Combatting the energy crisis

As energy prices are skyrocketing across Europe and climate change is becoming more of a concern, Amy Wallington investigates some of the ways home automation and technology can be more energy efficient.

If there was ever a time to invest in an integrated home, it might be now. Over the last few years, climate change has been dominating a lot of the worldwide news, bringing with it new innovations such as the introduction of smart meters and the switch to electric vehicles.

More recently, much of the world is facing an energy crisis causing household bills to sharply increase, making everyone a lot more conscious about the amount of energy they are using. The introduction of smart meters across Europe has made consumers more aware of their usage. But do they really work?

“Initially, the research studies indicated the behaviour of consumers might change when you show them their consumption and provide tips on how to improve it,” informs Casto Cañavate, marketing manager at KNX Association. “However, later reports also indicated that consumers go back to their bad habits after some time. Therefore, installing a home energy management system (HEMS) will do this for you automatically. As a consequence, your own system will manage the energy as per the conditions defined by the user in the best way possible.”

Energy management systems can give a clear picture of how much energy is being used. Image: ABB

Interest in energy management and control systems has definitely increased in the last decade as people have become more aware of their energy usage and costs. It’s no longer considered a luxury to have a HEMS but is becoming more of a necessity.

“People want to understand where and how they use energy in more detail than what just a smart meter provides,” says Dean Reddy, product marketing specialist at ABB. “If we can understand where the energy is being used, then we can look at ways of reducing it. Using a home automation system can help identify these areas but also allow you to control these aspects. Furthermore, the energy data could also help with preventative maintenance of the heating and cooling systems which could reduce costly repairs.”

Managing energy

How exactly does one manage energy within their home and how can a smart home system help? The whole idea of a smart home is to automate functions and make the house work for your individual needs. In this way, a smart home system can analyse energy usage and help manage it.

“First and foremost, Savant is focused on delivering the consumer real-time insight and historical data on their energy consumption patterns,” explains Angela Larson, Savant’s senior VP of customer operations at Savant. “Savant can provide this insight all the way down to the circuit level, allowing consumers to view their high-runners and adjust usage based on factors ranging from time of day to load prioritisation.”

Analysing data is not the only thing it can do, as Reddy explores: “Both ABB’s free@home and i-Bus system, for example, can provide zoned heating so that each room can have its own thermostatic control, thus only heating rooms that need heating. It can also be beneficial to install external weather stations that communicate with the smart home system to effectively act as a weather compensation system. Blind control combined with the likes of ABB’s free@home system can track the sun and lower/raise the blinds to achieve energy savings while managing heat gain and reducing sunlight into rooms if the temperature rises too much. Simple window contacts when integrated into a home automation system can be programmed to shut off the heating when the windows are open.”

Reddy also explains the usefulness of having an ‘All Off’ switch on the wall that will reset the entire home when leaving the house to ensure that all lights and heating are turned off. For ultimate automation, he also suggests geofencing so that the homeowner’s smartphone can be tracked to detect when they are not home, ensuring everything is turned off without the homeowner having to think about it.

Smart homes can help users control their energy usage through automated scenes. Image: ABB

Integrating into the home automation system can allow for special programming to ensure the home is always energy efficient. “As homeowners gain insight into their historical usage trends and understand local time of use pricing, they can create scenes that automatically activate at certain times of the day to reduce consumption,” adds Larson. “For example, an eco-scene can be created to activate at a specific time of day, turning off non-essential lights as well as reducing the demand on the HVAC system.”

A home automation system can also change to renewable energy sources when able. “One of the key benefits of energy management is that the CEM (Customer Energy Manager within the HEMS) can control where it takes the energy source according to the circumstances, so that a smart home system can select a renewable source of energy when it can,” says Cañavate. “For example, if you install solar panels and it is a sunny day, the CEM will select this source of energy to supply the house according to the demand. But if there is no sun, the CEM will choose another source such as wind turbine from a local distributor or if necessary, in the worst case scenario, fossil source of energy.”

Power management

To be more energy efficient, it is important that homeowners look after their systems and the devices on it and monitor their power usage to protect from surges and the like.

