Posted by Matt Egan 12 November 2014
The rise of smart homes: or how we all need to stop worrying and start switching off (smartly)
Your home is set to become smart, whether you like it or not. And you'll probably like it.
Smart heating, and smart home automation in general, is going to be huge in the UK. On the one hand you have tech-savvy, affluent consumers with smartphones and in-home Wi-Fi. And on the other? A nation that is short of cash and power. So much so that those in the know say it will take only one bad winter to lead to power outages and astronomical rises to already high gas prices.
Home automation is not only a cool way of using tech, it could be a critical way of reducing the amount of cash we individually spent on utilities. More importantly, it could be the short-term answer to the problem of keeping the lights on, and reducing the amount of fossil fuel we produce. Or at least helping with this issues, if only in a small way.
A genius solution
A few months ago I had the Heat Genius smart-heating system fitted into my incredibly inefficient 1950s semi-detached house. One of the things we love about our house is the weird layout of multiple small rooms, but when it comes to keeping it warm this is hopelessly wasteful. Or it was. Now we can set the desired temperature of each room, to be attained only when it is in use. Heat
Genius is at the smarter end of the smart-heating disapora, and so it learns from how we use the house and sets the heating up so that we are warm only when we need to be, only in the places we need to be. It does so by monitoring our movements and the external temperature, as well as the temperature in the room itself. It's clever enough to know when the windows are open, and switch off any heating at that point.
As part of this system we also have three smartplugs, which we can switch on an off remotely, and via timers.
This makes for a very comfortable dwelling, but it should also make for a cheaper home. Because in the past whenever my wife won the argument and put on the heating, the whole house got warm. Now we heat only where we are, when we are there.
This is why utilities companies are giving away smart thermostats such as the Nest. These less sophisticated devices are intended to reduce wastage in home heating. Nice to have for you, but nicer for the power company if all customers are being smarter about the way they burn fuel. And as modern houses with a greater square footage than 150m2 have to be built with heating in at least two zones, you can see that all of these tiny changes to individual homes could add up to a big change to national consumption of fossil fuels. (For more on smart heating, see 7 best smart heating systems 2014: Hive, Nest, Tado, Heat Genius and more.)
It won't stop there.
Making your home smarter, whether you like it or not
If I could make a prediction in this area, it is that within two winters we will all be comfortable with the idea of being incentivised to switch off electrical devices during the peak hours of the evening rush hour. This would require power companies to supply homes with smartplugs, controlled by the consumer but monitored by the provider.
A bit Big Brother, perhaps, but a small price to pay in return for - say - £1 a day. It would make no difference at all to your food if your fridge and freezer were switched off from 5pm to 6pm every night. The temperature will change by a degree or two at most. But that is the point of each day at which the grid is under maximum pressure, and at which we might expect to start seeing power cuts. Of course we would have to ensure that the power companies weren't leaching personal data, but I am more than happy to share with the world when my fridge is on and when it is off. (If not when I am in and when I am out.)
So settle in and get comfy. Invest in smart-home tech if you like the idea, but don't be surprised if it is 'gifted' to you by your gas or electricity provider. It will make your life better, and it might just save you money. But it will also become necessary in order to keep the home fires burning. See also: Smart meters are coming. Will they threaten your privacy?