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Why Home Automation Systems are at the Forefront of Energy Savings

Words by Leon Kaye

Intelligent building efficiency is not just relegated to offices. As energy prices rise and incomes are squeezed, home automation systems will become a more enticing investment as their efficiency improves and costs decline due to innovation and scale. And, consumers will start paying attention: currently the average household pays over $100 a month for electricity according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Half of those costs are to keep the motor and compressors in operation in air conditioners and heaters. So if smarter systems are going to save consumers money, the work must start with the machines that cool us during summer and keep us warm during the frigid winter months.

And if consumers had the ability to control their home’s climate control systems remotely from a smartphone or a web application from a remote location, they could save money without sacrificing convenience and comfort. In my interview earlier this month with Emerson’s VP of Marketing at Emerson Climate Services, he shared with me some of the challenges, future benefits and upcoming trends in the home automation technologies market.

“We’re data hungry--we want it at our fingertips. At the same time, when it comes to our comfort and convenience, we want it easily and quickly with no distractions.” -- Geoff Godwin describing the role of data in the development of cutting-edge home automation systems.

Currently less than two percent of homes in the United States have some form of home automation or smart grid system, but Godwin sees huge growth in the next four to five years. Communications protocols such as Zigbee have improved in their sophistication to match the growing complexity of HVAC and water heating systems that consume less energy than ones manufactured just a few years ago.

But as Godwin explained, the fact that air conditioning units and heaters are improving in efficiency and performance poses more challenges for manufacturers and software engineers. By 2015, new air conditioning units on the markets should be 10 to 11 percent more efficient than ones currently sold. New technologies will allow compressors in these systems to operate with a wide range of variable speeds to keep homes cool during those late afternoons and ensure a pleasant temperature when homeowners return from a long day at work.

These systems will therefore be more complex and not just feature the simple on and off switch that were typical of the homes in which we grew up. But as Godwin reminded me during our talk, consumer interaction with these systems cannot change. On the back end, they must be smarter, but for the homeowner, devices controlling these home automation systems must be even more intuitive.

Two trends are driving improvements in home automation. First, utilities across the country are scrambling to promote home automation systems. New regulatory demands and guidelines motivate these companies to see homes improve their overall energy efficiency. In addition, the growing demand for peak load reduction has witnessed more tiered pricing depending on the time of day as well as the surge in demand response systems that can “shave” electricity use during times when local power grids experience greatest strain. In the end, utilities have an incentive to recruit and retain customers within energy efficiency programs; consumers will want to save money but not endure increased hassles.

“You don’t have to create an extravagant network of home automation systems in order to take advantage of energy efficiency.” - Geoff Godwin

So will these “smarter” home automation systems hit consumers’ wallets? According to Godwin, the good news is that systems designed to focus on homes’ energy efficiency will actually become cheaper than those focused on appliances and entertainment systems. For consumers who wish for perfect lighting along with seamless video systems, they can expect to pay as much as $10,000 a year for such an automated system. But if the need is simply energy efficiency, an investment on average will range from $50 to $100. Pair that price with local utility and government incentives, and it will only be good sense for consumers to install a smart home automation system in the homes this coming decade. In the end, consumers will be able to save money without any change in lifestyle as these smart systems scale and improve in their performance.

[Image credit: Wikipedia]

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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