What Has The Greatest Value In The Connected Home?

Electric Vehicles


image via Nissan

EVs can be the connected home/energy efficiency lynchpin, for several reasons:

  1. A great majority of us still require vehicles, and more and more EVs are coming. In the United States especially, we live in a car culture.
  2. As soon as you plug one in to charge, likely at a faster 220/240 volts, that charger will instantly become the biggest energy draw in your home.
  3. The electric utilities are terrified that we will all come home and plug in our electric vehicles at the same time, like from 4 pm to 7 pm, overtaxing the electrical grid and local transformers.
  4. The utilities are likely to implement expensive Time of Use rates during these times to discourage charging until later at night, or “smart changing” cars a little at a time.
  5. Your home will need some intelligence—whether in the charger, the cloud, or an in-home processor—that can govern a smart charge of an EV, while knowing the utility rates and possibly turning off or turning down other big loads like air conditioning systems and pool pumps. All of this, possibly while you run the oven to cook dinner.
  6. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies could tap the power in your car batteries to send to the grid, or with a home processor to other parts of your home for power. Also consider the possibilities of combining this with a solar PV system or other energy source.

EVs could be the biggest driver of energy efficiency in the home, because they will force utilities to implement Time of Use rates and other smart grid services. But will they bring true value to a connected home? Our electric bills will rise, while our gas costs go way down (experts say it’s still cheaper to charge an EV than pay for gas). But the real value EVs bring to the connected home could be in the connectivity they force us to provide.

With EVs, the connected home won’t be a luxury or a convenience or a cool factor. It may be a necessity.

The caveat: Don’t expect serious EV market penetration until later in the decade, analysts predict. The cars are pricier, the commercial charging infrastructure is nascent at best, and the battery technology still needs improvement. And again, who knows what will happen in other automotive innovations and with gasoline prices by then.

Also, while I love hybrid vehicles and yearn for electric cars, but I’m still not convinced that the deeply ingrained culture of the internal combustion engine, at least in the U.S., can change—even if electric-powered vehicles have instantaneous pickup and acceleration. Without exorbitant gas prices or attitude-altering (near cataclysmic) events, such a sea change in this culture will certainly take time.

It’s both exciting and scary that the worlds of the connected home, energy management, the smart grid and smart appliances—and by association a large chunk of energy efficiency in our society—may well hinge on the electric vehicle. Go GM?

Until Then …

The biggest value in a connected home for consumers may well be the many standalone (not grid-tied) home energy management systemscoming out, in everything from Z-Wave devices to the service provider systems (also Z-Wave), to powerline and wireless plug-in modules that read the energy usage of devices and appliances and allow you to control them from a computer or mobile interface. Many are already affordable and may evolve into valuable ecosystems for homeowners. Until a broad movement toward EVs or the smart grid takes hold, these systems may well be the secret weapons in the push toward energy efficiency. Until then—and likely well afterwards—the home energy management market will be cluttered, confusing and confounding.

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