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Can living in a Smart House help us save energy?

Posted by Alex Barrett on 3 April 2017 at 3:30 pm

With the spread of smart phones a variety of options now exist to remotely control how electricity is used throughout your home. It is now possible to create a “smart house”, where all appliances and devices are connected to a wireless network, so that they can be monitored and controlled remotely [1]. This allows you to check that all of your devices are powered off, at a glance from your phone. Devices that might otherwise be left on standby can be switched off from your phone, and then reactivated as needed, ensuring that you are not using electricity unnecessarily. More complex home control systems, such as the Nest and Hive smart thermostats even track your location, activating heating systems as you return to your house [2].

Lighting is an area where numerous “smart” options are available. A variety of companies produce “smart bulbs” [3, 4]. These consist of a Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulb with a built in Wi-Fi connection. They can be installed in any light fixture, just like an ordinary bulb. Some options require a central control system to be set up, while others connect directly to a pre-existing Wi-Fi or Bluetooth network, and can be accessed from an app on a phone or tablet. Some of these are still more expensive than an ordinary LED bulb, although prices are coming down.

This technology isn’t limited to lighting. Another option is to install a smart switch which allows whatever is plugged into it to be controlled remotely, be it a lamp, appliance or media station. Some smart switches are wired directly into the wall, but a better option for many is the smart plug. This is a simple device that plugs into a wall socket in the same way as an extension cable [4, 5, 6].

Smart plugs are considered most flexible option. The control system isn’t tied to the bulb or appliance, so can be moved around the house. If it turns out that a different appliance would benefit more from being made “smart”, it can easily be plugged into the smart plug. These plugs can also be a cheaper option, since multiple linked devices (such as a television and its associated boxes and speakers) are likely to be plugged into the same extension strip so can all be controlled with a single smart plug. Research is underway [2] to develop systems that would allow you to see how much electricity each smart plug is using, making it easier to take an active role in managing your energy use.

More complex systems are also available to control your home heating system [2]. A range of systems would allow you to easily control the temperature in any part of the house and many can learn your routine, or even track your movements in order to heat the house in the most efficient way. This allows you to change the way your house is heated based on how you are using it at the time, rather than defaulting to an inefficient heating schedule. Rooms that are out of use can easily have their heating switched off, while other parts of the building can be warmed up as needed. When you leave the house, the heating and lights can all shut down, ready to reactivate automatically prior to your return.

The downside is that a control system or Wi-Fi router will need to be running all of the time in order for the system to work, but the potential to control how your appliances are used has potential to outweigh this cost.

  1. Make use
  2. The Guardian Environment
  3. Cnet
  5. PC adviser
  6. The Guardian Business

Image Credit: Alex Barrett and Gordon Glass 2016

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