Texas has emerged as a national leader in both solar energy adoption and smart home creation. The fifth annual Energy Thought Summit (ETS18), coming to Austin March 26-29, will gather industry, government and utility professionals to discuss what’s happening with these technologies.
Smart home creation and solar energy adoption are two advances that complement each other, and together improve energy efficiency and new benefits in comfort, convenience, affordability and reliability.
Five years ago, virtually no one had heard of a “smart home,” but within the last two years, this technology has become a staple for mainstream consumers. Many of today’s home buyers evaluating two identical homes prefer one with smart appliances, per one survey, and analysts predict that 50 percent of all American homes will be “smart” by 2020.
In November, Lennar introduced a Wi-Fi-powered smart home near Houston. There are already more than two dozen for sale in the Houston area, and Lennar said this type of home will be the model for all its homes nationally.
Lennar built the home in partnership with the Amazon Echo business unit, which produces the Alexa voice control system. The home features a video doorbell, lights, a thermostat, locks, wireless music, window blinds, seamless integrated control with Android and IoS devices from anywhere in the world.
Recently, the Houston Chronicle reported that solar power is expected to double in Texas this year alone. The state has added 1.8 GW of solar to date, and more than 80 percent of that has been added in the past two years, ranking Texas third in the nation by new capacity. The Texas solar industry now employs approximately 10,000 people, more than double the number of people employed three years ago.
These converging forces offer:
Greater affordability. Homes that generate their own energy from solar power don’t have to spend as much buying power from centralized utilities. And investments in home solar panel units make sense: Not only have prices been plummeting (the cost of solar has fallen more than 70 percent since 2009, and it’s more than 130 times cheaper than it was in 1977), but in many areas of the country, the return on a solar panel investment will outpace that of the historical S&P average.
Added comfort and convenience. Smart devices learn from you – and quickly begin to manage things for you. Smart security systems may open locks for you as you approach a door. Smart refrigerators know when you’re running out of milk and can order more. Smart entertainment systems know which sort of music you like and what time your favorite programs are on.
Increased reliability. A home that produces its own solar power and saves it via battery doesn’t need to worry if the centralized grid goes out because of an extreme weather event.
Better energy efficiency. Smart devices that turn lights and air conditioners on and off save both money and electricity, and homes that produce their own solar require less fossil-fuel-generated energy.
And what’s best is that there won’t be complex things to learn. Smart homes do their own learning.
Washing machines are likely to know when the lowest power rates are available and turn itself on then. Sprinkler systems will know it’s raining. Lighting and thermostat systems will turn lights off and heat down when you’re not at home.
The number of smart devices already in use is huge. It includes security cameras, locks, lights, major appliances (refrigerators, washing machines), audio and video equipment, weather tracking systems, home irrigation appliances, thermostats, air conditioners, fans, heaters and more.
The concept for the solar-powered smart home is compelling, and homeowners will soon have both an undreamed number of automated new conveniences and unprecedented control over their energy use.
Michael Bates, based out of Austin, is the global general manager of energy at Intel Corp.