I am convinced of it now. We can drive our houses more efficiently, just like we drive our cars.
Long story short, I have a hybrid car—and it’s been teaching me to drive more economically. This is a major accomplishment, as I am a noted leadfoot with a long record of roadside meet-and greets with the local authorities.
Making Efficiency Fun
Prius effect you say? Yes, but my car is not a Toyota Prius. It’s a Honda Insight, a Prius look-alike (sorta) that’s a bit more rakish and sporty. Mine even has cool paddle shifters on the steering wheel, so I can downshift to get an electric boost when going up hills, for instance. That gives this spunky little car some seeds. It even emits a satisfying little growl. It handles and turns well and is fun—actually FUN—while getting more than 40 miles per gallon. Imagine that: A hybrid that’s FUN!
That’s the first thing we can take from hybrid cars into the home: Making energy efficiency fun.
Give Visual Cues
The second thing we can learn from hybrids is to give visual cues. The Insight is training me to be more energy efficient because right in front of me, on top of the dashboard, is a big digital speedometer that not only shows how fast I’m driving—but also glows green in the background when I’m driving economically and blue when I’m not. When I see that blue light come on, I instinctively ease up on the accelerator. That’s saving me gas, saving me money at the pump, and who knows how many speeding tickets.
Can this be done in the home? Yes, it can. RCS Technology (Residential Control Systems), which makes thermostats, keypads and other control systems for several manufacturers, has a TZ45 thermostat with a small LCD screen that can glow different colors, depending on how much energy you’re using.
That’s really cool. And I can tell you from experience in my FUN little hybrid car that this works! The TZ45 can not only provides you information on your heating and cooling system; it can pair with RCS’ EM52 Whole-House Energy Meter that attaches to your electrical panel, to provide information on your total energy use. Is that even cooler or what? Communication is over wireless ZigBee, Z-Wave or WiFi.
“I use it in my home and have the Low (Green = Good) level set just above my house’s ‘base’ level of consumption, which is our night time usage level,” says Gene Goodell, VP of Business Development for RCS. “In that way, I’m able to see at a glance, as I go to bed at night, that if the stat screen is green, all loads that are supposed to be off are indeed off. If the stat screen is in the medium color range, I know something has been left on and can then go find it, or look at the level of demand on the stat and decide if it’s a little load, or a big load and then act accordingly.
Smart Grid Applications
As Goodell explains, the transitions and colors are dynamic and can be used for a variety of indicators such as utility messaging alerts—such as pricing or demand response events—or can be set to change based on certain levels of consumption or transition to a higher tiered rate. (Some utilities offer tiered rate structures that dramatically increase electric rates when you use more than a certain amount.) The customer can even set a monthly budget target and be notified by the themostat’s screen color when that target amount has been reached or exceeded.
Unfortunately, says Goodell, most manufacturers only use the multicolor display for cosmetic purposes.
It is so time to change that. Imagine if a company came out with that color-coded energy use cues functionality and really marketed it? People could see at a glance if their energy use reached a certain threshold, without ever having to open up an energy monitor or energy management system.
Such systems should be marketed, sold, and put into place immediately.
There are other features we can borrow from hybrid cars to make energy efficiency on our homes more available, more accessible, and more FUN. Stay tuned.
RCS’ TZ45 thermostat can display a home’s electricity use and its display can change colors, depending on your energy use.