are good and that they are bonded together. Over the years, grounds can deteriorate, new services can be added with inadequate grounding and so forth. A faulty ground will allow surges into the home rather than bleeding them off into the earth. Get a qualified electrician to test and correct your grounding system.

Next, protect your electrical service entrance with a surge device. [If your co-op offers surge devices, include that information here] The easiest to install are those mounted behind the meter. They can also be mounted at the main electric panel. When a surge travels down the electric lines, these devices will act to “clamp” the surge and reduce its power. These are sacrificial devices that allow themselves to be destroyed rather than allowing the surge to pass through. Noble devices indeed!

The third prong is to protect expensive devices at their point of use. Computers and entertainment equipment are prime examples. Remember that surges can enter the home via avenues other than the power lines. Computers and entertainment equipment are frequently connected to cable and phone lines. Those devices need to have protection at the point of use that covers all possible avenues. These are generally in the form of a power strip or wall device most of us are familiar with. Use a quality product from a manufacturer such as Monster, Belkin, Tripp Lite, or APC, to name a few. Look for one with a joule rating of at least 1,000, a connected equipment warranty and compatibility with digital signals from cable and satellite. While you are at it, look for a “smart” strip that turns off all but one connected device when not in use.

Save money on your electric bill while protecting your equipment. It’s a definite win-win.

Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.