Smart homes make green cities possible

Imagine a home where waste has been stripped out and energy is applied precisely where, and only when, it’s needed.

Each room provides optimal comfort, tailored to the exact preferences of its residents. Precious resources once applied to that unused hallway or uninhabited room…no longer. The power of the sun powers energy storage that feeds an electric vehicle parked in the garage. When the power isn’t needed, it feeds the local grid.

That’s a small snapshot of the smart home, not of the future, but of today. And it’s where we need to shift…rapidly…in line with three conflicting trends.

The real triple threat

The first trend is no stranger to anyone – climate change. Cities create an estimated 65% of global energy demand and cause 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions. We must reduce our load on the earth’s capacity, and we need to do so quickly. Buildings are recognised as a significant contributor to man-made climate change, causing nearly one fifth of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The second trend is greater urbanisation. While we have certainly seen the resurgence of slow living movements in recent times, on the whole, the drive toward urban living continues. Predictions over the coming decades paint an extreme picture if we do not intervene. Asia’s cities alone are set to take on an additional 1.1 billion people over the next two decades and the United Nations predicts that, by 2050, 2.5 billion more people will be living in urban centres.

The third trend is the growing appetite for technology. Like most things, not all tech is created equal – and not all tech is designed to support greater efficiency in our everyday lives. Quite the opposite. Some technologies are designed solely with an immediate goal and gratification in mind, designed outside of an ecosystem and without energy efficiency or sustainability in mind.

Smart homes at the centre of sustainability

Fortunately, there are ready answers that unify these three trends and smart homes are at the centre of these. Smart homes reduce energy use at the same time as supporting optimal comfort and convenience. In many instances, the very technology that drives comfort and convenience is the same as the technology that reduces a home’s burden on the local grid and environment. Power is better managed through features such as intelligent and automated lighting, air-conditioning, heating, shutters and movement detection, while delivering a better living environment. With the use of artificial intelligence, a home can even learn and adapt over time.

ABB’s free@home® solution and broader ABB i-bus® KNX building automation products and energy distribution devices are examples of real solutions available today that optimise energy consumption. While individual technologies are superb advancements in their own right, the gains are amplified when they are integrated, linking individual parts to a system that can be controlled from anywhere via someone’s smartphone or tablet.

Comfort and convenience designed around you

What makes these smart building technologies exciting is their ability to improve the individual home experience by balancing automation with empowerment. The concept revolves around automating as much as possible to achieve the greatest comfort based on predetermined, tailored requirements and what’s best for the environment. You still have the ability to override those predetermined settings at any time. From your tablet on your bedside, you can switch your lights off. If you’re too cold, you can turn up your heating without leaving your lounge. Your smart home will simply re-join those automatic cycles the next time around. Even small actions like turning off all lights in your home before you leave become a thing of the past, as your house becomes intelligent and takes over those small tasks for you.

A self-sustaining future

Essential to a healthier future is education and behavioural change – and smart homes enable that in a way previously not possible. Smart homes help home owners become more responsible citizens. By turning off unattended appliances and devices that we might sometimes forget to turn off when leaving the house, you are contributing to a greener environment. By automatically shifting the blinds according to the status of the sun, your home’s internal temperature is always optimized for staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Furthermore, an integrated system that gives homeowners direct visibility of their energy use enables them to understand it and minimise it further. When coupled with storage solutions and direct connection to cleaner energy, homeowners can take that further to harness and control their energy use.

When it comes to greener urbanisation, smart homes even offer the potential to become, effectively, self-sustaining resources. A key strategy being employed around the globe to reduce the carbon footprint of households is the integration of solar panels. These already contribute back to the local grid. With smart home technology, they can support self-sustaining energy ‘loops’ between energy creation, storage and consumption.

Fortunately, accessibility will only improve over time. ABB’s free@home solution, which now has more than five million components installed globally, already provides a very affordable mid-point for home owners. As adoption increases, we will only see affordability expand.

We firmly believe our future depends on these shifts and are excited at the possibilities…even with the technology available now.


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About the author

Christian Schiemann

Christian has more than two decades of experience in the smart buildings and smart home industry in Australia, Germany and UK, helping customers to achieve more sustainable and automated building outcomes. In his Market Development Manager role, Christian is responsible for representing ABB’s building automation solutions in Australia and New Zealand, mainly with an approach of an open protocol solution (KNX), and promoting the advantages of automation across industries to stakeholders in a building process. Christian has participated as a keynote speaker at a range of industry events in the UK and Australia focusing on emergency efficiency in buildings and the impact on the global carbon footprint.
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