For a “smart grid” company, Nest isn’t all that interested in updating the power grid itself. It’s really more of a smart energy use company. The Google-owned company makes small devices for managing a household or officeplace – devices like computerized thermostats, smoke alarms, and as of last week, security cameras. They promise that their thermostats will increase the energy efficiency of a building by carefully scheduling heating and cooling based on your routines, automatically adjusting your energy use when you’re not home, and otherwise automating your household.
Now, Nest has launched an API and a developer program, encouraging other technology companies to make hardware and software that can interact with their devices. For example, a smartphone app could alert Nest’s thermostat when you leave work, so that your air conditioning doesn’t start up until Nest knows you’re on your way home.
This could provide a new way to manage renewable energy. As the share of energy from renewable sources grows, our energy system needs to adjust to the idiosyncrasies of these new energy technologies. Solar power is mostly captured in the mid-afternoon, but energy consumption rises in the evening – remember the duck chart?
While utilities try to figure out the best way to manage these challenges on their end, it’s easy to imagine devices like smart thermostats allowing consumers to play their part, without altering the hardware or operation of infrastructure. Perhaps smart thermostats could coordinate with other smart thermostats in an area, making sure that devices power up and down at complimentary times, spreading demand out throughout the day. And plenty of big companies (like Apple for example) are betting that smart home devices will spread.