U.S. homes consume roughly 20,000,000,000,000,000 British Thermal Units (BTUs) of energy every year. More succinctly that's 20 quadrillion BTUs, or enough power to launch 134 million space shuttles, 15,000 of them every hour, of every day. Whichever way it’s represented, the energy is almost a quarter of U.S. primary energy consumption, and 19 percent of the country’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Worse, from generation, to delivery and consumption, much of the energy is wasted.
Calculate the numbers on a global scale and the cost of lights left on, incandescent bulb use (most of the energy traditional bulbs use generates heat not light), appliances in standby mode, and inefficient heating and cooling of homes to name but a few culprits, and it amounts to a terrifying waste of energy. While the consumer can do nothing about the vast amount of energy that’s lost at source — vented as heat at the power plant itself — or that lost in transmission and distribution or, where they can take control is once the power has reached their home. Technology plays a key role, relieving pressure on vigilant parents who have until now spent their time turning off heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances left on by their non-bill paying offspring. Smart home appliances now allow every homeowner to regain control over their energy use. And while the uptake of smart home devices remains in its infancy, the tide is turning.
Smart home devices — thermostats, appliances, and lighting for example—provide comfort and convenience, as well as delivering savings. According to the report, Energy Impacts of Smart Home Technologies, by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), smart appliances can reduce energy costs for a typical household by up to nine percent. Consumers who use feedback from these devices to further adjust their energy use can save an additional three percent. Smart lighting meanwhile, according to the ACEEE, has the potential to save between 7 and 27 percent of a home’s lighting energy use, while smart outlets and power strips that rely on time scheduling, motion sensing, or load detection to cut off power to devices that are not in use could save a staggering 50 percent of energy use in some households. Smart heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems that use multiple sensors to optimize system operation can deliver savings of up to 10 percent, while smart thermostats that learn household behavior patterns and preferences can in turn deliver savings of 8 percent in heating costs and 10 percent in cooling costs. With such considerable savings on offer, it begs the question, why has consumer uptake been so lukewarm?
According to Jen King, a Senior Research Analyst at the ACEEE’s Buildings Program and author of the ACEEE report, the answer lies in a complex mix of factors including up-front purchase costs, perceived complexity, security fears, and a lack of interoperability. “People have been slow to adopt smart home technologies for several reasons,” King said in the ACEEE report. “Some are just not aware of them. Even if they are, they may never have used these technologies and may view them as too complex or expensive … people are [also] hesitant to commit to the Internet of Things due to mounting cybersecurity threats and breaches.
“Current adopters tend to be tech-savvy, upper-middle-income households … to realize the full potential of smart technologies, consumer acceptance must evolve beyond early adopters and reach the broader population,” adds King. “As people become more familiar with smart home technologies and satisfied with the convenience, comfort, and energy benefits they afford, they might be more likely to pursue additional efficiency measures or spread the word to friends and family.”
Consumer acceptance is turning. According to recent research from analyst, Parks Associates, of those who had invested in smart energy-saving devices, 70 percent believed the technology had helped them reduce energy consumption. Further, according to B2B research company MarketsandMarkets, the smart home market is forecast to reach $151 billion by 2024 from $76 billion last year, as the increasing cost of electricity drives concerned consumers towards investment in smart home appliances, in particular smart meters and lighting controls.
Connectivity is key
Smart homes are less about individual devices than about their interaction with one another. “The key to the smart home is connectivity,” noted King noted in the ACEEE report, with a host of wireless protocols — Bluetooth LE, Thread, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, and Z-Wave — all jockeying to be the connectivity solution of choice in the smart home. Nordic Semiconductor has long seen the smart home as a key market for opportunity and growth. Despite perhaps being best known as a Bluetooth LE chip supplier, Nordic has with its high-end nRF52840 SoC provided a connectivity solution offering concurrent Bluetooth 5 and Thread or Zigbee operation on a single chip to meet exactly this demand.
Energy saving in the smart home is an opportunity not lost on Nordic customers either. Polish IIoT startup, OneMeter, recently released its OneMeter Beacon a device that allows users to monitor and manage their energy usage data in ‘real time’. Plugged into an existing electronic electricity meter via an optical port interface, the beacon receives energy usage data from the meter, and once paired to a smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth LE wireless connectivity, allows the user to review the data including active and reactive energy consumption parameters, as well as daily, weekly, and monthly energy usage charts. Currently designed for use in industrial and commercial environments the company is looking at the domestic market and integration via Amazon Alexa, Google Home, as well as Apple HomeKit.
Elsewhere, Currant, a California-based smart home solutions company, has unveiled its WiFi Smart Outlet, a Bluetooth LE- and Wi-Fi-connected device employing AI to enable users to monitor and manage their power usage. Any household appliance can be plugged into the device, which in turn is plugged into any power outlet in the home, and once paired with a smartphone enables the user to immediately review their energy consumption.
These are two examples among many of wirelessly connected smart energy-saving devices, all working from the same basic premise that knowledge is power. If technology can tell us as it happens that we are wasting energy and money, then it’s a technology that every single homeowner should want.