The consumer energy market has three major components. The first is the energy itself. Consumers need reliable and affordable access to electricity and natural gas. The second component involves energy consumption and conservation. This includes everything from heating and cooling systems to low emissivity windows. The third component of the consumer energy market is home energy management. This component seeks to optimize the benefits of energy consumption and eliminate waste.
Direct Energy has been a proponent of integrating the residential energy user experience into a single and comprehensive suite of products. While some electricity providers focus solely on low electricity rates, Direct Energy was among the first to move into home services. Their product offerings include HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and surge protection services. Until recently, they also offered the Nest learning thermostat as part of their Comfort & Control electricity rate plan. However, they recently switched to a Connect to Comfort rate plan featuring Hive.
What is Hive?
Hive is a suite of products offered by Centrica Connected Home, a sister company of Direct Energy. As implied by the company name, Hive connects home energy systems through a simple smartphone app. First, you plug the Hive hub into your home wifi router. Then you add hive components to you home and control through the app.
Hive components include a thermostat, outlets, lights, and security sensors. The thermostat is a supercharged programmable thermostat that can be accessed by your smartphone. You can control it from anywhere you have internet access. You can adjust the temperature setting at home, work or while on vacation.
Hive outlets are smart plugs. You simply plug them into an existing wall outlet and you can turn connected appliances on or off via your smartphone. This is great if you want to have your hair straightener turn on at prescribed time every morning or switch off your coffee pot while you are away for the weekend.
The Hive sensors detect motion in your home or if a window or door has been opened. These are basic home security functions but should not be confused with a monitored home security service.
Lighting is the coolest Hive component. Using your smartphone, you can switch Hive lights on and off. Furthermore, depending on which Hive lights you purchase, you can dim them, adjust the light output from warm white to cool white, or change their color from white to just about anything in the RGB spectrum. Tricked out lights that you control from your smartphone is definitely a step in the right direction.
Our Take on Hive
Direct Energy and its parent company, Centrica, have long advocated for connected home technology. They once produced a video of an idealized day in the life of people living in a connected home. It featured rooftop solar generation, smartphone connected appliances, automated HVAC service calls, and integrated home security. It was a great video and used achievable technology in a practical way. Sometimes, these “home of tomorrow” visions are too close to the Jetson family.
The problem with this vision is that we have not moved toward it in any meaningful way. Smartphone technology has continued to advance but most consumers do not have smart plugs and smart appliances. Many people are just now replacing their incandescent and CFL bulbs with LEDs. New homes will eventually incorporate connectivity and “smart” devices into their design. Existing homes, however, are stuck with dumb plugs and dumb lights. For most of us, the only option is to buy into a system like Hive, Apple HomeKit, or Amazon Echo to realize some benefits of this technological shift.
Our main issue with Hive lies with the thermostat. It has advantages over the old programmable thermostats that required you to stand at the wall trying to figure out the clunky user interface. The problem is that the Hive thermostat is still essentially just a programmable thermostat. Yes, you can control it from Bora Bora. However, what we really need is a smart thermostat along the lines of the Nest or Honeywell Lyric. These thermostats adapt to your lifestyle and learn your preferences. We just do not see consumers being jazzed about programming their thermostat – even if is from their smartphone. Otherwise, Hive is a good step forward and worth considering for your home.