One of the biggest ways we can be energy efficient in the future? Mesh networks using radio frequency technologies like ZigBee and Z-Wave to move information around the house wirelessly.
If some electronics manufacturers have their way, these wireless networking technologies will help us better monitor our home’s energy use—and possibly the energy savings from alternative systems such as solar or wind power.
A hot topic at the recent European Home Control Summit in Frankfort, Germany was energy efficiency and how wireless networks can facilitate that. The Danish Energy Savings Trust (DEST) touted heating cost reductions of up to 30 percent, or about 500 euros (about $782) through the use of Z-Wave-enabled radiator heating thermostats. And new Danish utility Modstroem introduced a wireless system utilizing a digital camera mounted to the existing electric meter so residents can better monitor their energy use. Modstroem claims an average Danish household using 4,000 kilowatt hours can save the environment two tons of carbon dioxide per year by using the system.
Okay, so the electric meter cam seems a bit jerry-rigged. But consider that Europe is still far ahead of the United States on energy conservation issues such as smart metering.
“Things are starting happen here in the states,” says Brad Kayton, Z-Wave spokesman and chief operating officer for 4HomeMedia. “Austin [TX] is almost done with a smart metering rollout and have time-of-use pricing. People sign up for plan, and you allow [the utility] to reach into the home and turn down the air conditioner, for example, especially when there’s a critical peak period [of energy use]. So you have the opportunity to save energy.”
Kayton says large utilities like Duke Energy and Southern California Edison are rolling out smart metering programs. And he says that Southern California Edison is talking about putting low-cost displays in the home to monitor energy use. And yes, one low-cost measure could involve using a meter cam.
Kayton says countries already using time-of-use pricing, also called demand-side management, include Sweden Russia, Italy, Netherlands and Canada. “You see people there having very different habits,” he says. “They really market the concept of the way they consume [and can save] energy. It creates the need for solutions to help with that, like controlling your thermostats remotely.” Several Z-Wave manufacturers have networked thermostats that can be operated remotely.
ZigBee and Z-Wave are vying for control over this emerging market. No one knows who will win, of if there will be one winner. But as Kayton says, the wireless mesh networks seem to be the preferred method for utilities to reach into the home.
Yes, demand-side management trials have been going on for more than a decade. But with energy costs so high and many homeowners wanting to do their part to help the planet, the market may finally be ripe.
“With this technology installed in the home, you can save 20 percent to 30 percent in energy costs,” Kayton says. Right now, according to Kayton, only about 6 percent of homes in the United States have smart meters, but that could rise to 40 percent by 2012, especially if Congress acts to promote smart metering with legislation.
As for monitoring your direct energy use and savings if you have a solar photovoltaic or wind turbine system? Few systems, like the commercially available Building Dashboard from Lucid Design Group and the GridPoint system can do that today, and they’re expensive. But Kayton thinks we’ll see more home systems that can do that in the near future.
“It’s all going to happen. It’s a matter of how quickly and when and how quickly it gets to the marketplace.”
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates