When most of us think of green electronics, we think of lighting control systems or Energy Star-rated TVs that use less electricity than other sets—or maybe LED (light emitting diode) lights or sexy OLED (organic light emitting diode) video screens.
Those are all very nice, and they all represent somewhat greener electronics that most of what’s available today. But I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again: The killer application for green electronics will be energy monitoring systems and home automation. These will be something that many of us, if not a vast majority of us, will either have or want to have in the near future.
What’s so great about monitoring your energy use? Saving energy and money, that’s what. With an energy monitoring system, you can see your electrical consumption by day, hour, month, or year—and with some advanced systems do the same with your water and gas usage. You can also check the amount of power being produced by solar panels, if you have them. (And without an energy monitoring system, it will be hard to see if your solar panels are actually working.)
Studies show that people with this kind of feedback reduce their energy consumption by 10 percent to 20 percent. And you can save significantly more by tying an energy monitoring system to solar panels or another alternative energy sources—as well as some kind of home automation. Lighting control and home control systems can automatically turn off lights and other electronics that aren’t needed, for example.
Some innovators are already going a step further. Jabar McKellar of Envision Solution in Dublin, Calif., has designed what he calls an artificially intelligent (AI) energy monitoring system. McKellar plans to use a HomeLogic home control system to execute commands based on data received from a high-end Agilewaves energy monitoring system. For example, if it’s a cloudy month and your solar array is producing less electricity than normal, the system can enact prioritized energy saving measures, such as dimming all the lights 10 percent more or powering down the irrigation system or having the air conditioning turn on at 78 degrees instead of 75 degrees. The result is a “net-zero” house that not only produces all its own energy—it’s really smart.
Yes, automation and energy monitoring at this level is still largely a province for the well-to-do. But there are plenty of more affordable energy monitoring devices like The Energy Detective, Control4’s new EMS 100, the PowerCost Monitor, and software from Cinemar. Check them out. And more are on their way, including Google’s prototype PowerMeter now being tested in homes with two-way smart meters. (They’re coming as well!)
See where this is going? Energy monitoring systems will become mainstream, and energy monitoring will be the killer application for green home technology. Now we just have to get the home control systems to be greener in their construction (less toxic materials), better in their own energy efficiency (less energy wasted as heat), and more affordable.
This post originally appeared in the Sept. 2009 issue of Electronic House.