Utilities are beginning to address the rising cost of energy, increased government regulation and energy independence by instituting a smart grid, which is capable of monitoring our homes’ energy usage and regulating how and when we use energy. The utilities can no longer depend on building new power plants; therefore energy conservation is the only alternative. The utilities goal nationwide is to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 by developing energy efficiency programs. They plan on doing this by installing advanced energy technologies and utilizing a smart grid, which will give home owners more choice and control over how and when they use energy.

A smart grid will depend on digital communications network, utilizing intelligent devices, such as smart meters, which are being installed by many utilities today. Home owners will be able to utilize HAN (Home Area Networks) to work with the smart meters and the smart grid.

Many Integrators lack an understanding of how the utilities operate, while utilities rarely adopt new technologies, which are embraced by integrators. The biggest challenge is finding the right infrastructure to communicate between the smart grid, smart meters and smart appliances. Presently, there is no one communications system that will handle all aspects of smart communications. Both a WAN and a LAN will be used to connect the communications connection point to the data center and back office.

The communications node (connection point) will need to talk to smart appliances, PEV (plug-in electrical vehicles), street lights, and smart meters. Using a LAN connection, end devices can operate in a point to multi-point communications, such as smart meters, and appliance sensors. The LAN can utilize Ethernet, serial and USB interfaces that can connect third party devices.

Within the communications node, utilities will use 802.11 Wi-Fi, which is the dominant home networking standard and will provide easy adoption for HAN. There are many endpoints, devices and manufacturers using 802.11, making connection to the grid more flexible.

The intent is to have the communication’s node serve as a data collector for end devices, perform analysis, provide integrated I/O options, serve as a router for end devices, nodes and servers. Some of the end point devices that will communicate with the nodes are: Electric/gas/water meters, transformers, PEVs, thermostats and appliances.

Product manufacturers will need to build in smart technology to their products that will also tie in to the HAN. Home automation manufacturers will need to develop systems that not only control the lights, and sound systems, but every smart device in the home or office.

So, how does this all come together from the smart home to the smart grid? Let’s start with the smart meter, which connects the home to the electric grid, allowing the homeowner to see the energy usage. The smart meter connects the home in a two-way communication with the grid, helping to manage the demand on the grid, by improving reliability. The homeowner can make choices as to when power will be used and to what extent, giving the homeowner control over the cost of energy. By the way, there is a smart meter for gas.

The data is communicated to the node every hour via a secure wireless 4G network. The home owner can now determine how much energy is being used during the day, week or month by connecting to the utility’s “My Account” online information from a computer. In addition, the home owner can get “Energy Alerts,” via a phone call, text message or email, alerting that, at the present rate of consumption, the power bill will go into a higher cost tier, thereby allowing the home owner to review the power usage and possibly cut back to save money.

The leaders of smart meters are Echelon, Elster, G.E.,Itron, Landis+Gyr and Sensus, which manufacture all of the smart meters in use today.

Tendril, a leading energy platform company, is working with Whirlpool to develop smart appliances. Whirlpool will integrate its smart appliances with the smart grid infrastructure, opening communications between the appliance, the home owner and the utility company. This design would allow a refrigerator to move its defrost cycle to a non-peak time without hurting the appliance, saving the consumer on energy costs. G.E.’s smart water heaters, washers, dryers, refrigerators and stoves are designed to provide zero net energy homes by 2015. Of course, G.E. is being subsidized by our tax dollars.

If only 6 million homes replaced their electric tank water heater with the smart hybrid heat pump water heater by G.E., the utilities could save as much energy as generated by 40 coal-fired power plants annually.

LG Thinq will link your smart appliances with Wi-Fi and smart phone apps. This allows the home owner to schedule the oven cook time, washing machine cycle, and even control the appliances from outside of the house with a mobile app, including starting the robotic vacuum to clean the house and even feed the dog remotely. The system will count the number of times the refrigerator door is open and keep track of what’s in the refrigerator.

Courtesy LG Electronics

One device, which will provide the biggest savings, is the smart thermostat, which in tests, showed a decrease in kilowatt usage, saving the home owner an average of 1.92 kilowatts per home. EcoFactor has shown that it can reduce home energy by 17% by automatically managing a home’s digitally connected thermostat, tweaking the settings in a way that reduces energy waste while keeping the home comfortable, by accounting for outside temperature, physical design of the house and input from the owner.

Ecobee is the maker of a WiFi enabled smart thermostat that is designed with contractors and property owners in mind, and it is easy to use, smart and green. Unique features automate energy conservation by dragging a finger across the screen to set a full range of options. The system will alert should there be a problem and allow the user to access it from anywhere, using a personalized Web portal. Hit the “quick save” button and the thermostat will automatically reset to conserve energy.

Ecobee Web interface

There are many manufacturers of smart thermostats, including brands from China and South Korea.

What does all of this mean to the integrator and equipment manufacturers? Integrators will have the responsibility of suggesting the end devices that work with the energy management control systems and then tying these devices into a HAN that integrates with the smart grid to control HVAC, lighting and other power usage devices. Such a connection will improve the operation of the device and lower the cost of energy for your customer. All though there will be many opportunities for refits in existing dwellings, such integration will be required in new construction by the utilities in the near future. New construction will demand smart devices, such as HVAC, water heaters and a PEV. These will need to tie into a HAN, which will communicate with the smart grid.

All aspects of home technology will be affected by the country’s need to conserve energy on a mass scale, placing the systems integrators and equipment manufacturers in a position for growth.

Coming Next: Home Automation Networks

Len started in the audio visual industry in 1975 and has contributed articles to several publications. He also writes opinion editorials for a local newspaper. He is now retired.

This article contains statements of personal opinion and comments made in good faith in the interest of the public. You should confirm all statements with the manufacturer to verify the correctness of the statements.