The Future of Smart Homes, Smart Cities
The cities of the future will be driven by home automation and greatly increased energy efficiency.
Human existence is becoming increasingly urban. The number of people living in cities worldwide more than doubled between 1950 and 2010, meaning that more than half (50.6 percent) of the world’s population are now city dwellers. That trend will continue in the coming century: The United Nations projects that by 2050, 68 percent of the people on earth will reside in cities.
That proportion is even greater in the U.S., where 82 percent of Americans presently reside in cities. By 2030, that figure is projected to rise to 87 percent.
This ceaseless influx of people into cities worldwide and in the U.S. puts an enormous burden on every facet of urban infrastructures, from utility services to the maintenance of law and order (not to mention natural resources: the U.S. alone consumes a quarter of the world’s energy and put out more carbon-related emissions than any other nation). The concept of so-called ‘smart cities’ has emerged in the past several years as urban planners, politicians and engineers search for ways to help cities rise to the monumental task ahead of them.
The smart cities concept posits that cities will have to upgrade not just their traditional infrastructures – like roads and utilities – but also their information systems. In the ideal smart city, information and data are shared across systems and are used to optimize service delivery and to make all parts of the infrastructure as efficient as possible.
This transformation has huge implications for homes, as well. For one, the day of the meter man walking neighborhoods and physically reading meters on the sides or in the basements of houses will soon be over (in many places it already is). New so-called smart meters record energy use at various intervals throughout the day then relay that information – often via a WiFi connection – back to the utility company.
While smart meters increase operational efficiency for utility companies, they will also facilitate the rise of another impending facet of the smart city (and suburb) that consumers will be less happy about: demand pricing. In an effort to recoup generation costs (cynics might say, ‘maximize profit’), utility companies in many areas are gearing up to charge their users higher kilowatt-hour rates at times of peak usage.
This will likely draw the ire of families who tend to cook meals, run the dishes and do the laundry with every light and television turned on in the house, but it may produce new energy usage patterns as well.
A recent trial in Ohio of smart meter installations combined with demand-based pricing run by Duke Energy proved as much, says Tom Fenimore, speaking at an industry event hosted by Schneider Electric last fall.
“As part of that pilot we actually rolled out some home energy management solutions… and the results are encouraging,” Fenimore says.
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Where there was active engagement and promotion by the utility company to educate the customers on how they were using their electricity and ways they could reduce their consumption, many customers began to modify their behavior – not all the time but at the most critical times of the year, according to Fenimore.
“They get it,” he says. “They’re willing to engage and they’re willing to help the generating companies not have to run generation, as well as knock some dollars off their utility bill, which makes everyone happy at the end of the day.”
The Duke Energy experiment is essentially the ideal for what industry insiders call the ‘smart grid,’ which is the term used for a utility grid that collects and analyzes massive amounts of data to maximize efficiency – the grid of the not-so-distant future.
As much as consumers will gripe about demand pricing, the more efficient their homes are the less they will have to care. To that end, all levels of government have in recent year been encouraging homeowners to enhance their home efficiency through various grants and tax incentive programs.