Tens of thousands of electricity consumers are switching to smart meters each month to lower their electricity bills. While old-fashioned electricity and gas meters sit under the stairs and interact only with the utility meter reader, digitized smart home devices are becoming part of our daily lives, controlling our room temperature and lighting our home, percolating our morning coffee and even starting the laundry.
A smart energy meter puts you in control of your living environment by tallying your energy use and costs in real or near-real time, enabling you to adjust your energy usage during peak usage times when the price per kWh of electricity or Btu of gas is high, and charge your electric car during low peak times. Though more than half of US households now have advanced smart meters installed, many of these meters are still acting dumb.
Smart meters can do much more than track your electricity and gas usage. The new generation was designed to be part of the smart home with the ability to connect to the Internet of Things (IoT) - the interconnection of everyday devices via the Internet. They have the smart algorithms and computing power to bring more energy efficiencies, comforts, security and entertainment to your home.
Take Control of Your Energy Usage
Smart home technology has come a long way since Bill Gates spent more than $60 million on his 66,000-square foot smart and connected home. As the technology leader predicted, facial recognition can dynamically customize a room's lighting, music and art based on individual preferences. Amazingly, any function can be added to a smart home today for as low as $50 for a sensor plug-in that is managed from a smartphone or web app.
The functionality of smart meters varies widely. Real time energy pricing allows homeowners to monitor their electricity, gas and water consumption in detail - even by time of day and appliance. The household can then adopt more environmentally conscious and energy cost-saving behaviors. If you leave your coffee maker on for an hour after you have had your last cup of morning joe, you can see on a web-based interface how much this oversight is costing you per day.
Web-based energy reporting tools allow consumers to adapt their energy consumption behaviors accordingly. Landis+Gyr, a leading smart meter maker, reports the ability of a household to compare its consumption with that of the average of other households as one of its most popular features. If you rent out properties or have a summer home, the option to remotely monitor energy use is another useful feature.
However, smart sensors have the ability to do much more when attuned through sensors connected via applets to your living environment. By programming the activation of heating and ambient lighting on your smartphone app, you can return home from a grueling day of work to a comfy and cozy home. These smarter meters can even lighten your workload. With IoT connectivity, the washing machine can be run during off-peak electricity pricing times while a smart robot vacuums your floor.
Energy Smart Meter Features
Beyond basic energy metering functions, homeowners can make their smart meters smarter by being aware of the full spectrum of functionality. Basic smart sensors include:
Temperature - desired temperature can be maintained and automatically adjusted. Heating and air conditioning can be programmed to turn on before you awake in the morning or arrive home from work. Features may include remotely activating blinds or ventilation systems. These features help lower energy bills
Light - lighting that turns off and on, or dims when you enter or leave a room, optimizes lighting efficiency. When on vacation, lights can be automatically controlled to make your home look occupied. Ambient lighting can change the color and mood of a room or immerse you in your gaming environment as Philips Hue lights change to match the lighting and lighting effects in your game
Motion control - by detecting human presence, sensors can control parameters such as lights, heating and music and alert you to security issues on your property
Humidity - this sensor can fight “sick building syndrome” by continually monitoring air moisture levels. Only in recent years have homeowners become aware that their headaches, runny noses and irritated eyes may not be allergies, but sick building syndrome caused by molds, toxins and poor ventilation. It can separately maintain the optimal humidity for the wine cellar, baby's room and even small spaces such as cigar humidors and storage spaces
Organic particle detection - environmental sensors help maintain the quality of air in your home by detecting particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and CO2
Security and safety - sensors for smoke detection, motion detection and security alarms can keep your home and family safe. When a carbon monoxide or water leak is sensed, blinking lights or an SMS can alert you
Smart Home Building Blocks
Smart meters integrated with smart home hubs open a universe of new functions only limited by the number of sensors that can be added. Though most homeowners will be satisfied with a smart home hub, with optional sensor add-ons interconnected through apps and applets, anyone can develop a smart home. Do you want to lower your electricity bill by automatically dimming lights when power prices are high? Vacuum the floor when they are low? There’s an app for that!
New smart energy gadgets and applets controlled from smartphone or web apps are making it easy for consumers who produce their own energy systems and buy and sell energy. The demand to install renewable energy like solar panels, radiant heating or micro wind and hydro systems is inspiring more green consumers to build their own energy systems.
IFTTT - How Can It Help You Lower Your Electricity Bills
If you have the programming bug and, like Bill Gates, want to architect your own smart home, brands like the Sense Home Energy Monitor, MESH Smart Trigger, and Octopus Energy provide built-in IFTTT integration. IFTTT is a web-based system that connects apps and devices by creating applets built with “if this, then that” conditional statements.
If: the price of electricity falls below $$/kWh, then: charge my electric car/turn on the washing machine.
IFTTT communicates across social media, entertainment, and smart home and office applets and systems including Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Nest and many others. With IFTTT capability, you can interconnect smart home devices to Philips Hue to control lighting or the hands-free Amazon Echo speaker for voice command access to Alexa music, news and smart home control. The possibilities are limitless, such as this vacuum sequence:
Activate Alexa voice command: Go eat your food, Fido!
Lock the kitchen door when Fido the dog enters.
Start the Roomba vacuum.
Meanwhile the smart meter is monitoring residential renewable energy production and consumption and selling excess power capacity not required by the consumer back to the electricity grid, providing a way of further offsetting the home electricity bill.
Since these smart home systems are designed to be plug-and-play, the number and cost of sensor add-ons is a key parameter to research. A Sense solar sensor add-on to control your home solar energy usage, for example, is $50. You do need to ensure that your appliances are compatible with the smart home systems you are using - a WeMo-enabled coffee maker, Nest thermostat and so on.
Your can now build and manage your new smart home from your smartphone or watch, or a web application, with the command simplicity of ordering an Uber taxi. For inspiration, check out IFTTT 'recipes' online for hundreds of ideas on how you can interconnect your smart lights, thermostats, appliances and more.