The connected home – defining the blueprint



While much of the discussion around smart home automation is focused on the interface and the technology, it can be all too easy to lose touch with the wider agenda and the opportunities from developments around a smart grid, says Richard Hayward, Lead Marketing Manager. Here he explains what smart means and the role technology can play in our future homes.

The meaning of the word ‘smart’ has expanded over recent years – originally used to describe intelligent technology, its usage has been extended to a wealth of equipment from TVs to phones and even plug sockets. In truth, though this could be viewed as a watering down of the word ‘smart’, from a systems point of view, it is also a positive benefit to consumers as they become more accepting and familiar with the role that ‘smart’ technology can play in the future.

However different the cause and effect of these technologies, they have one thing in common – energy, and it is this that manufacturers must help consumers to control and save. Smart grids, smart meters and the wider connected home each have this goal in mind – empowering consumers to take control of their energy consumption, but also making it more fun and more engaging.

Government and industry are beginning to appreciate that consumers will not readily change their behaviour to save energy and, the vast majority will need added incentives. Where the smart grid can help, is in part thanks to the increasing renewable energy generation and the resulting decentralisation of the energy networks and distribution.

Until now, much of our energy generation and infrastructure has been based around a centrally organised generation model with power flowing into our homes and businesses. With the decline in fossil fuel-fired power stations such as coal, increasing renewable energy generation and consumer on-site generation, the electricity grid is being updated to accommodate these changes.

Radical investment is being made in the grid’s distribution and communication infrastructure, in order to cater for the changes in the electric generation patterns and the inflow of generation for localised sources. In spite of significant increases in energy efficiency over the last couple of decades, our appetite for electrical devices continues to grow rapidly.  For the future, balancing demand for energy with the available resources becomes a major undertaking for the energy suppliers who will rely on the updated smart grid to make it happen. ‘Demand-side response’ will be a phrase increasingly talked about in coming years.

Demand-side response isn’t a new phenomenon, major industrial users have been involved in this for many years. It essentially means that during peak load times, certain companies can be called upon to either reduce or turn-off operations and therefore reduce their energy consumption.

To an extent, demand-side response has also been present in the domestic sector through tariffs such as ‘Economy 7’ and ‘Economy 10’. These tariffs offer a static type of demand-side response by encouraging users to use energy at fixed off peak times, particularly for high energy consuming items such as central heating and hot water, reducing demand on the grid network and at a reduced cost to the customer.

The roll-out of smart meters will provide another opportunity to offer varying tariffs, so that when it is particularly windy or sunny and renewable technologies are at their best, availability of electricity will be much higher and therefore, potentially cheaper. The smart meter will also mean consumers will have greater access to their energy consumption patterns and data as well as pricing information, so that they are much better placed to make informed decisions about providers and efficiency. A smart meter can also help to determine, through automation of the home, when it’s the cheapest and most efficient time to run the washing machine or charge an electric vehicle.

As part of the government roll-out, all homes will have a smart meter within the next five years, enabling communication between consumers and energy suppliers. Through a deeper understanding of energy consumption patterns and triggers to usage, energy companies can better plan for spikes and also help to reduce energy production, when there are high levels of renewable and consumer generated energy in the system.

Where things get really interesting for the consumer is in the development of smarter controls and technologies which will help to reduce consumption further and can enable greater interaction with the smart home. We have already seen the arrival of technologies such as Hive and Nest heating technologies, and the smart connected home opens up even greater opportunities in the form of lighting, audio and visual solutions.

What is really important to communicate is the broad range of solutions available in the market, to meet customer need. A recent project in the prestigious One Tower Bridge development saw the installation of a Legrand Vantage home automation system featuring temperature, lighting and entertainment functions. On the opposite end of the scale, a Legrand Arteor system, featuring smart lighting and entertainment, has been installed at Cambridge Riverside - the point being, that smart technology is no longer a solution for the select few, it is accessible to all.

Technology isn’t necessarily going to revolutionise the ‘way’ we live but more ‘how’ we live. Everyday life will be enhanced by technology. It will continue to learn and shape its actions based on experience, helping to make the best use of our energy while striving for greater comfort levels and enhanced entertainment experiences too.  The connected home and wider world isn’t something to fear, it opens up a whole new realm of opportunity and interaction and the exciting part - it’s here and it’s available today.