Let’s Make Homes As Smart As Our Cars

It’s not easy to accurately predict the future, as a disappointed group of Rapture wannabes recently learned.  However, we can use history and examples of similar solutions to help us consider how new technologies could be incorporated into popular use.  Therefore, we should be thinking about what’s
been done with cars and apply the same thought processes to creating useful Smart Grid solutions for homes that consumers will want to adopt.

Cars are much smarter than homes.   Cars have sensors, computers, and visual displays that provide information about performance and status like speed and alarms such as that dreaded “check engine”
light.   The key point is that I have alarms information that allows me to react and make small repairs before they become big repairs.  The car dashboard is an excellent model to apply in designing the smart home dashboard.  I’d like to be reminded that it’s time to replace a furnace or AC filter, have leak detection sensors in the floor around the water heater for early warning about tank failures, and oh yes, keep an eye on electricity, gas, and water consumption.

Smart Grid technologies can make this possible, but the smart home dashboard will evolve over the next decade.  First, let’s consider placement of a home dashboard.  The car dashboard is positioned for maximum visibility and information availability to the driver.  Where is the best place for a home dashboard?  I suggest the kitchen.  First, it’s a common room that all home occupants use.  It would be readily available for everyone to see.  Second, there are already visual displays for appliances there, so it won’t look out of place.  What will be the most desirable form factor for this home dashboard?  A tablet or iPad-type computer that wirelessly connects to the cloud-based home operations management and to my IP-enabled devices (appliances and electronics) as well as to my “sensored-up” monitoring points.  It may be affixed to a wall or tilted on a kitchen counter, but its portability means I can also remotely monitor and maintain operations in my home (or switch to a smart phone application).

A review of existing Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) applications and home control solutions reveals an array of display options around electricity consumption.  A homeowner can choose between relatively simple In Home Displays (IHDs) that color code electricity usage in green/yellow/red lights to more elaborate web-based portals that provide running graphs of usage, and tablets that provide information in nicely designed user interfaces. Some solutions provide a snapshot of individual consumption, others will tell you how your electricity consumption compares to your peers.  Most HEMS vendors address a combination of security monitoring, home entertainment, lighting controls, even home wellness.  These are all useful applications, but I haven’t seen anything that answers the preventive maintenance and alarms requirements mentioned here, and one of the most important aspects of a car dashboard.  And face it, a home maintenance application will have appeal to insurance companies – just as homeowners get premium discounts for security and in-home sprinkler systems, there could be future discounts for sensor-based detection of water leaks in the roof or lint build-ups in dryer filters.  Predictive and preventive home maintenance lacks the sexiness of automating home entertainment, but it makes sense and it’s a lot easier to cost justify for the majority of consumers.

This will be one of the topics of conversation at the Smart Grid Technology Conference, where I’ll be participating in a panel session about HEMS solutions.  Join me there, or if you’re back east, head to Atlanta for the Grid ComForum show.

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