Swapping out old home appliances and replacing them with new “smart” technologies and systems can be a good move by opening up the door to saving a substantial amount of money on utilities. Each household will be different and will require a unique look into the needs and uses of these potential technologies. Not every solution listed here will benefit every household equally. For example, small homes which don’t use very much electricity might not benefit from installing solar panels like a large home. The future looks bright for energy conservation and smart gadgets are entering the market for consumers at an ever increasing rate.
1 – Renewables
Solar energy. Solar panels convert the energy from the sun into electricity which is used in the home. Homes located in geographical areas with more sunlight will benefit more from these energy solutions. The direction of the roof also plays an important role in using energy from the sun. You’ll also want to consider the size of your home, how much energy you want to replace with renewables, and manufacture/government rebates and tax incentives for using solar panels.
In general, if your home uses lots of electricity you will begin to save money with solar energy very quickly. Many solar companies also now provide a power purchase agreement (PPA) in which you essentially lease the solar equipment from them and agree to pay for the energy your system produces. The energy is a fixed rate, the installation and maintenance costs the homeowner almost nothing, and the rates are much lower than traditional utilities. By combining solar renewable energy and home automation systems this becomes a smart alternative to getting electricity from the power company.
In general, by going with the solar panel solution, you can count on saving about 30% off your energy bill. If you decide to purchase the solar panels out right, plan on spending $2000-$10,000 depending on the size of your home.
Wind energy. Purchasing and using home wind turbines to create electricity is another possibility in the quest to save money. The most effective wind turbines are not small. Many of them reach heights up to 20 or 30 feet in the air to produce the needed energy from the wind. If a tall wind turbine is going to be a problem as an eyesore this might not be a good solution. The good news is that even though they are tall there is not a problem with wind noise so they won’t be disturbing yourself or the neighbors by the noise they create.
Take a look at The Windspire, priced around $5,000 and with a annual energy production of 2000 kWh, to get an idea of whats out there. For a less pricey version of harnessing wind energy, look at Air Breeze, a small traditional looking wind prop capable of producing 200 watts daily. That’s about the amount of power to run a computer or TV. Priced at around $500 it might take you a while to make up the difference in energy saving. The wind generated renewable energy market doesn’t have roots as deep as solar yet, but the market is emerging and worth keeping your eye on. According to the US Energy Information Administration the average residential energy use is 11,496 kWh. If you had half a dozen Windspires in your yard you might be able to go completely powered by wind, but that’s probably not realistic or economical.
2 – Smart thermostats
Investing a few hundred dollars on a thermostat which can teach itself the best way to manage temperature control in the home is a very worthy investment. There is a thermostat on the market which is getting a lot of recognition for its functionality and smart benefits to users, it is called Nest. This little device will run your home temperature settings all by itself and can help save money on energy bills. It learns when you wake up and will adjust the temperature to a comfortable setting before your feet hit the floor in the morning.
It will also learn when you go to work, come home from work, and can even sense your presence in the home and will adjust the temperature accordingly. Nest has built-in motion detectors to adjust temperatures to the perfect setting regardless if you are home or away. If you’re not satisfied with how the thermostat is being automated you can control it with your smartphone from anywhere. All these little adjustments will definitely save you money. 50% of the average homeowner’s electric bill goes to heating and cooling. Nest will also adjust itself automatically depending on the weather because it plugs into your Wi-Fi and checks forecasts.
According to the manufacturer, households could cut 30% off their average energy bill simply by plugging this little device in. So in essence, you get a thermostat which learns how to ultimately control your environment without your input, can save you up to 30% on your heating/cooling costs, and only cost about 10% more than a standard hi-tech thermostat on the market today.
3 – Light occupancy sensors
Installing light occupancy sensors to turn off or on the lights has the potential to save money. As any parent knows, no matter how many times you remind your children to turn off lights they never seem to remember. The general estimation of how much money is wasted every year on lights which get left on ranges in hundreds of dollars. If a 100 W lightbulb is left on for 10 hours it uses 1000 W of electricity, or 1 kWh. A quick look at your electric bill will reveal how much you spend per kilowatt hour.
If the average is $.20, then that 100 W lightbulb left on for 10 hours would cost you…$.20. Then multiply this number by the amount of lights you leave on throughout the day and you will start to get an idea about how much energy you waste. Again, probably hundreds of dollars per year. A solution to that wasted energy is motion activated lighting sensors. A really easy way to implement this is by simply purchasing a motion sensor plug which fits in the old outlet.
