Do Control Systems Use More Energy Than They Save?

January 15, 2013
eragy energy PRO real time

Eragy’s Energy Pro app not only monitors energy use in detail, but can automate events to save energy in the home.

I keep hearing something disturbing—and unfortunately uneducated—from the mouths of some green and green building experts, who seem to believe that technologies such as automation systems, lighting control and energy monitoring systems use more energy than they save.

I have called experts to see if anyone can quantify this, and best response I’ve received is, “That’s a good question. Maybe they do use more energy than they’re worth. Someone should look into that.”

Wait … wait … Arrgghhh!

Says Mark Komanecky, vice president of marketing for Eragy, an energy monitoring and management software company: “Using more energy than they save is sooooooo wrong. Unbelievable! Where did they get that info?” (Komanecky provides a savings example below.)

The Problem with Electronics

This predisposition against control and monitoring systems among some in the green industry seems to stem from the difficulty in quantifying the energy savings from such systems, especially when energy modeling a home or building.

Matt Golden, former Policy Chair for Efficiency First and president of Recurve, since bought by Tendril, said much of the same a couple of years ago about the prospects for a Home Star energy-efficiency rebate program for homeowners and whether technologies like lighting control and automation systems could be included. The Home Star bill would offer instant rebates, based on energy efficiency modeling of the home. He said, “Most lighting control systems cost energy and don’t save energy, because when you push a button 17 lights come on. Some [lighting control systems] can save energy, but how do you define that?”

I would think that with today’s technology and know-how, savings from these systems can be at least generally quantified, perhaps based on how much they are controlling. Is somebody doing this?

Oxymoronic or Just Moronic

I suspect there is more behind this techno-prejudice among some green experts. It may have to do with technology being intimidating to many—I’ve been writing about high-tech for more than 20 years and can still intimidate me! Also, the phrase green electronics still seems oxymoronic to some, because you know, electronics consume electricity.

Come on, green experts: Let’s stop disregarding that today’s smart electronics can use their processing power to help us be energy-efficient and conserve the electricity these devices use themselves.

emonitor app home

Smartphones with energy monitoring apps like this from eMonitor provide users valuable information on their energy usage and alerts when appliances and devices are using too much energy and may need servicing.

People are not going to give up their electronics. So let’s use them to our energy-efficiency advantage. And if you’re intimidated by technology, web sites like GreenTech Advocates are here to bring green and technology together. Because we know the good it can do!

It’s these sort of prejudices, predispositions and ignorance, by some on both the green and technology sides, that is limiting us from unleashing the power of our smart electronics to be greener.

For Example …

Lighting control systems are programmed to illuminate only the lights that are needed, and are often preset to light areas in a more efficient, dimmed state. Many today also employ occupancy sensors to automatically shut off lights after someone has left a room.

A home or building control/automation system that ties together lighting, HVAC, security, audio/video and other systems achieves efficiencies in setting scenes and can often power down electronics not in use. One system’s settings can save energy in others, such a security system arming and shutting off lights and other devices. Consolidating systems under one user interface also saves on hardware, labor and energy, especially via today’s preferred smartphone, iPad and tablet interfaces that are replacing power-hungry touchscreens.

Even standalone energy monitoring systems that merely report your energy usage save 5 percent to 15 percent just by providing energy information—at least initially, according to studies. Pair it with a control system that shuts things off and the savings can rise to 30 percent, by some optimistic estimates.

And check out how technology is employed in “The Greenest House in America,” and how the homeowners realized efficiency, especially via automated technologies, is key.

Eragy’s Komanecky provides an example of an Eragy system using an eGauge monitor and Control4 control system:

  • one eGauge uses about 3 watts (normal) and only 7.5 watts (peak).
  • one Control4 thermostat uses 0.1 watts.
  • one Card Access high-current relay (for shedding hot water heating loads, etc.) uses about 2.4 watts.
  • one Control4 controller uses about 30 watts.

So, a typical house with one eGauge, two thermostats, a high-current relay and a Control4 “brain” will use about 306 kWh over the course of a year.

The average U.S. house uses about 18,000 kWh per year (electric + gas/oil equivalent). Assuming a modest 10 percent energy savings, that equates to a savings of 1800 kWh, or 1500 kWh net savings.

If you consider a lower cost, mainstream solution (e.g. Digital ZigBee gateway) that uses only 1.2 watts (as opposed to the 3-watt C4 controller), the annual control system usage drops from 306 kWh to 57 kWh, and the net savings increases to 1743 kW

You may also like:

‘Greenest Home in America’ Relies on Efficiency Technologies

Happiness in Electronics?

Insights from a Green Tech VC

Why Home Energy Management Systems are Inevitable

7 Software Platforms that Make Building Energy Management Easy

The Business Case for Green Tech

Green Business Keen on Green Tech and Automation


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