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Creating a Green Smart Home: It’s Not all About the Thermostat

April 22, 2019

In 1970, millions of Americans joined together to clean up parks and learn how to become more energy efficient during the first Earth Day. This exciting event united us in our efforts and made us all want to do better for our planet – today, tomorrow and beyond. But the world has shifted since 1970.

In the years that followed, technology ushered in a massive revolution – smart devices can now control our entire home, electric cars are charging in our garages, and energy star appliances are the standard. Many of us even have the ability to harness the power of the sun by installing solar panels on our roofs to generate clean energy. This has led to a new era in innovation that has changed the face of efficiency, reducing our carbon footprint in ways we might not have thought possible 49 years ago.

Now, we are able to build energy efficient smart homes, utilizing automation schedules and rules, unprecedented levels of intelligence, a plethora of devices – and more specifically, smart thermostats. Thermostats have acted as training wheels for what would become a vastly more intelligent home. It provided many of us with our first ever taste of home energy control and automation. And while most of us have been focused on achieving greater efficiency through the thermostat, it isn’t necessarily the source of energy savings that we anticipated. In fact, research shows that the greening of the smart home isn’t about the thermostat at all.

Intelligence and Insight

It is true that our HVAC often accounts for almost half of our energy usage. And logically, if we had something that automated or made it easy to schedule setbacks, it should lend itself to increased energy savings. By all calculations, under the right circumstances, it can accomplish just that, saving up to 10% in energy consumption. But it isn’t automation scheduling or remote control of the thermostat that is helping us embrace a greener lifestyle – it’s insight.

In a very revealing study, the University of Michigan found that energy coaching saved participants (who used a smart thermostat without automation) 4.7% more energy. That isn’t very surprising when you consider that, without automation or insight, smart thermostats are little more than basic thermostats with a remote control.

However, what was surprising is what researchers discovered next. They learned that energy advising successfully saved 12.4% more energy for participants that were using Nest’s Auto-Schedule feature. That’s an energy savings of 7.7% more than those not using the Auto-Schedule feature.

How is that possible!?

Most autonomous learning schedules like Nest’s tries to learn our temperature preferences throughout the day, and then prepares a schedule to re-create the heating and cooling experience in the future. It’s not rocket science and it’s definitely not focused on efficiency. For instance, this type of autonomous solution could be very convenient, letting a house heat up when it assumes people are headed home from work. But if its assumptions are wrong (or even if they’re right) it could in fact be causing more energy consumption during periods of time that it was previously inactive. However, once a focus on energy is incorporated into a thermostat, it is an absolute game changer.

Energy advising goes so far beyond just automation, providing consumers with new insights into how and when energy is being used by an HVAC. In fact, the study showed the energy savings that participants achieved were due to an energy coach’s ability to:

  • Help us understand how to balance energy savings and comfort
  • Give insights on how to optimize scheduling for efficiency and convenience
  • Make it easy to implement these more effective thermostat schedules
  • Challenge our ideas on what an efficient lifestyle is

Apply that level of coaching and insight across the whole smart home and you will marvel at the efficiency you can achieve! Take Powerley Advisor, part of a larger home energy management and home automation platform. It goes beyond just informing us about energy use. Instead, it suggests insightful new ways to use our smart home and optimize our energy consumption. Alerts make it possible to monitor when there’s a sudden spike in energy, like our HVAC, or a sudden increase in our always-on energy use. And let’s not gloss over our energy score, which helps us understand the impact of our energy use across different facets of the entire home. For many of us, it is this type of guided insight which we have been sorely missing from our smart homes, and have all been waiting for!

More Insights Today for a Greener Tomorrow

Earth Day is a great reminder about how important it is to live greener lives. With more than 1 billion people worldwide now celebrating every year, this event has inspired many communities to organize and strive to make a difference.

But with such smart home innovation at our doorstep, we don’t have to go out and plant trees to participate in Earth Day (after all, in many places the ground is still frozen over), we can participate right at home by becoming more energy efficient.
On its own, smart thermostat has been known to save around 10% in energy consumption. Once insight from energy advising is applied, it has the potential to increase even more. Extend that across the whole smart home and your energy savings has the potential to go through the roof – creating the greener smart home we have all been imagining.

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