More and more household appliances have digital interfaces. Whether lamps, refrigerators, washing machines or air conditioners – almost everything that consumes electricity can today be connected to and controlled via the Internet. There is plenty of talk about smart homes, but what opportunities do they offer besides convenience? How can they contribute to greater sustainability? And what financial savings potential is generated from the use of smart technologies?
“Alexa, switch the light on!”
Nowadays, phrases like this can be heard in households worldwide. The digital assistant is one example of a technological development that makes smart homes possible in the first place: the central and interconnected management of devices via the Internet. No matter whether this is done via a voice command, a few taps in an app or fully automatically, it has never been easier and more convenient to operate devices in an interconnected manner.
Interconnectivity – somewhere between an opportunity and a disaster
However, having increasing numbers of interconnected devices is not without its challenges. It requires the devices to be supplied with power, data to be transferred and servers to be cooled. The entire IT structure, which is being placed under ever-increasing demands in other areas of life as well – such as the trend toward streaming – is under increasing strain. A study by the Borderstep Institute, commissioned and supported by BUND, expects about 1.7 million interconnected devices in Europe by 2025, in addition to the ones that already exist.
However, it is not only the electricity demand required just to operate the devices that is significant. The study indicates that standby mode in particular, which makes smart interconnectivity possible in the first place, will play a major role. The study also projects an annual increase in additional consumption of up to 70 TWh for the EU alone. This would be roughly equivalent to the total electrical energy produced by all German nuclear power plants in 2017.
This figure is certainly impressive, but it also raises the question of where all this electricity is going to come from and what role fossil fuels will play in producing it.
From a gimmick to a game changer
Smart technologies are currently viewed as a nice gimmick in the eyes of the general public. Hobby electronics such as televisions and smartphones are taking center stage, which can also be explained by their greater presence in marketing campaigns. But another field of application that offers much more than just convenience and fun is largely taking a back seat: energy management.
Many household activities and appliances require large amounts of energy: heating, cooking, laundry, lighting – the list goes on. In practice, however, these energy flows often result in inefficient or even dramatically wasteful use of energy, which is not good for the environment or your wallet.
So is there a perfect alternative? How about a complete system that keeps everything in view?
Manage and save the smart way.
In order for smart homes to become climate protectors, there are two things that need to come together:
- Sustainable electricity production
- Efficient use and storage of electricity
Solar energy is a good choice if you want to produce sustainable electricity on your own. According to IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, solar energy has come so far, especially in the last decade, that prices per kilowatt-hour are already competing with the cost of electricity from fossil fuels. In addition, the institution forecasts that the increase in efficiency will continue to be so strong that the cost of solar energy will even undercut the electricity generated by newly designed coal-fired power plants. This is already the case in some places today, which confirms IRENA’s forecast.
In addition to their efficiency, PV systems are also impressive because of their excellent scalability, which you need if you want to act as an energy supplier for a property. Nobody would put a small coal-fired power plant in their garden, but it is easy to put solar panels on a roof or a carport. And it doesn’t matter if the buildings are new or old, as almost all house roofs offer the possibility to install highly efficient PV systems thanks to the preferred south-facing orientation.
However, the decisive step toward sustainability comes after production with the efficient use and storage of electricity. The first step is to analyze the energy consumption of the household and the usage habits of its occupants. In the long term, forecasts can be made for energy requirements that can then be combined with weather data. This makes it possible to easily calculate how and when the connected household appliances can be supplied with cost-effective PV energy. SMA offers a suitable energy management solution for this purpose, which is explained in more detail in the information box at the end of this article.
With this technology, if the right legal framework is in place, it is even possible to feed surplus electricity into the grid, speeding up the return on investment of the entire system. SMA has recognized this trend early on and geared the technology of its solutions toward it in the best possible way.
Investing instead of consuming
Personal convenience can and may well be a reason for having a smart home. But when it comes to energy, the possibilities for interconnectivity go beyond mere convenience. Smart technologies enable sustainably produced energy to become even more sustainable through efficient use. Storing the energy also contributes to this increased sustainability, because it means that solar power can be used in the evening and at night as well as in cloudy weather. Electric vehicles can also be charged with this energy or they can be used as electricity storage systems via bidirectional charging.
One thing is clear: there are many opportunities and the technology is ready. Now it is up to us as consumers to seize the opportunity, by making an appropriate investment, to become more sustainable in the long term and save energy costs. “Alexa, are you in?”