Is anyone using smart home products/assistants to help save energy?

  • 6 September 2018
  • 11 replies

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Over the past few years the technology market has been flooded with gadgets that can wirelessly control your home appliances. What we’re curious to find out is, are any of you using any of these new devices to help save energy in your home?

Central Heating
A number of “smart thermostats” have popped up on the market like Nest. These devices can regulate your home’s temperature without wasting energy. They’re often smartphone/computer compatible, so you can adjust the temperature wherever you are.

Leaving lights turned on can be a real leech on your energy bills. A new gadget on the market is the “smart lightbulb”, which automatically regulates its brightness depending on the level of natural light.

Virtual Assistants
Some smart home setups make use of “assistants” like Siri and Alexa. They can connect to your central heating, lighting and home entertainment devices for voice-activated control.

Other Appliances
There are loads of apps like Homeselfe designed to give users some guidelines on how they can improve energy efficiency. They usually ask a few questions about activity in your home, and point out where potential savings can be made.

Do you know of any other gadgets or technologies like this? If you’re using any - how are you finding it?

11 replies

We are trying to get into the smart home technology. So far we have a couple of Alexa’s and also the Nest thermostat. The Alexa’s are less useful for saving money and energy but we find them really good for other tasks,
Jobs and information finding.
The nest though on the other hand is really good and we have seen better savings in our energy bills. It’s really handy having anywhere access to it via our smartphone as we often leave home in between an ideal heat timetable. This means we can turn the heating off at any time, it also has a really smart learning feature where it will adjust the temperature depending if we are at home or a change in the weather.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds as its just the beginning folks!!
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Morning @Nancy_OVO

I am a huge tech freak so if it is possible to integrate technology into my home to make my life easier and less effort doing stuff I will buy it. I have gone through many Smart devices in my home. I have gone from Alexa, to Google home now to Apple homepods around the house. I find this very useful for things such as turning lights on and off (Comes in handy if I get into bed all comfy and don't want to get out) I have Hive thermostats installed in the house to help with my heating - I believe the smart lights is just a gimmick, but comes in handy for lazy people like me haha but the Thermostats is a must for helping to keep track on your heating usage.
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Hi @nts23uk - Can you link up any devices to Alexa so that yo ucan ask her to turn them off? I'm not too clued up on her, but I'm imagining she could connect to a smart TV or similar?

@ITGeek123 - controlling everything from bed is a definite bonus!
Alexa can link up with all the smart devices we have. I think it has the biggest compatibility compared to the other systems like Google and Apple.
I agree with @ITGeek123 it can make simple tasks lazy but useful when your hands are tied up, say cooking or in the middle of something important.
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Interesting topic question @Nancy_OVO.

I'm not convinced that what we're currently calling "Smart Home Technology" is achieving much that is useful.

- Just how much energy can be "saved" by giving voice commands to Alexa?

- Does the financial saving justify the expense of installing the technology?

- Is the energy-saved greater than the cost of building that technology and shipping it around the world?

@ITGeek123 - I too can turn off the light from my bed. As part of the renovation work, I've placed a device called a 'switch' beside each bed at pillow-height. :P

Certain Energy Suppliers are using extensive marketing strategies to persuade their customers to install their favoured Smart Energy System. I believe this is too much geared towards locking customers into them as a Supplier rather than achieving real energy benefits for the consumers.

In contrast, I believe there are much more radical aspects of Energy Saving which will become available via SMETS2 Meters. Moreover these devices will be universal. Every home will have one.

Smart Meter configuration/control systems have the potential to save energy for the poorest members of society, and the elderly who would never be candidates for the likes of Nest, Alexa, Siri because the user-interface is beyond their comprehension.

Whatever Google and Apple decide to do, the next wave of energy saving technology in the UK is more likely to arise from the likes of Indra and VCharge... which is why Stephen Fitzpatrick is right to invest in them. They're poised to have deeper market penetration in the UK than a US-owned multinational. I just hope OVO doesn't get taken over by a company registered in Wall Street!

The two bits of the strategy which are still missing are:

1. The OVO Tariff with half-hour variable charges.

2. The App/IHD with the simple, intuitive user interface to allow non-techies to set up their energy preferences.

Given the choice, I'd far rather be involved in a User-Trial of those two than I would an innovative EV Charger.

I like technical stuff - I really do. But let's keep our feet on the ground.

There's an amazing embedded computer in a Smart Meter. It supports two wireless communication ports, secure encryption, self-correcting configuration, and automatic data-storage in case of power-outs.

Not only that... it can reliably send my energy usage to OVO without me asking Siri to "Read Gas Meter"! That's good design 🙂
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- Just how much energy can be "saved" by giving voice commands to Alexa?

