Unlike earlier times, home automation no longer falls under the uber luxury category, nor it is branded for the likes of wealthy and tech lover. Home automation also popularly known as ‘Smart Homes’ is one of the most popular adaptation in the tech market, attributed to bigger rewards for the average house owners with relatively small efforts and investments.
Life nowadays is always on the go, which makes us forget the million jobs before you leave your home. We forget to switch off lights or the water heater or many a times we would like the room’s cooler, before we reach the home. Well, all is possible. Simply put, home automation makes all that possible. Home automation promises to release you from the phantom load on both the energy consumption and also your wallet – home automation makes it all a click away!
Home automation basically connects multiple devices to one (your smart phone), via Internet connectivity. Underlying and complementing these factors is the Internet of Things or ‘IoT’ as it is more commonly known. The Cloud, mobile computing and electronics miniaturisation make smart automation possible. The smart automation system is controlled by the user via a control hub that connects to and communicates with digital devices throughout the eco system, which is one’s home.
Our always-on lifestyle of social media has changed consumers’ consumption pattern and preferences; the idea of being able to see and control your house via a smartphone makes sense, because people are already connected to everything else in their life. Over and above from an environmental perspective too, home automation has potential benefits.
Speaking of smart homes, today buildings, both residential and commercial, represent one of the highest energy consumption ﬁelds in the world. Reduction of the carbon footprint on a global scale as well as ensuring energy efﬁciency of buildings are key goals of high priority in the ﬁelds of building engineering and energy policy. As per the World Energy Organisation, buildings in India consume a massive1000000000000KWatt-hours (units) of energy. Even if we are able to squeeze a measly 0.001 per cent out of every device that consumes this energy that is the equivalent of having built a 10MW solar power plant! While the opportunities are huge, making changes in existing buildings, appliances and equipment is very challenging.
As a country, we are making the transition from incandescent bulbs and CFLs to LEDs, since lighting is one place where the equipment such as bulbs can be replaced as they burn out. But it is not easy to do the same with some of our other energy consuming equipment like fridges, water heaters, motors, pumps, air conditioners, TVs and more. While there are more energy efficient versions of these that are available, the cost of replacing them will be tremendous and not palatable either to home owners or to businesses. So,this is where smart automation plays an invaluable role in tamping down the energy usage.
Smart automation basically brings state-of-the-art technologies that are deployed to serve as helpers in eliminating the daily wastage or misuse of energy that happens in our lives in individual home and offices, at leisure and at work, in residential and commercial buildings. So, what are these technologies and how do they solve the energy efficiency problem? There are many elements of smart technologies, but perhaps the most commonly used are sensors and actuators. Sensors are usually used for sensing things around us, such as temperature, pressure, water level in a tank, level of daylight, human movement and so forth. These are valuable in constantly keeping a watch on important things that drive energy consumption and wastage. Sensors keep a watch on things so that we humans can focus on our work or leisure without needing to constantly focus on things that relate to energy consumption. On the other hand, actuators are able to identify and collect information like the ones mentioned above, some action needs to be taken. Actuators are devices which can control the flow of electric current in an ‘on’ or ‘off’ and even sometimes the intensity of current (e.g. dimming of bulb or changing the speed of a fan).
These two devices can work together to create solutions that eliminate wastage. For instance, sensors that can sense human movement, which can “speak” to actuators that turn lights or fans or air conditioners ON when there are people present in a space. More importantly they can also turn them OFF when there is nobody present in the space, thereby eliminating wastage of electricity in most spaces. Since lights, fans and air conditioners account for an over 70 per cent of the electric usage in most spaces, this can result in significant energy efficiencies. Another instance can be when there is sufficient daylight in space as sensed by the sensors then, the lights can be turned off by actuators.
In many situations sensors, actuators need to connect with other devices locally or over the Internet (which makes it an IoT system). These other devices are typically called hubs, gateways or Cloud servers, and they bring valuable abilities and more “smarts” into play to further reduce wastage.
Home automation can be as basic as a lamp timer to mimic household activity while you are travelling or much broader and all-encompassing. In simple installations, automation may be as straightforward as turning on the lights when a person enters the room. In advanced installations, through a single touch the person can set appropriate lighting, temperature, music levels and tune the TV to their favourite television channel, taking into account the day of the week, the time of day, and other factors.
Deciding what you want will go a long way in determining your budget, your method, and how much time you’ll be investing setting things up. To put it very simply, if you do something repeatedly, you can probably automate it one way or another. In summary, smart buildings are eco-friendly homes enhancing and improving the happiness, health and well-being of the occupants. Overall, conserving energy at home shouldn’t require you to sacrifice comfort or make you feel deprived. Smart energy conservation shouldn’t require a change of routine or lifestyle or create a lot of extra work. With an automation system at the helm of your house, you don’t need to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced to conserve energy, as the system is able to operate the lights, thermostats, and other power-hungry devices with the utmost efficiency. The system empowers you to easily shave money off your monthly utility bill. The latest advances in technology have tremendous potential to benefit people by increasing efficiency and reducing waste. By leveraging the latest IoT technologies for your smart home, you’re not only helping yourself save money, you’re also doing your part to cut down on pollution. The opportunity to utilise these new technologies to augment building energy performance is now available both for new buildings as was as retrofits for older buildings. We have a long way to go in terms of deploying these, but the energy shortages we face are not going to be resolved in the short run, so energy efficiency is a worthy economic and environmentally beneficial pursuit for all owners and facility managers of buildings.
Dr. Narendra Bhat
Founder & President