The drive for green, environmentally friendly energy for homes is reaching critical momentum. From Photovoltaic (PV) to efficient lighting, smart devices to smart electricity meters, technologies will soon become available and in the coming years, will become mainstream.
A common attribute of almost all these solutions is that they rely more on smarts and intelligence to operate. Smart devices can provide significant benefits on their own, but as Metcalf’s law demonstrates, it is only when we connect these smart devices with each other that their real benefit is truly exposed.
A collection of unconnected smart devices is just that: a collection of things that each operate on their own. Such devices can ensure the functions of the device perform as designed. But when these smart devices are connected to each other, the collection becomes a system, one that can intelligently adjust the behavior of device functions in correlation to other factors. Some examples may help illustrate this.
The complex home automation system
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A smart security system is designed to provide a better security system than a traditional non-smart one; it may connect to the alarm central station via wireless, it may provide sophisticated time-of-day functions and use small key-fob activation/deactivation device, but it is just that: a security system. When it is linked to the entertainment system, the TV could become the user interface to the security system and the in-home audio could become the alarm. When linked to the air-conditioning or heating system, it could ensure that the A/C is only on when occupants are at home and thus save money. When linked to the lighting system, the smart security system could ensure lights are turned off and randomly turn lights on to simulate occupancy. And, when all of this is linked to the new generation of smart electricity meter, what is now a system of disparate components can ensure the most efficient use of electricity, especially at peak times when electricity demand, risk of blackout and prices becomes high.
With the introduction of alternative energy sources such as PV, wind turbines, electricity storage, and eventually plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, the system potentially becomes even more complex and the benefit to home owners will increase when these collection of devices work together in an automated form.
Home systems are there to make our lives easier. Managing a system as complex as outlined above without automation will simply not be acceptable. It would equate to a 21st century version of the TV remote and the VCR controls: feature-rich, hard to use, and thus seldom used to their full potential.
Where connectivity is key
Today we regularly see how the Internet has become a critical part of our lifestyle, a tool that can easily integrate many different previously disparate services into one interlinked, easy-to-use system. Take a “simple” task such as ordering a book on Amazon.com. When you visit their site, it will know who you are (thanks to cookies on your browser) and will suggest books you may like (based on your past orders and demographics). When you select a book to purchase, you can pay via credit card or PayPal (thanks to back-end integration) and select a shipping method suitable for you (thanks to links to UPS, USPS and FedEx). Once the order is placed, you are provided an easy way to track the book until it is delivered to your front door.
Since we use these web sites to order books, purchase air tickets, book hotel rooms, and order pizzas online on a daily basis, we take them for granted. The Internet is only possible because a complex web of connectivity between the elements of the supply chain of the above examples. Compare any of these scenarios to how we used to purchase such products or services before the Internet.
Devices in homes of the future will need to respond on a similar level of interconnectivity between the disparate arrays of devices outlined at the beginning of this article.
As with the eCommerce example above, connectivity between all such devices in the home requires some fundamental attributes, namely common standards, information storage and flow, discrete functions and human factors (user interface).
Going to Green Energy
Over the next few years, two major drivers will dominate the broad adoption of green energy in our homes. Firstly, economics and secondly, societal issues surrounding climate change (some would, with good reason, say that the order should be reversed).
With oil at around $100 a barrel today, it is clear that energy costs will increase over the next few years. Even with energy not related to oil (oil only represents a small portion of the electricity source), the cost will increase. With electricity, the challenge is for utilities to reliably provide the amount of energy required by our increasingly energy-hungry digital lifestyle. Utilities cannot simply build more power plants due to prohibitive costs and environmental concerns of carbon emission. Even if they could, the environmental resistance of building transmission lines is just as significant.
Our homes will need to be more intelligent in their use of energy and there is no better use of home automation systems, as long as it is designed with this in mind. In fact, energy will become a major driver for the mass deployment of home automation systems.
Renewable energy will be a significant component of our future energy picture — distributed generation from PVs to wind turbines and storage systems for electricity and cooling. These systems will increasingly be installed in our homes, together with smart electricity meters. While these can provide useful functions on their own, their true potential will only be realized when all of these devices are connected with each other along with other devices and appliances such as white goods and lifestyle, security and entertainment systems.
It is only when all of these are connected can we explore intelligent scenarios such as using the security alarm system to alert the homeowner when the utility has signaled an energy load shedding request during peak energy demand periods. The dishwasher would only start when there is sufficient power from PV, though when it automatically checks the weather to discover that it is likely to be a cloudy day, it could start in any event when electricity cost is at the lowest price from the utility â€“ so that the dishes are clean in any event when the homeowner returns home.
These are just a couple of possible scenarios. The point of making them is to illustrate that only when all of the devices are connected using some collection of interoperable technologies, that these kinds of beneficial outcomes could happen. There is no doubt that the ingenuity of homeowners and equipment vendors will create innovative services just like the Internet has created all manner of online services unfathomable to imagine in the pre-Internet era.
While many of the issues in this vision involve the creation of specific products from energy to entertainment, the core missing element is a pervasive connectivity information infrastructure within homes, one that can be used by any device for a variety of purposes including cost management, lifestyle, entertainment, security and others.
Connectivity thus becomes a subject of its own, and with the unfolding green energy picture will become a driver.
HomeConn 2008HomeConn is a new conference and expo that focuses on this very intersection. Held in Santa Clara, CA, as part of ConnectivityWeek May 20-22, 2008, HomeConn will uncover the opportunities brought about by an energy-centric view of home networking for smart devices.
In many ways, what is occurring in the coming years is nothing short of an energy revolution, one that will recreate how we generate, distribute and use energy– especially electricity. HomeConn will present the picture of future home automation in the context of broader trends and drivers of the smart grid, demand response and key technologies applicable to home systems.
HomeConn will be held in California where the state is in the process of installing smart electricity meters in all residential and small commercial clients over the next few years, a plan that will drive adoption of home connectivity systems like never before.
For more information on HomeConn, visit www.HomeConn.com or contact email@example.com.
And to read more of Anto’s thoughts related to energy and connectivity have a look at “The Energy Revolution is Here!” at AutomatedBuildings.com. He says:
“Let’s understand something: The Energy Revolution is happening around us, it is starting right now, not by this author, not by Al Gore, not by environmentalists, but by the realities of the changing energy paradigm.”