Smart Homes and Smart Energy: How Can IoT Improve Energy Efficiency At Home
In 2017, the world consumed around 22.3 trillion kilowatt-hours of energy. If you don’t have a reference frame for how much energy that is, let’s mention that it takes around one pound or a little less than half a kilogram of coal to generate a single kilowatt-hour of energy.
As a result, 22.3 trillion kilowatt-hours is equivalent to burning 22.3 trillion pounds of coal, which amounts to a little more than 10 trillion kilograms or 1 billion tons of coal!
Obviously, we do not generate all of our energy from coal alone; nevertheless, the point still stands.
Of our total energy consumption, a large portion goes to residential buildings. According to a paper by Arthur and Jofeh, buildings are responsible for around 40 percent of the world’s energy consumption as well as the resulting greenhouse gases that come with that consumption.
There is a massive upside to reducing our energy consumption at home. Besides curbing the release of greenhouse gases, reducing energy consumption saves money, making it more incumbent upon us to find ways to lower our carbon footprint.
One way we can achieve this is through the use of the Internet of Things, also known as IoT.
What is IoT?
In short, IoT is all about turning our everyday gadgets smart. This means hooking them up to the internet, having them collect and analyze data, and building the necessary infrastructure for these gadgets to communicate with one another.
What distinguishes IoT gadgets from every other appliance in your house are the following criteria:
- IoT gadgets can collect data from their immediate surroundings using sensors.
- They can transmit this data to people, data centers, or other devices connected to the same network.
- They can receive data from other gadgets.
- They can act on this data.
Rather than speaking in abstracts, let’s look at a couple of concrete examples to get a better feel for what IoT entails.
Smart fridges are great examples of IoT. They can send notifications to your phone when the door is left open, or when you may be running low on milk, reminding you to make a quick stop at the supermarket.
Smart light bulbs can also be a snazzy addition to anyone’s home. They light up automatically as you enter a room and then turn off as you are leaving it. You can also control them with your smartphone.
And, if you populate your home with enough smart gadgets, you get a smart home.
How can IoT help with energy efficiency?
Simply put, IoT devices can help you save on your energy bill in one of four ways:
- Giving you remote control.
- Enabling you to program them and to set timers.
- Communicating with other devices.
- Collecting, analyzing, and acting on data.
Let’s look at each point individually.
1. Remote control
Plenty of IoT devices can be controlled through simple applications on your smartphone. This means that you can be halfway around the globe yet still turn on and off your living room lights.
How can this help? Here are a few examples:
Air conditioners can be voracious consumers of energy, especially during summer months. Rather than leaving them on all day, you can turn them off when you’re leaving the house. However, as you are returning home, you can turn them on with a simple click from your smartphone. You will come back to a welcoming, relaxing abode.
Power strips can cut the flow of energy to your devices. This might not seem like a big deal, but when you realize that plenty of your home gadgets consume energy when on idle, a power strip seems all the more handy.
A smart power strip will not only save you from plugging and unplugging your devices every five minutes, but it will also enable you to turn them on or off with your trusty smartphone.
2. Programs and timers
An added benefit of IoT gadgets is that they are programmable. You can enter a set of commands, and your household appliances will follow your instructions to the letter. This can come in handy when you want to set timers or instruct specific devices to operate only under certain conditions.
Let’s look at a few examples of how this can save you energy
Even though we all love hot showers, they can be incredibly inefficient regarding energy consumption. For one thing, water heaters guzzle energy, and, for another, long showers can waste valuable water.
You can avoid being wasteful in the shower by using intelligent shower time limiters. These will let you know when you have been a spendthrift, notifying that you have gone over a prespecified amount of time and that you should turn off that faucet.
Consequently, a decent shower time limiter will help you increase your water savings by more than 50 percent while reducing your utility bill by 20 percent at the same time.
If you have a lawn, odds are you have a sprinkler system of sorts to irrigate your lawn. You can use timers to set when and for how long these sprinklers should operate every day, again saving you water.
3. Communicating with other devices
As mentioned earlier, one of the main benefits of IoT devices is that they can communicate with one another through the internet. This means that they can help each other better manage your energy and keep your home energy efficient. Here are a few examples:
You’ve probably heard of smart thermostats and how they can save you money. Simply put, these little gadgets gauge the temperature in your home and accordingly notify your air conditioner of whether they are needed or not. This is much more efficient than leaving your conditioner on for extended periods of time.
If you own a Fitbit watch, your watch could notify your coffee brewer when you’ve woken up so that it could start making you a fresh batch of coffee. This way, you don’t only save time, but you also don’t have to waste energy reheating coffee brewed the other night.
4. Collecting, analyzing, and acting on data
The ability to collect and analyze large amounts of data has been the cornerstone of industry 4.0, giving us the marvel of AI and analytics and many other technologies aimed at higher efficiency and sustainability.
The greatest benefit of IoT devices is their ability to collect data using sensors, and then have the data analyzed, producing actionable information. In addition, IoT devices can act on the data they collect.
Going back to the example of a smart thermostat, these gadgets can start to learn your preferences and adjust to them. They can also take into account several variables, including temperature, wind speed, and humidity, and factor these variables when regulating the temperature of a room.
Some devices can monitor your overall energy usage and notify you of areas where you can save a little. These energy monitors can go a step further and integrate with a solar-powered system, managing when your house is fed solar energy, and when it is fed energy from the grid.
Other types of smart monitors can oversee your other devices, looking out for faults and failures.
For instance, if your water heater starts to leak, this can cost you a great deal in energy expenditure as the heater will have to make up for the energy lost with the leaking water. However, a smart water heater leak detector can both notify you of the leak and shut the water supply to the heater until the problem is fixed.
IoT still has a long way to go
For all of its benefits, IoT still has to overcome a few challenges before it can truly go mainstream. For starters, IoT devices face serious security concerns and are liable to get hacked by individuals with malicious intent.
They also have to contend with a lack of standardization, making communication a bit of a hassle.
This is not to mention that slow internet connectivity in some places can also pose a problem. And, government regulation has yet to catch up with the meteoric rise of IoT technology.
Nevertheless, there are several concerted efforts by governments all over the globe to incorporate IoT more and more into our daily lives.
Until these challenges are tackled, one thing we can do to expedite the rollout of IoT devices is to overcome our innate skepticism towards this new technology and to make the most of what it has to offer.
If enough people do so, the demand for this technology will increase, compelling manufacturers and governments to work faster towards meeting demands for a more energy-efficient future.