Part of the promise of the smart grid is to reduce our energy costs while also making the power supply to our homes reliable. This would lead to home energy management systems being put into place.
During a time of high wind gusts about a month ago, the power went out in my neighborhood. I am not sure as to the reason for the outage, but we did have the power come back on in a couple of hours. The power did return and vanish a few times during this outage. One reason for that may have been a peak demand at the return of the power which caused the system to shutdown. When the power went out, my wife’s first reaction was to turn everything off. I was not as concerned, since most electric users in my house are on power strips which had been turned off already (we turn them on when we need to use an appliance, like the television). The big power user that did need to be turned off was the air conditioning, so I did go over to set that unit into the off position. This habit helps the utility company to restore power, and I noticed that most of my neighbors did not do the same as we did. A home energy management system would accomplish this function without the need for our intervention.
What is a home energy management system? This is a growing market which will be the wave of the future in residential home construction. Some form of energy management programming has been in place in commercial buildings for years, but we are now incorporating these concepts into our homes. Programmable thermostats is the most basic way to manage energy usage of our biggest home energy user; however, think how much more efficient this could be if there was an over viewing program looking at our entire home. We could refine all of our energy consumption. Taking this a step further we could connect our home to the grid where energy usage for an entire area is overseen. A utility company could shut down that air conditioner to prevent a blackout, but they could also do it to save you money. A proper home energy management system connects your home’s appliances to a monitoring program that ensures you are using energy wisely, and this program can be monitored by the utility company to produce the best results. The interface with the utility company is the factor that has some people up in arms over these programs; however, these systems do have overrides.
Utility companies and homeowners who have opted into using home energy management systems in the San Antonio area have reported that this has reduced the electric bill of users around 10%. I feel that this may be the tipping point for many homeowners. Electric bills in Texas sore during our summers, since we rely so heavily on air conditioning. Yes, we need to improve our homes to be better adapted to our climate, but this management system would appeal to homeowners who want energy efficiency to be easy. For me, the fact that a utility can improve the consistency of my power supply is the appeal of the smart grid and home energy management systems. (Spend a couple of weeks in the Texas summer heat after a hurricane, and you will really appreciate your air conditioner). Note: your air conditioner draws more power at start up than when it is running. A power outage causes all of those units to draw that extra power at the same time if we have not turned the air conditioning off.
Can you (or should you) have this system installed in your home? We are in the early days of this type of energy management. I like that computer manufacturers are working on systems for our homes. These would be stand alone systems which are not operated by an outside firm. I see these resembling the energy management programs that are already in place in commercial buildings, such as programs that control the HVAC system. These programs may offer the homeowner more control once they are linked to all of our appliances. The home energy management that I hear about from the utility companies do offer some control, but those offerings seem to look at the overall usage of a given area to control peak demands. In the end, we need both. Smart appliances that can inform a homeowner that they need to be repaired, because they are operating outside of their parameters will help homeowners with energy efficiency. This can be accomplished well with a management program that informs the user through familiar interfaces, like our smart phones or computers. I would have no problem in participating in a home energy management system at this moment if it will reduce my electric bill, but I would love to see what develops for homeowners in this field in the coming years.
More often in my home inspections I am seeing ducts for the air conditioning system with little electronic devices attached to them. These are monitors and controllers that allow the homeowner to adjust air flow to different parts of the house to produce the best result (comfort and efficiency). Programmable thermostats are becoming more common, and now other programmable appliances are making their appearance on a regular basis.Somehow connecting all of this technology into one usable interface for the consumer will make it all practical. I find that most people will not work towards obtaining the best energy efficiency, because the task takes them out of their routine. An automated program is such a simple step towards savings that this will become standard in homes.