Then plug the light into the new sensor, attach multiple lights to it, and you’re done. Highly trafficked rooms will probably not benefit much from this technology, but low to medium trafficked rooms, which often have lights forgotten in the on position will be the best bet. Simple motion sensors like this cost anywhere from $10-$20. There is another solution to controlling forgotten lights. Home automation systems can connect all lights to a computer program on your phone. You can simply monitor which lights are on and turn them off as needed.
4 – Smart grid ready appliances
There is a strong sense in both private enterprise and government circles that the smart grid will be slowly implemented across much of the nation and the world over the next decade. The smart grid uses information to communicate the personal habits of electricity consumers back to the energy companies. In essence if your household uses lots of electricity during peak times you’ll be charged a higher rate. In response appliances are being rolled out which have the capability of communicating with the smart grid.
Not only will you be able to communicate with your refrigerator via your phone, your refrigerator, dishwasher, oven, and washing machine/dryer will all be able to communicate with the smart grid. Your appliances will automatically know optimal times to perform their functions. These times will be at the off-peak hours allowing you to save money by not incurring the higher rate. Manufacturers of such appliances have already introduced energy-saving features into their products which help mitigate energy costs, but these new smart appliances will take this a step further by knowing when to operate without you even worrying about those peak rate issues.
According to the Department of Energy the tax incentives and credits, plus the ability to lower energy costs, will help make these appliances purchase worthy just a few years into the purchase. The good news is that these smart grid ready appliances are finally on the market, and are not that much more highly priced than normal high-end appliances.
5 – Water wasting
We all know that wasting water by taking extra long showers is bad for our utility bills and bad for the environment. There is also lots of wasted electricity heating up all that water for those showers, and don’t forget about wasted energy from old water heaters and non-insulated pipes. Because of this there might be a tendency for homeowners to consider upgrading their old-school water heater to a new tankless water heater in an attempt to save money on utility bills.
That is not a bad idea, but there might be some more practical solutions you can try first, because a tankless water heater is not inexpensive. Before you decide to go tankless you should contact an expert to look at your specific needs. The reality of the situation is that it really depends on the home, water use, and price for gas in the area. Even if water heaters are upgraded it is still possible to waste money by excess water usage if you don’t change bad showering habits. Sometimes the simplest devices can truly benefit us by simply reminding us to turn the water off. For only $10 you can purchase a simple product on the market called Water Pebble. It’s a small device you place at your feet in the shower. As you start the shower you’ll see a green flashing light. As you continue the light will go from green to yellow, and finally blink red indicating that your shower time is over.
Make no mistake about it, this device is smart. It tracks the amount of time you spend in the shower during the first use, and each consecutive use it shortens that time by seven seconds. When it becomes too short you simply hit the reset button. According to the manufacturer this device could end up saving you more than $300 per year on wasted water and energy. This might save you more than 12,000 gallons of water per year. Not a bad solution to save money with a simple $10 device.
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Developing a high-end in-car infotainment system can present challenges that don’t exist in other platforms — you’re juggling core car systems, a myriad of sensors and media playback in a testbed on wheels. NVIDIA has just explained how it’s uniting those elements with its new, lengthily-titled Jetson Automotive Development Platform. While it looks like a single-DIN car stereo laid bare, the configurable kit incorporates a Tegra processor (for usual infotainment functions), multiple car-friendly interfaces and a Kepler-based graphics chipset that can power car detection, lane departure and other computer vision systems by using CUDA or OpenCV code. The net effect should be a much simpler development process: automakers can consolidate some of their test hardware in one Jetson unit that they can upgrade or swap out if newer technology comes along. NVIDIA isn’t naming the handful of designers and suppliers that are already building car electronics using Jetson, although history offers a few possible candidates.
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It wasn’t too long ago that the term ‘Smart City’ was not on very many people’s radar screens, but today smart cities are popping up all over the place and people are becoming more familiar with what that entails. In case you’re not familiar with the term a smart city uses information combined with technology to improve quality of life, reduce environmental impact, and decrease energy demand. This list of the smartest cities on the planet takes those factors into consideration, as well as the ‘smart’ plans the city might have for the future.
