Over the last few years the Internet of Things (IoT) space has grown from a small niche to a global industry valued at USD $212.1 billion (in 2018, expected to grow to $1.3 trillion by 2026), with many households now having at least one smart device in the house. These days it is not uncommon to see smart lightbulbs, voice-controlled speakers and perhaps even a WiFi enabled smart power strip which allows the user to switch their devices on and off via an app or a voice controlled speaker and monitor the energy usage of the connected devices. Tell your smart speaker that you would like to watch a movie, and your house will response by dimming the lights, lowering the blinds in your home theatre and switching on your TV or projector.
At face value it would be easy to assume that IoT and home automation is simply about convenience, or a gimmick to show off to friends. However if we look beyond the convenient consumer devices, we see that IoT can provide benefits far beyond the current crop of convenience-centric consumer devices. As these benefits begin to become apparent, the trend towards IoT enabled common items (and we don’t just mean fridges and washing machines) and in-home functionality is set to grow exponentially in the future.
Energy usage is one of the most compelling cases for many people wanting to use IoT in their home because it helps them save money, while also lessening their environmental footprint. For example, some electricity providers offer a rewards program to incentivise households to reduce their energy use. When customers join this program, the electricity service provider will send them a text message on days where the demand for energy is excessive and ask them to reduce their energy use. After receiving the notification, if the customer is home, they can manually go around their house and lower their energy use by adjusting the temperature of the air conditioning or not using the washing machine, oven or pool pump so that they reduce their household demand for energy and save money on their bills.
Even though the customer is manually adjusting their devices, this is a basic example of IoT. Energy supply and demand is monitored on the grid, and notifications are triggered by the energy company and sent to the customer during peak event using an automated process.
If we now added another layer of technology, such as a smart meter that could receive energy level readings and a home hub to send a signal to various devices, those devices could be turned off (either instantly or delayed) or adjusted remotely during a peak event. This type of setup would obviously require dependable wired or wireless internet connectivity to the outside world.
In summary, the customer would opt-in to a program where IoT devices would collect information from multiple sources, both external and internal to the home. External sources could be utility price signals or the Bureau of Meteorology, for example. Internal sources could be the status of devices in the home such as automated blinds and curtains, temperature sensors, windows, air conditioners, solar panels, batteries and more. Based on the information provided, the energy company could reduce the load the household is placing on the electricity grid. For example, they could make decisions such as closing the blinds or curtains or using battery power for some devices. Increasing 1000 customers’ air conditioner thermostats by two degrees for fifteen minutes could prevent a blackout, while the customer is unlikely to notice a significant change in temperature. The customer, in return, would receive a small amount of compensation for this happening.
Utility providers, such as the example above, often provide charts showing indicative electricity use when sending out usage or billing information.
Essentially IoT is all about capturing information, and this can be used to assist energy companies in controlling power usage. If companies can smooth out peak energy demand then they can reduce the amount of investment required in the electricity network, in turn passing on lower electricity prices to end consumers.
For this ‘smart energy’ approach to be effective, IoT requires both external (internet) and internal (home network) connectivity. A multitude of devices both inside and outside the home may need to be controlled, such as pool pumps, pool heating systems, outdoor lighting, outdoor smart speakers and more. In order to allow control of these outdoor devices, the customer’s WiFi network will need to be strong enough to cover the far corners of the property (click here to see our article about maximising WiFi throughout the home). As always, as a registered cabler you are well placed to guide your customers and those around you on how to best ensure connectivity for the devices they own today, as well as any future considerations.