A lot of pretty cool devices that can save you energy and money were introduced in 2011—and that is a very good thing.
The best part? They’re not all un-fun things that get all Al Gore and preachy. They are useful technologies that enable us to save energy and money—and make it simple—all the while not compromising our comfort, convenience or lifestyles.
We’ve seen stylish thermostats, cool plug-in modules, killer energy management/home control systems, affordable motorized shading to help harvest light and save energy—even set-it-and-forget it technology that we are bound to see more of. The best green tech products this year actually make it cool and exciting to be green. And that is an even better thing.
Here are seven of our favorites:
The sleek and “sexy” Nest thermostat ($250), developed by former Apple executives, makes setting and programming a thermostat so you’re both comfortable and use less energy easy and automatic. It’s been hyped in the media as an iPod of thermostats, and with good reason. It’s sleek and modern looking and simple—and it has one button. Nest says the thermostat learns your personal schedule in a week and starts automatically turning down heating or cooling when you’re away to save energy. It also connects to your home’s Wi-Fi to control it from your laptop, smartphone or tablet.
The $50 modlet plug-in module from ThinkEco monitors the energy usage of a device and offers remote, wireless control of the device from a computer—as well as learning your usage patterns and offering helpful energy-saving suggestions. It can turn off power to connected appliances on schedule to eliminate wasteful energy use and recommends auto-saving schedules for users to implement. Additional modlets can be purchased for $45.
EcoFactor Set-it-and-forget-it Automation
EcoFactor software for smart thermostats use the thermostat’s sensor, combined with home and local weather information, to read a home’s thermal characteristics and make many micro-adjustments to the thermostat’s set point to save energy, while retaining the comfort of the home’s occupants. In trials the company has conducted, it has reduced energy bills by about $30 per month for homes with a single thermostat and about $55 per month for those with multiple thermostats. Like good home control systems, energy management systems should run in the background and be virtually invisible to the homeowners—until we need it to do something. EcoFactor isn’t available in retail outlets, but we look forward to seeing it implemented by broadband service providers, utilities and the like. This kind of set-it-and-forget-it energy automation is the future.
ZigBee to Z-Wave Bridge
Sigma Designs and Zonoff have partnered on a ZigBee to Z-Wave bridge that takes the wireless ZigBee signal from a smart meter and sends it to Z-Wave-enabled devices like thermostats, plug-in modules for lights and devices, power strips and door locks, among other products. Sounds boring, but the significance can be huge, if two-way smart meters continue to be rolled out and are deployed using ZigBee. Many Z-Wave networking products exist for the home, and some are used by big service providers ADT, Comcast, Verizon, Vivint, Alarm.com and likely AT&T in their security/home connectivity systems that offer basic energy management.
Savant SmartEnergy Monitor
Of all the cool energy management systems coming out, the one that I continually think of is Savant’s SmartEnergy Monitor, which effectively works withi a home control system. OK, it’s a pretty high-end home control system, and the SmartEnergy Monitor is just about to go beyond its limited initial rollout. But here’s the cool part: You see a pie chart showing the energy usage of systems like HVAC, lighting, etc., touch the slice and go to another page to control that. That is energy monitoring actually working with a home automation system. Nice.
Lutron and Somfy Shades
Also gotta love two window treatment products: Somfy’s WireFree Solar Pack solar-powered shade ($220 each) with a PV panel mounted on the inside of the window to convert sunlight into electrical energy. And Lutron’s battery-powered, motorized Sivoia QS cellular shades ($299 each). Cellular shades are energy-efficient by trapping a cushion of air between the layers of fabric, and motorizing shades can help harvest and save energy by helping to heat a room with solar gain in the winter and cool it by closing in the summer. These two reasonably priced energy-efficient window options could get a lot more people interested in both saving—and harvesting—energy.