Your Home is Not as Smart as You Think…

October 18, 2022

Miles away from home, sipping cocktails on a faraway beach, a thought interrupts you: “did you remember to turn off the heating before setting off on holiday?”

smart homes and smart buildings

Out pops your phone and a quick check of an app is all it takes to put your mind at rest. All seems well with the world. Back to those cocktails.

The modern home could hardly be smarter, right? And how we love its conveniences. From cameras that let us spy on our abodes to voice-controlled lights, almost every device around the home seems to have become smart: locks, doorbells, plugs, smoke detectors, speakers – even the good, old-fashioned washing machine has smartened itself up! 

Well, it turns out, even the smartest smart home could be - well - a lot smarter.

Smart Inside and Out

As things stand today, the smart devices around our homes are “talking” to each other in a mostly insular way, within the small ecosystems each of us have setup. 

Take the way we manage energy use in the home, a hot topic right now. We can schedule devices like air con units, heaters, and lights to follow routines, or even have them turn off and on according to which room we are in. But what would make things a whole lot smarter and more efficient is if our homes could automatically decide exactly when to take energy from the energy network to power such devices, when to store energy, and even when to sell it back to the network – based on what’s going on both inside and outside our homes. This ability becomes even more useful now that our homes can take advantage of technologies like solar panels and battery storage units, which are becoming more affordable and economically prudent.

In this smarter home of the near future, a central “Home Energy Management System” (HEMS, for short) will become the ultimate multi-tasker. A HEMS will communicate with the energy network and make decisions on whether to store, sell or use energy based on specific tariff rates at any given point in the day, the energy consumption profiles of our smart devices, the real-time energy production capacity of devices like our solar panels, and the energy demands of our lifestyles. No longer are our smart devices isolated or limited to talking to each other within the four walls of our homes. Instead, they are part of smarter homes that can automatically adapt to what’s going on outside, reacting to things like the real-time demands placed on the energy network.

Building a Smarter Future 

So how far away are we from this? Not as far as we might think. For a home to become truly smart in the way it uses energy, larger smart devices like solar panels and battery storage units will need to become as commonplace as smaller devices like cameras, doorbells and speakers. These larger devices are already more cost-effective than ever and are often incentivised by government-funded initiatives.  

Once a home is suitably equipped, ensuring its HEMS can communicate with smart devices large and small is key - and harder than it might sound. Why? The communication standards and protocols that each smart device uses are often incompatible. Some industrial-scale, commercial properties already deploy bespoke technology to get around this. But to make it affordable for our homes, a more cost-effective, universal solution is needed, one that can adapt to all kinds of properties, both new and old. The answer here is a clever bit of software sitting at the core of the HEMS, allowing it to seamlessly communicate with both the smart devices around our homes and things like the energy network outside it! The good news is this technology has recently come into existence, in the case of Critical Software’s Connecta-X

To take full advantage of the cost-savings on offer from smarter energy management, we’d also need to sign our homes up to “time-of-use” tariffs. These tariffs operate on a variable cost basis throughout the day and reward us for consuming energy when demand is lower. As our homes become smarter, we can expect these tariffs to become increasingly common. Studies have already shown 15-25% energy consumption reductions in homes signed up to time-of-use tariffs and we can expect even greater savings in a home with an intelligent HEMS installed.

In this case, what’s good for you and your home is also good for the world around you too. When smart homes smarten up, they will automatically optimise our energy use and cut our bills. On top of this, their dialogue with the network will also give energy companies the power to better anticipate consumption demands, reducing the potential for blackouts. Energy optimisation naturally also benefits the environment, something that will only continue to improve as our homes get smarter at “understanding” not only what’s happening inside them, but outside them too. And at this point, smart homes will be living up to their name.