Smart Technology & Green Energy: Is it Worth the Cost?

Element smart thermostatInternet-connected products offer powerful new opportunities for communication and learning, as well as entertainment, convenience and safety. They also make monitoring home information easier than before, so users can see just how much power they’re consuming on a daily basis. With more efficient energy management, homeowners can minimize the electricity they waste and take action to lower their energy bills. But none of these devices come without a carbon footprint – from both an ecological and an economic perspective, does it makes sense and “cents” to invest in new smart home-related technologies?

The growing “Internet of Things” ecosystem is set to create a true network of interconnectivity between all our products and devices. Today, one of the biggest applications for this type of technology lies in the use of programmable thermostats to cut down on HVAC electrical consumption. By regulating heating and cooling systems according to a prearranged schedule and taking into account users’ preferences, these devices can lower energy charges by more than 10 percent. They tend to cost more than $200 dollars apiece, but the significant savings provided by these cutting-edge thermostats mean that most property owners can realize a gain on their investments within a year.

Motorized window shades and smart ceiling fans allow users to remain comfortable without running the furnace or air conditioner. The most advanced models will work with a Wifi thermostat to turn themselves on and off when appropriate. Smart lights mean never having to pay for extra electricity when no one’s around – they’ll adjust themselves based on the time of day, and users can login from a smartphone to control them from anywhere. Smart lighting products usually employ LED bulbs and use about 25%-80% less energy than traditional incandescents. Starter packages cost between $50 and a few hundred dollars, so they’re much more expensive than old-school lights. Still, homeowners will likely save a bit more than they spend because of lower energy expenditures and longer intervals between having to replace light bulbs.

The television, computer, DVD player and other electronic devices use a small amount of “vampire” electricity even if they’re not turned on. By using smart appliances and, if necessary, power switches to sit atop electrical sockets, it’s possible to eliminate much of this wastage. The power switches can be had for $10 or less, so they’re an economical way to be eco-friendly. The cost of smart appliances varies considerably, and it’s hard to tell what fractions of their prices are related to their energy-saving features – users must make case-by-case decisions before purchasing in many instances. Smart home solar power systems, however, offer clear financial and environmental benefits for most residential property owners.

Tying these disparate elements together are smarthome hubs, which regulate the performance of multiple automated home features from a single interface. The synergies between different pieces of hardware often allow for greater utility than they would otherwise possess separately. For instance, motion sensors can team up with smart lights to brighten the premises whenever someone moves around the perimeter of the home, or send an alert to a security system that locks all doors and windows. When used all together, these technology solutions connect residents to a multitude of features designed to enhance their daily lives and cut down on lost power.

Technologies to reduce energy consumption will be a key enabler for preserving the planet’s resources going forward. However, there is still the massive data storage and transmission growth to keep in mind as we implement more of these devices in our daily lives. Data centers may be built with energy efficiency in mind, but planned obsolescence and the capitalist system itself may work against the best intentions to curb resource consumption.

As consumers, vendors and industry experts gain more familiarity with what’s possible – and necessary – in this space, we may finally achieve a scenario in which physical, connected products have a beneficial impact on humanity’s ability to live sustainably.

[About the author: Beth Kotz is a freelance business writer specializing in new technology and consumer finance. Beth earned a BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, IL, where she continues to live and work.]

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