Imagine a world where your house is attuned to your needs. It knows exactly what temperature you find comfortable and automatically adjusts the thermostat. It knows your schedule, so the heating or cooling shuts down to save energy when you leave for the day. Forgot to bring a grocery list to the store? No problem, an app will let you take a peek inside your fridge. As you head home, preheat the oven for dinner with your smartphone. While cooking, your oven can weigh your cut of meat and recommend a temperature and cooking duration. When you settle into bed for the night, turn off all the unused lights in your house with a click of a button.
Sound enticing? A home like this may be here sooner than you think.
Solutions like these are possible thanks to the introduction of smart appliances; normal appliances you can control over the internet. Smart appliances include just about any home appliances you can think of: thermostats, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, and more. Using your smartphone or laptop to interact with these otherwise mundane machines affords greater control and flexibility over how (and when) they work.
Some of these smart appliances don’t even require manual input; they keep track of your habits in order to provide you with services when you need it. Consider self-programming thermostats: once installed, a smart thermostat will observe and record how you adjust your settings and what temperatures you prefer. After your pattern has been established, it will then start automatically adjusting itself based on this information. Some thermostats and other devices can also make use of your phone’s GPS or motion sensors placed around the house to determine if you’re home or away. If you’re out, smart devices decrease power, turn off lights or turn down the thermostat accordingly. Once the GPS shows that you’re close to home (or the motion sensors are triggered), power is restored to normal levels.
Many of these appliances can also help you regulate your energy consumption. With a smart thermostat, you save money on your electric bill any time you leave home or go to sleep because a lower power mode is activated. Nest, a popular manufacturer of smart thermostats, compiled the results of three research studies investigating energy savings. They compared household consumption before and after the installation of a Nest thermostat and relative to nearby homes with regular or manual thermostats. They report energy savings averaging around 10-12% for heating and 15% for cooling bills.
For other appliances, you can save money by purchasing electricity in real-time when prices are lowest. With flexible pricing – based on local, hourly energy usage – convenience appliances like smart dishwashers can be set to run when there is a lower demand (and, therefore, a lower price) for energy. Looking at St. Patrick’s Day’s Com-Ed real-time prices for electricity, the highest rate (9.2¢/kWh) occurred shortly after noon. Assuming a 1.3 kW dishwasher operates daily for an hour you would pay $3.39 each month at this price. If instead the dishwasher operated in the early hours of the morning when rates were lowest (1.2¢/kWh), you would be paying only $0.47 monthly.
On rare occasions, utility companies will actually pay you to consume electricity, too! This happened recently in Texas. On a blustery night, wind turbines fed more power to the grid than needed, creating an excess of supply for very little demand. Since electricity produced must go somewhere, power companies calculated it was cheaper to pay users to consume electricity than to shut down their operations. This phenomenon was not an isolated incident and has been observed in states across America and countries in Europe.
Ten years ago, few people had smartphones. Now it’s hard to find someone without one. With the way technology is advancing, it’s not a stretch to imagine smart appliances could be commonplace within the next decade.
With the widespread use of smart technology comes the potential to drastically reduce our energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Recall that using a self-programmable thermostat can save up to 12% of energy consumed while heating your home. According to the Department of Energy, residential consumption accounts for 22% of America’s overall energy consumption, and 45% of that is spent on heating—an annual equivalent of roughly 3 trillion kWh. If one in ten homes used self-programmable thermostats to maximize their heating efficiency, we could potentially reduce energy usage by 3billion kWh each year. Considering 57% of homes consume natural gas for heating, this could also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 370 million kg annually.
The benefits of developments like these are promising, but they don’t necessarily come without costs. Like anything connected to the internet, smart appliances can be hacked. Although you may question why someone would want access to your refrigerator, smart appliance security breaches have been reported. In 2014, a refrigerator was used in a cyber attack involving other home consumer products. Additionally, many people are uncomfortable with the idea that companies can access so much detailed information about their day-to-day lives.
As markets change and technology is refined, there are many potential benefits to smart appliances. Not only can you increase your comfort and save money, but you also get the chance to explore emerging technologies in an increasingly interconnected world. Who knows? The smart house might just be the house of the future.