How Smart Will Our Homes Get? SPI Panel Takes a Look

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Smart homes have been talked about for a number of years now. These days, homes are becoming increasingly connected, with more technology being integrated into all aspects of the home. Despite this, homes cannot be considered smart yet, even though products within them are.

At Solar Power International last week, a panel convened on this topic to speak about how smart homes will likely look in upcoming years.

A number of devices are now computerized with the ability to connect to WiFi for remote control and monitoring, among other things. While the devices have these capabilities, they have yet to gain widespread adoption, as they are not effectively utilized. Essentially, they do not simplify the task of using the devices in any meaningful way, and they do not work with one another. This is starting to be addressed by some luxury home builders, but it still represents a very small minority at the moment.

A great quote I heard at this panel about integration was actually something that a home solar owner told one of the panelists. The homeowner said he would often completely forget that he had a solar system until he went outside and saw the panels on his roof. This represents perfectly how smart devices will be used in the future. Instead of requiring constant user input, these devices will work with one another in the background to get their various jobs done.

Going forward, smart homes will include things like PV, smart thermostats, lighting controls, and fans, among other things. These will just be the pieces, though. The key is how they will work together.

One of the panelists at this discussion was from Nest, which recently released their “works with Nest” program. This program allows third-party manufacturers to work with the Nest API and communicate with other devices connected to the API. While this is only one option, it is a building block for how smart homes will likely look in the future.

The beauty of this is that it is an open platform, which does not try to control every aspect of the system. It leaves product manufacturers, essentially the experts in their fields, to determine how to best utilize their products within the system.

There were other speakers at SPI, such as Ingeteam, that have introduced energy management systems that control everything in the system. This creates a very controlled environment, which will limit which items can be added and how they will work.

The open platform, on the other hand, will allow for more than just energy management. One of the products discussed during the panel was a smart LED light bulb. These lights can, of course, be controlled remotely, as well as change to any color. On the energy side of things, the Nest API can lower these lights when a power-saving event is predicted. The real selling feature, though, has been for safety. When a Nest smoke detector is also connected to the system, these lights can be set to blink red when smoke or carbon monoxide is detected. This is an excellent safety feature for the hearing impaired, and is visible throughout the home unlike other lighted smoke detectors.

The discussion ultimately wrapped back around to how PV will integrate into this future smart home. Instead of simply installing solar as a single system on a home, future installs could include a number of these smart products. These items do not involve a specialized installation team, and only add minimally to the overall installation time. They are also generally inexpensive, and would help to further open up the market.

Instead of a customer shopping for a solar system, they could be shopping for a smart home system that will reduce their energy consumption while also generating their own power. In addition, the home will have added safety features. This can all run in the background with the homeowner forgetting about the presence of the smart home system until they actively want to see information about how the system is performing.