“Savant’s energy monitoring solution delivers energy production and consumption history data at the circuit level, providing homeowners with the information they must have to increase their usage efficiency while reducing costs and carbon emissions,” states Larson. “Savant energy monitoring can also act as a useful tool to deliver insight into circuits that are suddenly drawing an unusual amount of power, indicating that a device may require servicing.”

“If we can understand where the energy is being used, then we can look at ways of reducing it.”

Justin Peyton, SurgeX’s director of sales EMEA, highlights some power management and protection options available. “One increasingly popular solution for clean and stable power supply into UK homes is online double conversion Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) technology. An online double conversion UPS provides uninterrupted, consistent, clean power, irrespective of the incoming power. It filters and converts incoming AC power to DC, and then back to perfect AC from the inverter. Unlike line interactive UPS modules, double conversion online UPS technology isolates output power from the input power 100% of the time, protecting loads from any voltage anomalies or dropouts.

“If the mains power is interrupted, the batteries are still holding up the incoming DC supply to the inverter, so the load continues to be supplied with absolutely no interruption whatsoever. The zero-transfer time guarantees mission critical home office, media streaming and other systems remain up and running throughout, with the inverter always online to supply the clean, reliable and resilient power supply that’s essential in optimising system performance and reliability.”

Having a reliable and clean power source will only help towards homes being as energy efficient as possible.

With smart home integration, homeowners can keep an eye on their energy consumption from anywhere in the world and be able to control it remotely. Image: Savant

New opportunities

Besides the obvious cost and environmental benefits having a HEMS will bring, it will also increase the value of the property. Moreover, with the growing interest from homeowners, it is also an added opportunity for integrators.

Cañavate points out: “This is a completely new field and can bring new business possibilities as this application will dramatically increase in the years to come. However, it will require a lot of training and education in order to be able to confidently integrate it into one system or ecosystem. It will require high levels of skill for them to set up a comprehensive system.”

Larson agrees that this will present new opportunities to integrators as consumer focuses change. “The potential for increased consumer adoption of energy monitoring and management solutions represents a very significant opportunity for professional technology integrators. Energy efficiency, application of renewable resources and grid independence will be areas of key focus as consumers consider future smart home solutions.”

Heavy investment

There is one significant downside to having HEMS and probably the reason why more people do not invest in such solutions: initial costs can be very high. However, if a homeowner has the money to invest initially, it often pays back over the years in bill reductions.

Although the initial investment is still high, prices to implement such solutions in homes are coming down to make it an option for more homes.

“The cost of solar panels and battery storage solutions have come down in price over the years so these are still viable solutions for any home,” highlights Reddy.

“An eco-scene can be created to activate at a specific time of day, turning off non-essential lights as well as reducing the demand on the HVAC system.”

Larson suggests that education is now needed to support the reduction in costs: “Overall cost reduction across renewable energy solutions is important to achieving mainstream adoption, as is a rise in educational resources and systems that are designed to be comprehensive and deliver an intuitive experience for the homeowner. Energy information that is disparate and spread across multiple apps remains unactionable and uninspiring – and unlikely to drive changes in usage behaviour.”

She continues: “It is critical to increase our education to consumers on the options they have to better manage their energy. Most consumers are aware they can have smart music in their homes, smart climate solutions, even motorised shades and intelligent lighting, but they have not been given the information to take that next step and work with a technology consultant to make their power smart. Education across municipalities, forward-thinking building and remodelling trades, architects and designers, and technology professionals are also key to growing adoption.”

Looking at it from another perspective, Cañavate thinks it should be compulsory in any smart home. “I wouldn’t say it is important to educate the consumer,” he says. “It shouldn’t even be an option in a smart home, but installed by default. In a car, you don’t get the option to choose whether you want powered windows or not, you just get them. It should be the same in a smart home. That is why energy management is currently used more in commercial buildings, but it will come to residential as well sooner or later.”

Reddy believes more can be done to encourage consumers to invest in energy management for their homes. “Homeowners could be benefitted for having an energy efficient home or there could be law changes to make sure ISO level standards currently only applicable to commercial buildings are introduced in residential too,” he suggests. “New legislation that ensures developers are looking at futureproof home automation systems to control heating and lighting could be brought in as well.”

Main image: ABB