To some of us, mentioning SMART technologies conjures up images of the 1970s and ideals of futuristic living, a sci-fi haven of clap-on, clap-off lighting and automated teasmaids. The 1970s hailed the beginning of SMART or intelligent technology, aimed at integrating and automating functions such as lighting, heating and audio and visual systems. This was cutting edge, high-end living, something aimed at improving the lifestyles of only the most design-savvy and wealthy homeowners.
The past 30 years have seen SMART technologies evolve, however. It is still a term that refers to an integral network through which devices talk to each other, intelligent controls for managing the system, sensors that collect information and intelligent heating and lighting that respond under instructions, but SMART has got... well, smarter. It no longer simply looks after the smug, platform wearing home-owners of yesteryear. Intelligent systems certainly offer integrated solutions for luxury living, but they also provide assisted living to the disabled, support to our growing elderly population and a means of measuring and, potentially, greatly reducing the nation’s ever growing energy consumption.
The use of energy in the home has been widely identified as a major producer of carbon dioxide. In 2004, 27 per cent of the UK’s total CO 2 emissions stemmed from domestic use. SMART technologies have been singled out as the most effective means of making us aware of what we use, how and when we use it, and how much it costs, both in monetary and energy terms.
So why aren’t we SMART already?
SMART technology is already being used extensively in places like South Korea, where investment in innovative technology since the 1990s has led to entire cities, known as U-cities, being able to control their home and monitor their health through mobile phones, remote controls and the internet. As the European Union increasingly looks to improve energy performance in the home, derivatives of these technologies may become more widespread in the Western home.
In 2007, the Government began energy-saving trials in approximately 40,000 homes around the UK, approximately 15,000 of which were to receive SMART electricity meters. Tracking electricity use in the home, meters pinpoint areas of inefficiency and enable residents to adjust their habits and appliances. This allows for much greater efficiency, saving money on household bills and lowering the cost to the environment.
Real-time display units
From this month, the EU is due to decide whether UK energy suppliers need to provide SMART electricity meter display units to all their customers on demand over the next 10 years under the EU Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive. Government estimates that this could save 300,000 tonnes of carbon a year, but it could take 10 years to roll out metering and real-time display units could provide an interim solution. As Faye Scott, author of the Green Alliance report Teaching homes to be green: smart homes and the environment, says: ‘SMART meters are not an answer by themselves but do help to effect behavioural change. Real-time display units won’t be linking to your bill, but have a short-term impact by raising awareness.’
The majority of domestic CO2 emissions are produced from heating; both hot water usage and gas consumption could be read and reduced by employing a meter similar to that used for electricity. Despite metering and intelligent heating controls being widely available on the market, however, very little research has been carried out to explore the benefits and reductions that gas meters could provide.
Metering trials have been conducted since the 1970s, but despite the Environment Agency openly encouraging water companies to switch to metering – as well as the consistent reporting of annual water shortages – companies still place the emphasis on the customer requesting a meter (unless it is a newbuild or in an area designated ‘water-scarce’.)
Contact your energy or water supplier and ask if they provide SMART metering. Efergy and Eco-eye produce wireless electricity meters with a sensor and transmitter that can be clipped to your electricity feed cable.
Real reductions in energy consumption require smarter thinking than simply boiling kettles less or getting rid of an archaic freezer. ‘If they really want to save energy they need to control their heating costs, which are at least 60 per cent of the total,’ says Lawrence Griffiths of Ivory Egg, which distributes EnOcean self-powered controls for intelligent buildings.
By isolating ‘zones’ and adjusting heating and lighting appropriate to the room’s function, excess use of heat and light becomes negligible. Removing the need for switch and sensor wiring, the controls harness mechanical and light energy to power themselves. At around £3,000 for a four-bedroom home with three heating ‘zones’, homeowners could switch their house on and off with one button that can be remotely controlled, while opening a window could turn down your radiator. That’s a pretty clever house.
The long-term potential that SMART homes have to change the way we use and generate energy in the UK is phenomenal. Demand on power stations at peak times causes surges in energy use, which have a much greater impact on the environment. Ultimately, the smartest homeowners making the biggest savings could be generating energy through microgeneration and selling it back to the energy companies. The EU’s decision on metering, and consequently on the extent of our wastefulness, will be made this month. If it does become mandatory, we could be doing one of the smartest things we can for the planet, without even having to leave our homes.
Smart today and tomorrow
Since the introduction of the mandatory Home Information Pack in December 2007, every home put on the market will need to display an Energy Performance Certificate, and although there is currently no specific rating for SMART buildings, how smart we are could save energy and affect house sales in the future.
Smart Solar Water
In the UK you are unlikely to be able to generate enough heat fully to replace other energy sources, but one hour’s sunshine still produces an hour’s worth of hot water at a usable temperature with the Willis Solasyphon. Fitting to the side of your existing tank , it delivers solar-heated water to the top of your tank. As a retrospective installation it is cheaper than a new twin-coil solar cylinder, at £275 + VAT. As it uses your existing tank, it is also less wasteful than a full replacement. They are produced in Ireland and supported by the Carbon Trust. www.willis-renewables.com
No more opening the window when you’re too hot and wasting energy. The EnOcean radiator receiver electrothermic valve closes the valve as you open the window. The functions are solar-powered. EnOcean is also developing a valve that harvests its energy from a temperature difference of a few degrees. www.enoceanshop.co.uk
Home Information Packs (HIPs)
Heating and Hot Water Council
This article first appeared in the Ecologist May 2008
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