Technology Showcase: The Smart Home


At the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show, General Electric unveiled its “Smart Home,” a system that’s been under development in response to the drastic increase in home and business energy consumption caused by the number of gadgets and small electronic appliances in mainstream use today. We’re talking about everything from televisions and laptops to the plethora of charging devices required to juice up our gadgets on a daily basis, which now account for 41% of total energy use in the home and 26% of energy use in the workplace.


A smart home integrates all sorts of smart technology throughout a home, connecting all energy consumptive devices on a grid and monitoring each device and the home’s overall consumption. This integration communicates through a dashboard that family members can observe and use to glean specific information about the individual energy use of each gadget and appliance, as well as the overall use of energy in the home. A smart home not only reduces energy use in the first place, but also gives families the information they need to make energy consumption cutbacks and save money.


The operative word here is “smart,” which in this case means “energy saving.” Appliances, homes, and even power strips become “smart” when they are able to cut off the extra power going to an appliance or gadget that no longer needs the energy because it’s turned off or fully charged. Appliances, gadgets, and even device chargers continue to pull a small amount of energy from the socket simply because they’re plugged in, even when turned off or charging nothing.


Nucleus and the Energy Intelligence Dashboard


A smart home’s “Nucleus,” the brain of an energy efficient home, is connected to every energy-sucking device in the home though the home’s electrical grid in order to monitor each device, no matter how big or small, storing all sorts of information over a three-year period. The Nucleus is connected to the home’s “intelligence dashboard,” a computer-like device with widgets that are used to monitor and manage all appliances ranging from dishwashers and washer-dryers to heating and cooling systems and lights. The Nucleus energy manager will even calculate the estimated cost of the energy you’re currently using.


General Electric is testing their smart homes in a two-year pilot program in 35 homes throughout the Martha’s Vineyard island community. The test program will observe how families use the information gained from their Nucleus energy manager to make energy-saving changes and adjustments throughout the home, including gathering data and statistics about the difference smart homes could make in energy consumption on a national and global scale.


Products similar to the energy intelligence dashboard are also under development. For homes not equipped for or ready to be converted into smart homes, a power monitor that you can buy at the store and install in your home is being produced. The power monitor will monitor energy use without being connected to utilities. Consumers can also look into residential enegery audtis to see how energy efficient their homes are and to see where they can improve. Developers are working on different user-friendly venues through which the data gathered by a power monitor will be accessed, such as through home computers and hand-held mobile devices. Similarly, Google has developed the Google PowerMeter, a computer application that monitors home energy use which is currently available to customers in the San Diego Gas & Electric and Blue Ridge Electric regions.  Future smart homes and energy monitors will extend to monitoring and managing gas and water use in addition to electricity.


How Will Access to Energy Data Change the Way We Consume Energy?


Studies have already shown that simply giving consumers access to data about their energy use can lower it by as much as 15%, according to General Electric. Monitoring one’s own energy use tells consumers what energy they’re consuming and how they’re consuming it, allowing them to actively participate in energy efficiency and giving them the ability to reduce their consumption by taking matters into their own hands.


One of the best things that green builders can do is to integrate energy-monitoring devices into new homes. Consumers will no longer be limited to waiting for the companies that make the energy-dependent products they use to develop more energy efficient technologies, making both the producer and consumer responsible for coming up with energy-saving strategies.


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