IoT: Revolutionising home energy management

February 1, 2015 OpenSystems Media

We're privileged to live in an era that is truly heralding a revolution in the way we can take ownership of our home's energy consumption. Of course a key driver is the spiraling cost of energy and focus on our own environmental impact and carbon footprint – but this isn't purely a cost cutting exercise, this revolution also promises a substantial functionality increase that simplifies our ever-hectic lives.

Today, most homes' energy management capabilities consist of appliance standby modes and CT based "per home" amperage monitors. Both technologies, whilst offering some benefit, have inherent flaws that don't quite make the grade – enter the smart, connected home.

Let's start with energy efficiency opportunities. The obvious function and the first we're seeing hitting the UK market is "smart boiler" control. Functions available today are predominantly manual control via smartphones, be that within the home or remotely.

The next generation will see the introduction of habit learning intelligence, reviewing for example your daily hot water usage statistics, adjusting boiler activation times and duration accordingly to reduce wasted energy. Let's face it, I'm sure all of us would admit we purposefully over specify this "to be safe" and invariably have plenty of wasted hot water remaining at the end of each day as a result. We should also expect to see cross device integration, for example setting your burglar alarm when leaving the house automatically deactivates any active central heating – and any individual appliances that clearly offer no benefit remaining powered within an empty house.

Appliances are already following suit in "self" management. For those enjoying a hot drink as they wake, expect to see coffee machines and kettles activated by the deactivation of your smartphone alarm.

An environmental group calculated 1/3 ($2 billion) of lighting in the U.S. is wasted each year. "Smart lighting" offers not only the PIR type activation many of us are used to in our offices, but also the ability to configure individual lights' brightness and activation times, monitor status remotely, and deactivate all lighting in an "empty home" scenario.

Now for user functionality improvements. Having recently become a first-time father myself, monitoring a baby can consist of paranoid listening or gazing at a baby monitor, then conceding I'd better physically check just to be sure!

I want to instantly see environmental information such as temperature from my smartphone and don't require a constant AV stream of every murmur falsely demanding my attention, an intelligent alarm would be infinitely better. Interestingly such advances are equally attractive to those caring for the elderly, increasingly wanting to stay in situ rather than seek residential care in their twilight years.

With the advent of online shopping and smart fridges, once the food packaging industry introduces RFID tagging your fridge can actively monitor "best before" dates and even automatically re-order essentials that are no longer detected.

What's in this for the energy companies? Paradoxically, it may seem, those profiting most from soaring bills are heavily driving this revolution. Worldwide governments are applying pressure to these conglomerates to reduce household bills either by lowing the price per, or quantity of, kWh – the latter costing the energy company far less.

It's also true that as energy bills soar, the levels of payment default do too, which negatively affects cash flow. Pressure on reducing carbon footprints internationally also drives future taxation levels for energy companies, another key consideration.

What risks are suppressing this innovation? As with most technological revolutions the infrastructure costs are high; a typical homeowner will not encompass this cost alone as a business can usually provide a better ROI case due to significantly higher savings – though as we've seen already a keenness exists from the energy companies to support funding this.

Ease of installation is another challenge, particularly when perhaps less technologically savvy householders find themselves at the front end. Securing any cloud-based remote access, as always, demands "security" high up on the agenda too.

The cross platform support of Wi-Fi and web servers is obviously critical, though I worry, as per the HD-DVD/Blu-ray type wars of the past, that those major players are again deriving their own proprietary formats. From a business perspective these players are understandably aiming to secure market share, though that's unfortunate for innovation and technology – a frustrating obstacle indeed.

Rory Dear (Technical Contributor)
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