The city of San Francisco constantly ranks at the top of North American cities as one of the best places to live. They have been working to make the city smart for the past few decades and the smart grid employment sector has grown 130%. The city has very ambitious goals to decrease their carbon footprint by increasing power from renewable energy and the grid is currently powered with 41% renewable energy.
There is an emerging infrastructure for electric vehicle charging with 110 public charging stations, the highest per capita of any city. The city has also vastly improved it’s public transportation system which includes more buses and trains, as well as apps to show bikers and pedestrians the best routes through town. They’ve also developed apps for visually impaired citizens to navigate public transportation.
They currently have a goal to achieve zero waste by the year 2020. To do this they have extensively expanded their recycling system making recycling just about anything you want achievable. So far they’re making great progress. The city’s current waste diversion is 80%!
To achieve their lofty goals the city has opened up city data to software developers and startup companies to help the city innovate. There has already been more than 60 software apps in public transportation alone. How many public transportation apps does your city have? The current mayor Ed Lee, and former Mayor Gavin Newsom, have shown great leadership in bringing San Francisco to the forefront of smart cities.
Amsterdam has partnered with big-time companies to go green and it is working. Companies like Phillips, Cisco, IBM, and dozens of smaller companies are all working with the city to help them innovate into a hub for smart city technology. Amsterdam has become a role model for the rest of European cities striving to become smart city savvy.
Some of the projects the city is done in the past few years have helped make this city very green. Take a walk down ‘Climate Street’ and you’ll see some of the technology in use. Trash is collected by nonpolluting electric trucks. City bus stops, billboards, and lights are powered with solar energy. Thousands of households and businesses have had their roofs retrofitted with energy efficient insulation cutting down energy costs, and these concepts are spreading like wildfire from Climate Street to the rest of the city.
In other parts of the city river going vessels can hook up to electrical power outlets to recharge their batteries rather than using high polluting diesel generators. Many thousands of homes have been upgraded with automatically dimming light switches, automatic shutting off appliances, smart meters connected to cell phones for realtime analysis, and ultra low energy LED lights are in use in thousands of applications. Billions of euros have been invested over the past three years into these smart technologies which will save the city many more billions of euros over the decades to come.
Japan’s biggest companies are behind the Smart city revolution taking place around the globe and are using Tokyo as their proving ground. Panasonic, Sharp, Mitsubishi, and many other big names are working very hard to infuse smart technology into this massive city. After months of rolling blackouts due to lack of nuclear power, the need for the Japanese to innovate has never been greater.
In 2006 Tokyo started aggressively greening up its city. The Imperial Palace is currently considered a Green Island in the Tokyo urban jungle, but that might change when all utility poles come down and are replaced with trees by 2015. The goal is 1 million trees in the city which might make Tokyo itself a green island. They are also aggressively pushing solar energy, renewable wind sources, and electric/hybrid cars by providing appetizing incentives to pocketbooks for businesses and household who are going green.
A few miles outside the main part of the city lies and eco-village built by Panasonic. The zero carbon emission village focuses on using renewable energy and ultra high efficient appliances. The home automation system looks at weather forecasts and determines the best time to perform the laundry. LED bulbs are installed throughout the home using 1/6th of what incandescent bulbs use, and next-generation fuel cells combined with solar power generators actually create electricity autonomously. Telecommuting is highly encouraged from these eco-homes which saves millions of CO2 emissions annually. Other companies in Japan are doing the same type of sustainable home living innovation creating prototypes for the rest of the world to follow.
This remote oil town in northwest China is quickly becoming infused with the worlds best smart technology. The leadership of Xinjiang have a philosophy which is that information-technology should be integrated with every aspect of the city resident’s lives. Being a smart city in China is less about infrastructure and more about information integration and processing. Here’s some of the things they are doing.
Every bus station in the city is equipped with a electronic screen displaying bus arrival information. Mobile devices are of course connected to the bus system and the screens so checking the exact arrival time from mobile apps is possible. The city is connected with a web of public traffic cameras and all are accessible via mobile phones. This makes real-time traffic monitoring a reality, thus avoiding congestion. According to Chinese reports the mobile phone infrastructure in the city is at 170%, making the city very connected to the smart hub.
Homes are equipped with panic buttons which if pushed by an elderly person will automatically alert emergency response personnel. There is also a Social Security system which tells city officials if there is a growing number of unemployed persons. The government knows in real-time the occupation and unemployment status of the city residents. Again the Chinese smart theme, information technology integrated into life. These systems free up government workers so they don’t have to attend so many meetings and can work more efficiently.
