This time last week, we blogged about energy management apps, and asked, tongue-in-cheek, could they be cooler than Netflix? Sadly, the answer was a resounding “no”. Today we take the energy management theme a step further and look at energy management systems.
While energy management apps (largely) put control in the hands of users, energy management systems are designed to do their job automatically. One beauty of automation is scalability. This has made energy management systems perfect for commercial applications.
However, much like how technology developed in F1 race cars frequently filters down to passenger cars — Direct-Shift Gearboxes (DSG) are a great example — commercial energy management systems are now finding their way into our homes and small businesses. Energy nerds rejoice! (I just know I’m not the only one who’s excited about this.)
This article will take a closer look at two examples you may already be familiar with: Automatic lighting controls and smart thermostats.
LED lights are the low-hanging fruit
Lighting is generally the second highest energy costs in residential and small business settings. (Heating and cooling tend to take top spot.)
Upgrading to LED lights is the low-hanging fruit with respect to cost-savings. But add smart lighting controls into the mix, and you can really get ahead. Let’s do the maths on a typical example:
An LED retrofit should reduce lighting consumption by about half.
On top of that, energy management can reduce the time of use by a further 20%.
This takes total consumption to just 40% of its original value.
Right now, you might be thinking, “But I already turn the lights off every time I leave the room.” Me too. Failing to do so is an offence in my home, punishable by reduced PS4 time, to recoup the wasted power.
Turing off the lights is a good start, but whatever you can do, automatic lighting control can probably do better. Here’s how it works.
How does smart lighting work?
Some of the most common types of lighting controls are:
- Daylight harvesting: This is a clever one. Sensors detect the availability of natural light, and turn artificial lighting down when possible.
- Programmable controls: Lighting controls can also be configured to follow a schedule. In residential settings, it’s possible for the lights to be on, when nobody’s home. Not a cost-saving measure per se, but great for deterring crooks.
- Occupancy sensors: As the name suggests, they turn off the lights when nobody is in the room. In theory, anyway. We have these in my apartment stairwell, and they always seem to turn the lights off while I’m still descending. As a result I’ve got callouses from griping the handrail in the dark — but it’s worth it for the low body corp fees.
Smart LED lighting is available in Australia right now for early adopters. Solatube have a very cool solution, that combines a skylight with daylight sensors that bring LED lighting online only when required. Combined with an optional occupancy sensor, they claim a 94% reduction in energy usage. They also claim their bulbs have a lifespan of up to 20 years — that’s a ratio of about 20:1, where 20 is the number of smartphones you’ll own during the life of a single bulb.
Speaking of smartphones, if you’re more interested in simply controlling your lights from an app, consider a Philips Hue starter kit from Apple. Dimming your lights from your smartphone is a party trick that’s not getting old anytime soon.
Earlier we said lighting was generally the second highest energy cost, let’s look at the number one culprit next.
Get smart about heating and cooling
Does your home have a thermostat? How about your workplace? At home, I’ve got a split-system, reverse cycle air-conditioner. This has an automatic setting: Job done. (Or at least, it would be job done, if we could all agree on the temperature.)
At the office, we’ve got the old-fashioned thermostat, with a basic digital display that lets us set the temperature.
Smart thermostats all come with their own free smartphone apps. The nest device shown above has a motion sensor that will switch your heating or cooling off if it thinks you’re away. Whereas previous models often guessed wrong — shutting off the heat when you left the room — this version uses geofencing technology. It monitors the location of your connected smartphone, and only switches off when you’ve actually left the building.
All this is impressive, but what sets the nest apart, is its ability to learn your daily heating and cooling preferences. Now that’s how we like to schedule! Of course, you can make fine adjustments as you see fit, but this is a good place to start.
As a final bonus, smart thermostats like the nest have energy reporting features, and can even pre-heat or cool rooms to take advantage of off-peak rates.
If you like the idea of a smart thermostat for your home, check out PC Magazine Australia‘s article: The Best Smart Thermostats of 2018.
And this is a US site, but you may also be interested in these instructions on how to install the nest smart thermostat.
How energy management systems fit into the big picture
Ultimately, energy management systems are another tool to improve energy efficiency. Improved efficiency is a critical piece of the puzzle if Australia hopes to meet its renewable energy target.
On a lighter note, I for one, am excited by the idea of controlling more gadgets around the home from my smartphone. (It’s the next best thing to the force.) In the end though, automation is even better. Is it sexy…? Probably not, but it is the way forward.