Americans want more say in how their homes, neighborhoods, and transit needs can save them money, save on wasted energy and time, and improve their own lives.

Residential developers and builders can't--by themselves--give American consumers that. Nor--working in a vacuum--can local energy companies, nor for that matter, transportation enterprises.

But if those three types of organizations team up--and perhaps, for the sake of argument, throw in the resources of a couple of big technology enterprise stakeholders--Americans in some places stand a chance of attaining that kind of say in their lives and communities.

To that end, Pulte and Georgia Power--and, oh yes, a little-known brand by the name of Mercedes-Benz--will work on the same team to develop a 46-home neighborhood in a well-to-do section of Atlanta as a "learning lab" for what Pulte hopes will model power partnerships that can give its new-home communities across the nation a competitive edge as connected, energy-smart, and, in the current vernacular, more intentional.

Diahann Young, director of digital platforms and innovations at PulteGroup, at the International Builders Show, Orlando.
Diahann Young, director of digital platforms and innovations at PulteGroup, at the International Builders Show, Orlando.

Pulte announced the strategic venture with Georgia Power as part of proceedings during the International Builders Show in Orlando this week, and Diahann Young, director of digital platforms and innovations at PulteGroup, spent a few moments with us to talk about the No. 3-ranked home building company's plan for Altus at the Quarter, a 46-home townhome community in Atlanta's higher-end upper West side that Pulte will break ground on this Spring.

"Why Altus? And why this configuration of partners?" Young says. "It's a great community in a great location, and our collaboration with Georgia Power allows both organizations to learn in real time how consumers want to live, manage, measure, and improve their lives by putting more control of security, comfort, performance, and efficiency directly in their hands."

By building homes with solar and battery-powered home energy storage solutions, builders and local energy companies are creating platforms to generate increasingly helpful data on energy load demands for different households, and how better to manage, conserve, and make progress on more efficient energy use, both in the home and getting to and from it.

While the Tesla Powerwall battery-powered home energy system has been hogging the headlines, Mercedes introduced its own residential battery-pack to the UK market in Spring of last year, and began marketing its home system in the U.S. later in the year.

A venture with Pulte gives Mercedes inroads--literally--to a bigger, more accelerated distribution platform ideally positioned and fit for a higher-end customer base on both the automotive and home front. Mercedes, by the way, is scheduled to open its new 200,000 square-foot North American headquarters in Atlanta's Sandy Springs in six-to-eight weeks or so. Not coincidentally, it's a building whose glass structure and open spaces are engineered to connect people to one another and to the world outside.

“The idea of the building is cooperation and working together,” and it’s built to encourage that, said MBUSA president and CEO Dietmar Exler during the media tour.

Collaboration, says Pulte's Diahann Young, will allow Georgia Power, Pulte, a solar provider, and Mercedes to learn from all the data how to smooth out the costs and disruptions of spikes in usage loads during the days, nights, seasons, and events, which will all add up to a better experience for the consumer.

"We'll have real-time measures of usage as life happens in this 46-home community," says Young, "and the technology will allow us to convert this into a gain for consumers."

Young notes that the smart home tech packages reflect an enterprise-wide initiative for home tech offerings in all new Pulte products nationwide, with a baseline offering that features smart thermostats, smart front-door locksets, and garage door openers, and an a la carte menu of other internet of things offerings and personal digital concierge and assistance device capabilities.

Of note, according to Young, the Altus at the Quarter townhomes will come with a white-glove service offering related to its smart technology and energy packages, which may be signs of an increasingly strategic approach to homes and communities as a service. Many observers wonder when--not if--home builders will finally realize and embrace that a series of maintenance, sustainability, retrofit, firmware services would be a viable and potentially lucrative business model that dovetails with their current focus on new residential construction.

Pulte's partnership with Georgia Power and Mercedes shares structure, goals, and stakeholder interests with a Southern California 9-home net zero energy project BIRAenergy, Meritage Homes and Southern California Edison did in concert with Electric Power Research Institute in 2015 and 2016, and KB Home has teamed up with energy providers and home technology partners on some of its sustainable neighborhood developments as well.

Epic partnerships that drive benefits and value to consumers--on price, on protection, on well-being--is the focus of a year-long venture BUILDER and Hanley Wood is developing with our friends at Whirlpool Corporation, and we'll be spotlighting ground-breaking strategic alliances in a series of editorial explorations, original research, and training and education on how to create disciplines and excellence in collaboration in the months ahead. Whirlpool, whose DNA is all about partnerships with builders, with other manufacturers, with its sourcing chain, and with creative developers who understand how to excite consumers, is a perfect teammate to join on this journey, which is a critical skill-set for builders now.

Our Housing Leadership Summit, scheduled for May 14-16, will take a deep dive into successful, value-generating collaborations that will help home building organizations future-proof themselves for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. The theme, appropriately, is Collaborate to Accelerate: Strategies to unlock and sustain growth into the 2020s. Make plans to join us in May in California's Dana Point at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel by registering here today.