Why Home Energy Management Systems are Inevitable

August 7, 2012
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EVs and the profusion of solar are just two reasons home energy management systems are inevitable. Here's Panasonic's vision from the Consumer Electronics Show.

More and more people who know I write about green technologies approach me these days and ask very seriously about getting solar panels, going completely off the grid with solar and battery storage, and about electric vehicles and even hydrogen-powered cars.

There’s a growing interest in these technologies, as there should be. People want to save on their home energy and commuting costs. And these are people are in New England, which hasn’t suffered the searing heat of the south and Midwest, where running energy-intensive air-conditioning systems most of the day is pretty much a necessity.

Adding to this are some pretty disturbing developments. NASA climatologist James Hansen, who has been warning about global warming for decades, has released a statistical analysis concluding that the recent extreme heat and drought being experienced in the United States are other parts of the world must be the result of man-made global warming. (The extreme highs now double extreme lows.) Hmmmm, drought and crop failures, rising food costs, imminent water shortages. Add to that Greenland’s ice sheet recently showing inexplicable signs of melt. All this is happening, ladies and gentlemen, without an Al Gore at PowerPoint. And if you really want to be scared, read this article in Rolling Stone by environmental advocate Bill McKibben that makes the oft-complex climate change math all too simple to understand.

Don’t click away yet. A Sunday New York Times column on the nations’ extreme heat reports that belief in global warming now crosses party affiliations and likely conservative and more liberal states.

According to a survey conducted in July by the University of Texas, 70 percent of Americans believe the climate is changing, compared to 65 percent in March, and only 15 percent say it isn’t. Party affiliation continues to divide public opinion, but today most Republicans, 53 percent, believe in climate change, as do 72 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats.

Where’s the Solution?

Don’t count on our government to do much about climate change. Environmental reality has consistently lost out to the political reality—or better put, political unreality—as well as the elephant of economic priorities. The U.S. government could enact a Home Star-like bill that doles out a few billion in enticing rebates for meaningful home energy efficiency upgrades, which in turn could spur a dynamic industry that helps grow the economy, but it would rather keep gifting those billions in the form of subsidies and tax breaks to super-rich oil and gas companies that don’t need them. And this will likely be the case until something big and catastrophic happens.

The Smart What?

Home energy management system like this one from Eragy's Pro app taps into a database of electricity rates to provide demand side management and automation features.

In the face of all of this, many industry leaders and manufacturers are content to wait for the so-called smart grid to educate homeowners on the benefits of energy efficiency. Yet the smart grid is (1) off to a very slow start and largely mired in pilot-land, and (2) implemented by electric utilities, which still call their customers “rate-payers” and are notoriously poor at communicating with them. So we are to wait and rely on electric utilities to explain the benefits of something complex and unseen as energy efficiency?

It Starts at Home

In the meantime, people are taking action into their own hands. More are buying or leasing solar panels. Interest in plug-in electric vehicles rises whenever gas prices near $4 a gallon. More use of natural gas? That will help cut greenhouse gas emissions. More solar and wind? Even better. More development of tidal energy and other forms of energy? Whatever it takes. But sooner or later—my bet is sooner—we will have the collective revelation that the best way to curb the devastating effects of global warming simply will be to use less energy. Industries, schools and commercial establishments are already enacting energy management programs. Energy-efficiency in homes, from installing better insulation to electronics systems that control our energy usage, will become valued and the norm. Look for energy efficiency to increase value in our homes, in the form of efficient home ratings.

What Can We Expect?

More and More Solar. As people invest in solar photovoltaic systems, they inevitably start thinking about storing that energy in batteries, or using the energy to power other things in their homes. In some states, grid-tied net-metering solar arrays do not provide homes with power during outages, which is ridiculous. Any wonder why people want to go off the grid?

More EVs. As more electric vehicles become available and people see how much electricity it takes to charge a vehicle, they will want some sort of management system, especially if they’re on a variable Time of Use rate plan from a utility.

Tying It Together. Companies like Panasonic, Samsung and Toshiba have shown off energy storage and management systems at big shows like CES, and Toshiba has promised a smart-grid-tied system by the end of this year.

Let’s also consider the unassailable fact that even when confronted with these new realities, we’re just not geared as individuals to do much about it. Retrofitting a house can be too daunting, the whole efficiency thing seems abstract, and we can’t remember to turn things off to save energy. And that’s why automated systems that can perform these tasks for us, save us from wasting energy and money at home, while keeping us comfortable, will be the ticket.

All this energy management stuff is coming, folks, like it or not. Even if we don’t like it, we may need it.

You may also like:

Drought is a Business Opportunity

What’s a Better Driver for Energy Management: Technology or Policy?

Tech to Play Larger Roll in Growing Sustainability Markets

Why Big Service Providers May Fail

Do We Really Have Smart Homes?

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