How Can the Smart Home Save Money?
A smart meter’s mission may have less to do with empowering homeowners to save costs and more to do with energy delivery—but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Many utilities are installing what they call “Smart Meters” to control and manage the energy usage in the home. However, most of these meters are not smart at all. In most instances, instead of enabling the home owner to control the amount of energy used, they are in place to allow the utility to monitor and control how much energy is delivered to the home—especially useful in times of stress on the grid. In many areas of the world, power for air conditioning as well as for the freezers in homes and businesses during hot afternoons comes close to consuming most of the power being generated. In those cases, so-called smart meters allow the utility to control the amount of power used, thus avoiding grid overload.
In contrast, a true smart meter not only informs the consumer—on a real-time basis—how much power is being used, but also recognizes where in the home power is being wasted and helps reduce power requirements.
For example, by using well placed motion and position sensors, the smart home meter system recognizes where the occupants are and ensures that they are comfortable. The system also recognizes where the occupants are not. The system can turn down (or off) the air conditioning in empty rooms as well as making sure the windows are closed, lights are turned off, and the drapes are shut. In addition, if there are power consuming devices that are on but are not used, e.g., TV, computer, gaming consoles, the system turns those off as well.
The system is smart enough to identify the so-called zombie devices in the home—those household appliances that even if they are not on, continue to draw power (Figure 1). The smart meter identifies those and with smart plugs turns off power to those systems as well.
Disasters That Don’t Happen
Another way smart home technologies could reduce costs is by preventing disasters. This type of smart home tech is getting a lot of interest from insurance companies, as well as from the utilities.
Pipes leak. Water heaters leak. Often these leaks occur when no one is home and no one recognizes the problem until literally thousands of dollars in damage occur. Water heaters often suffer catastrophic failure, flooding garages, attics, and basements, places where leakages can continue creating damage for days before being noticed.
Not only can a smart home leak detection system provide early warning that something is wrong, but a true smart system can prevent damage before it occurs. A smart leak detection system, connected to a smart home network, can talk to the water meter and turn it off, preventing damage from flooding and reducing the cost of the spilled and wasted water.
In addition to saving money on the water, this kind of system can also turn off the power and gas. Instead of using power to warm up the water—that in turn gets spilled— the smart system turns off the power and gas to the heater, in addition to turning off the water. By turning off the power and gas to the home, potential damage can be averted.
For example, when a house gets hit by a natural disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, tornado, etc., broken power and gas lines can cause fires. Having a system that is smart enough to turn off the power can prevent this extra damage. It is no surprise that insurance companies are very interested in this kind of system.
Imagine a water flow sensor that measures when and how much water is flowing into the house. Wouldn’t it be intelligent for that device to recognize that water is flowing when no one is home? If there is water flow during the day when the home is empty—or while the family is on vacation—the system is smart enough to talk to the water meter and turn off the flow.
Another interesting possibility is having the smart meter charge the home’s power storage system during the day via solar panels on the roof, or at night when power is less expensive. That way, the home’s power-greedy appliances can use “cheap” stored electricity instead of drawing from the grid during expensive rate times. These systems are already in use in industrial applications and are moving to home use. This would be especially valuable for those with plug-in vehicles who need to minimize the cost of the electricity required for charging them up.
Live and Learn
An effective smart home might make its occupants smarter as well. When people are educated about how much power each appliance is costing them, they are more likely to be more energy-thrifty when they do use them. For instance, it is much more efficient to run washing machines or dishwashers when they are filled. Running appliances under capacity wastes power and water, not to mention detergents.
The “secret sauce” empowering these smart home solutions is a network of various sensors and analytics. It is the analytics that make the system smart. The system learns from the people who live in the home to make predictions about future behaviors—the number of household members, how rooms are used and when, bedtimes, who works from home and where, who gets up early, etc., and then compares them with weather conditions, various pricing tiers for power, consumer use data, etc. This knowledge is integrated into the system and used to enhance comfort and convenience settings that also happen to be cost-saving.
These two technologies—sensors and analytics—provide a growing new market for technology developers and offer a new way for manufacturers to target their product development and marketing messages. More than just trendsetting and fun, smart home technology can also benefit the consumer’s budget.
Cees Links is a pioneer of the wireless data industry. He is the founder and CEO of GreenPeak Technologies, a Smart Home and IoT radio communications semiconductor company, now part of Qorvo.
Earlier in his career Cees worked for NCR, AT&T and Lucent Technologies. Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed for PCs and notebooks, which ultimately became household Wi-Fi technology integrated into computers, smartphones and connected smart devices. He also pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers, and hotspot base-stations. He was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the Wi-Fi Alliance. He was also instrumental in establishing the IEEE 802.15 standardization committee that became the basis for ZigBee sense and control networking.
After Qorvo’s acquisition of GreenPeak in May 2016, Cees has become the General Manager of the Wireless Connectivity business unit in Qorvo.