Seattle constantly ranks very high for smart cities across the globe. They do an exceptional job when it comes to looking out for environmental issues. One of the big reasons for this is they offer huge tax breaks for businesses and residents who purchase and utilize green technology. If you can’t afford upgrading to green technology don’t worry. Residence who meet income qualifications get free green weatherization services. These services include insulation in attics, walls, pipes, windows, and more. A wonderful way for residents of the city, who could not otherwise afford these upgrades, the chance to save lots of money on utility costs. Ultimately saving the city money on wasted electricity.
Green jobs are an abundance for this city with more than 300 companies employing thousands of people. Seattle is a national leader for innovative green building practices. The demand for energy efficient construction has never been higher. For all their efforts Seattle has the lowest electricity rates of any comparatively sized city in the nation. They also have some of the lowest carbon emissions per capita in the United States. Seattle has built a strong roadmap for the future and will continue to lead the way with their version of a smart city.
Copenhagen is one of the smartest cities on the planet. Perhaps it’s due to the ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by the year 2025, which has accelerated it’s green technology revolution. Denmark has almost one hundred years experience in urban planning. In 1925 they held their first urban planning commission, so they are definitely no stranger when it comes to planning urban spaces for the future.
Copenhagen has attracted many innovative companies to use its city streets as a testing ground for green technology. For example, they have created a eco friendly smart neighborhood which houses 40,000 residents, created a similar amount of jobs for them, and is a model for green living.
They have taken a practical approach to sustainable living. When there’s no traffic on the streets the street lights turn off. The city has integrated air-quality meters in lamp posts throughout the city to monitor pollution trends. The intelligent street lighting, solar panel powered public areas, and public transportation systems are revolutionary in Europe.
The city has opened up it’s data to innovators and they are making lots of headway into sustainable living. Things like apps for finding available parking spaces throughout the city, smartphone connected smart electricity meters four homes, and and incredible network of shared bicycles all make Copenhagen very cutting edge.
In 2010 the European Commission named Stockholm – “Europe’s Green Capital of 2010”. This beautiful Northern European city has implemented many practical solutions to achieve their noted green success. Providing tax relief for companies who install motion sensors in their businesses in order to turn off lights when buildings are vacant is just one example.
Part of what makes this city so smart is it’s transportation network. The city sits strategically on Sweden’s southern coast and has multiple ferries connecting various international destinations. They also have high-speed trains connecting major cities, close to 2000 public buses in the city, and more than 1000 local trains and trolleys to move people around efficiently.
The city is also very green, as in bushes and trees green. There are 1000 parks (30% of the city space), seven nature reserves within the city, and residents annually recycle almost 100kg of waste per person. 90% of the city residents live within 300m of some green space. There are also two large water wastewater treatment plants where biodiesel is produced for public buses, from waste-water mind you. Even excess heat from sewage water is reused in residential heating applications. If all of those ‘green’ factoids aren’t enough the city has almost 3000 clean tech companies working to green up the city even more.
Vienna is a growing metropolis with more than 1.7 million residents. They’re one of the greenest cities in the world and are aiming to be the greenest. They’re currently at 14% renewable energy use for the city. The Mercer survey has named Vienna the city with the highest quality of life, both for Europe and globally. Quality of life is one of the major factors when it comes to ranking a city smart or not.
Vienna has placed a lot of resources into green energy. Europe’s largest biomass powerplant provides 75,000 residential and public buildings with heating. The city is currently on track to have 300,000 m² solar panels installed by the year 2020. That is a lot of solar power which will be connected to a smart grid.
Transportation around Vienna has never been easier or more accessible. More than 90% of the city’s population has easy access to public transportation. The city has a smartcard system which automatically calculates use fees for any mode of transportation automatically, and it’s a good thing too, because the public transportation system handles more than 1.3 million passengers every day.
New York has created a very clear vision of what the future smart city will encompass, and they are working quickly to achieve their goals. One way this is happening is Cisco and city24/7 have collaborated and launched an interactive platform which strategically places smart screens throughout the city to report news, events, and coupons. They are doing this by converting the old and underused public phone system. This is part of the city’s plan to bridge the digital divide and provide Internet access for all of its residents. These smart hubs will have NFC technology as well as Wi-Fi capability.
