The move toward smart homes that are intensively networked and microprocessor-controlled got a small but important push in the U.K. last week. British Gas, one of the country's biggest gas suppliers, announced a partnership with AlertMe, a startup that specializes in remote home monitoring and energy management. AlertMe and its competitors offer customers a way to manage their home's energy consumption on the Web or from smartphone and tablet apps

The need to more effectively manage energy consumption is growing, and networked technology is uniquely equipped to help. AlertMe is partnering exclusively with British Gas for its Remote Heating Control service, which will be available to all of the utility company's 10 million customers. The new arrangement demonstrates that the smart home concept is spreading beyond forward-thinking startups and catching on with utility companies. 

For consumers, the most compelling advantage of this type of technology is the cost savings. Under the old system, homes were cooled and warmed inefficiently and at improper times, leading to wasted energy and money. Automated systems like those offered by AlertMe, Control4 and smart thermostat manufacturers like Nest allow residents to schedule their temperature-control regimen in advance or do so automatically based on their past habits. This has an immediate impact on home energy bills. If adopted on a large scale, it could have a broader environmental impact. 

Utility companies and tech startups aren't the only ones diving head-first into this space. Tech giants are getting in on the action as well. Google aims to weave Internet connectivity into a variety of household appliances with its Android@Home initiative. Meanwhile, Comcast's XFinity Home initiative is a partnership with Verizon to offer home automation services.  

AlertMe's solution is geared toward U.K. customers for now, but the company says it plans to launch a similar offering in the United States soon.