I reckon a fair bit! When I leave my house, I don't go round turning all my devices off and a lot of them are left on standby. If i could just shout "Alexa! Turn evrything off!" and she could switch off any devices she's connected to, that's be a saving right there!

@ITGeek123 - would that be how it worked? I'm not too familiar with Alexa...

@Darran_OVO - You've got an Alexa! What can she do??
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I love Alexa!!!! I don't have anywhere near enough smart home products yet........I agree the lightbulbs thing seems a bit gimmicky but I still want!!

I know there are other energy companies where you can ask Alexa your account balance etc, but not sure how far those features go.....

I use Alexa for music mainly, asking her to play music based on my mood, put the radio on in the kitchen when I get downstairs in the morning etc (we have Sonos too).

The kids also play rock, paper, scissors with her and ask her to tell jokes...!!

I think to control TV's and appliances like that @Nancy_OVO you might have to have smart plugs that can be controlled by Alexa, although I'm sure it won't be long before TV's have this built in.

I have an Amazin Firestick too that has Alexa built into the remote so you can ask her to find TV shows or show you the latest TV's series so you can choose something new to watch etc.

#iloveit #needmoresmartdevicesinmylife
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@Transparent I like your idea of saving energy by putting a switch by the bed!!

Haha, Alexa isn't expensive, we only have the echo dot which is the cheapest option but does the job!
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I probably should've mentioned that I do have a Smart garden.

About 12 years ago I installed this Hive Energy-Store:

Like most rechargeable batteries, it's comprised of a network of individual cells. However, the Hive system has forsaken the more common cylindrical form in favour of a hexagonal architecture.

This allows the cells to be more closely packed into flat-plates which are suspended vertically to assist with cooling.

Sweet, huh?

Energy density is an impressive 12.7kJ/Kg, which means that the Hive storage in this photo contains at least 350 kilo-Joules, or about 0.1kWh
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Transparent wrote:
- Just how much energy can be "saved" by giving voice commands to Alexa?

@Nancy_OVO wrote:
I reckon a fair bit! When I leave my house, I don't go round turning all my devices off and a lot of them are left on standby. If i could just shout "Alexa! Turn everything off!" and she could switch off any devices she's connected to, that's be a saving right there!

Although this conjures up a wonderful picture in my mind(!) I don't think shouting at Alexa to turn stuff off is particularly "smart" (technically speaking, that is!).

Firstly, the amount of power used by modern LED lights is very little. You'd have to using an amazing array of domestic lighting to be able to repay the cost of implementing Alexa controls!

The big savings are to be made with heating devices. We'll assume that no-one would actually leave an electric shower running by mistake whilst they went out to work! And that an electric kettle would switch itself off.

So I reckon my greatest savings would come from implementing time-delays within my home heating system if a "smart device" could foretell that it would cost significantly less to wait half-an-hour or so. (And note - I'm deliberately leaving electricity storage devices out of the argument.)

Over the past few months, I've been manually adjusting my (underfloor) heating controls so that the gas boiler won't fire in the morning if I know that it will be a sunny day. Since I have both PV-solar and solar-hot-water panels which can pass heat into my thermal store, I don't want to waste gas by heating the thermal storage tank to 60-degrees or so if the sun could do that for me a little later.

I could either design a bespoke micro-controller to undertake this "heat-delay" system for me, or I could

- get a SMETS2 smart meter

- put the gas-boiler on an Auxilliary Load Control Switch (ALCS) so that the Smart Meter sends commands when it is to fire-up

- use OVO's VCharge software (which has inbuilt weather forecast inputs) to send the "open-ALCS" command to my gas boiler

- configure my preferences via an IHD (or Smartphone App).

Note:- there's no Alexa, Siri, Hive or Nest systems employed to handle what I'm suggesting. And yet I would suggest that it would be capable of yielding substantial energy savings.

It's a universal solution. It would be perfectly acceptable to an elderly couple with little understanding of the technology, or @ITGeek123, who speaks fluent hexadecimal :P

The system could be further extended by adding a second ALCS to an immersion heater. This could be configured to take power only when certain conditions are met, such as the cost per kWh falling below a threshold.

This is how Demand-Side Response is intended to work. And that's the energy strategy adopted by Ofgem for the entire UK.

The key component is not a Voice-controlled "assistant" within the home, but the software, such as VCharge, which matches energy availability against user-defined parameters. I look forward to the day when OVO starts utilising VCharge beyond the present market of electric storage heaters.
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... anyway - I'm wary of getting a Smart Gas Meter controlled by technology from the USA such as Alexa or Siri.

It might tell me I'm being placed under sanctions for buying Russian gas 😛