Cisco Systems took another step into the consumer market today by announcing a Home Energy Controller device that homeowners could buy from local utilities to help with energy conservation.

The web-enabled controller product, which would sit on a countertop, has a touchscreen display designed to help consumers make more informed choices about local energy providers. It also can help homeowners set up schedules for energy consumption based on peak demand times and knowledge of energy usage by specific appliances, such as refrigerators or air conditioners.

Pricing was not announced for the controller, and trials with energy providers will start soon, making the device available by the end of the year, said Marthin De Beer, Cisco's senior vice president of emerging technologies.

Cisco already has a history in providing home-based Wi-Fi routing systems, but in recent years has moved further into connecting home TV and stereo systems into home-based networks. It also has a major push into video for consumers with its Flip cameras, based on a purchase last year of Pure Digital.

The home-based controller will be "simple and easy to use...very intuitive," De Beer said in a press conference held at its Cisco Live! conference. It will have Wi-Fi connectivity, but also an Ethernet port, and could be used to connect appliances with iPhone or other smartphone apps to give a remote user full control of a household.

With the use of such devices in larger houses or apartments, Cisco could conceivably reach into millions of homes in a few years. "It's a major channel," De Beer said.

Like large companies, the homeowner could use the controller to reach out to energy suppliers, find better rates for service and use companies that generate power in an eco-friendly way.

Duke Energy is working with Cisco on its various energy saving products, but didn't announce any details with the controller device. Gianna Manes, senior vice president and chief customer officer at the utility, said home energy management requires using an IP-based system such as that incorporated in the controller. Such management isn't possible with today's analogue-based energy grid, she said.

"We're confident out collaboration with [Cisco] will result in a solution that provides our customers back-of-mind simplicity and real, backpocket rewards," she said.

The controller will coordinate the variety of networks that could be used in a modern home to detect information from appliances, including information sent via ZigBee, Wi-Fi and encoder receiver technology (ERT), Cisco said.

Theoretically, the system would allow a utility connected to the controller to give a homeowner detailed energy control and management information, down to an individual appliance. At the utility end, Cisco announced Energy Management Services to help utilities manage data from thousands of homes.

Cisco also announced an industrial product for energy management called the Cisco Network Building Mediator Manager 6300, which has helped NetApp reduce consumption and bring about savings. But the consumer controller product is potentially bigger news, given the millions of customers it could affect.