The city has granted access to software developers with more than 1300 open data sets. That is a lot of data to work with if you are a smart city entrepreneur. They’ve also set up a challenge which offers $50,000 in cash and prizes to the best apps which utilize New York City’s open data sets annually. Browsing through nycbigapps.com reveals dozens of very innovative applications that help make New York City smart. These entrepreneurs, investors, and New York City are creating a hub of smart technology.
Rounding out the list is the large Chilean city of Santiago. We are giving Santiago a spot on this list because Latin America deserves some recognition for the efforts they’re putting forth to create smart cities. This city’s population is expected to swell over the next decade, which means if they don’t innovate now rapid growth could potentially create an urban slum.
Santiago is taking examples from around the world, as well as advice from major smart companies like IBM, and creating a smart eco friendly city. Electric public transportation through electric buses running on a closed city circuit with multiple charging outlets for private cars and taxis is being built. The city is also focusing a lot of attention on home automation systems. Systems which fuse together solar energy and optimal energy use. To make it work the city will integrate a new smart grid into the infrastructure.
Smart city entrepreneurs should look to South America for business opportunities. Cities like Santiago Chile are actively seeking long-term relationships with new ventures to innovate and execute smart city programs. And with cities like Santiago growing more than 5% each year there are numerous opportunities for smart city innovation. South America has more than 380 million people, many of whom will be moving to cities like Santiago in the coming decades.
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Samsung has been enraptured with Dropbox and its cloud storage since last year, and we’re quickly learning that it’s a long-term love affair. The Korean firm is expanding its integration with Dropbox to not just include another smartphone, the Galaxy Grand, but also its 2013-era PCs (now that Windows 8 has support) and Smart Cameras. Details of when the integration comes, and exactly how it works, aren’t forthcoming just yet. It’s safe to presume, however, that a large part of Samsung’s technology this year will put online sharing front and center.
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With Logitech’s Squeezebox platform having quietly and unexpectedly reached its EOL status, the company found it necessary to let its customers know where they stand going forward. In a very detailed letter from UE product director Ariel Fischer, the Harmony maker reassured current Squeezebox owners it will continue to offer support for these products, adding that the current “mysqueezebox” website and certain apps will still work with existing devices. What’s more, those who managed to snag one of those Squeezebox Radios will have the option to upgrade to the outfit’s new UE Smart Radio service — which, according to Logitech, can play nicely alongside existing Squeezebox products, though this “will operate and be controlled separately.” All in all, it could be worse — and, in age where customer service can sometimes be rather unpleasant, we’re sure most of us can appreciate the transparency being shown in the open letter. Speaking of which, you’ll find that at the source link below.
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Evernote has trotted out an update to its iOS app and accompanied the software release with an announcement of a collaboration with Moleskine. Yes, you read that correctly. The digital note-taking application has teamed up with the analog sktechbook maker to produce the Evernote Smart Notebook. Designed specifically for the refreshed iPhone and iPad software, the notebooks allow users to snag written notes or drawings right off the paper and archive them with the app — making them searchable and organized for future reference. So where exactly does the tech angle come in? First, pages are lined using a dotted pattern that is optimized for the upated mobile software.
With the new Page Camera feature, photos of pages are shot and automatically given a proper contrast adjustment. The add-on also finds the aforementioned dots are corrects a skewed photo. Last but certainly not least, each Smart Notebook comes with a set of Smart Stickers. Evernote will now recognize each of these and apply the appropriate tags before sorting. While the stickers come with pre-defined tags, they are customizable to accomodate your particular sensibilities. These pseudo-digital Moleskines will be available in both pocket (3.5 x 5.5 inches / 8.89 x 13.97 cm) and large (5 x 8.25 inches / 12.7 x 20.96 cm) sizes, carrying $25 and $30 price tags when they hit shelves October 1st. If you can’t contain your excitement, head on to the coverage link below to pre-order yours now.
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If a wireless light bulb wasn’t quite the Jetson’s style future you were hoping for, perhaps Panasonic‘s planned expansion of its smart home appliances will better scratch that itch. From next month, there’ll be an Android app to let you remotely operate appliances, view energy savings and program settings via NFC. Hardware-wise, the electronics giant is introducing connected air conditioners, refrigerators, washer-dryers as well as smaller devices such as blood pressure monitors and calorie meters. Along with remote control, there appears to be some supportive cloud-based services too, such as reporting device faults to customer service and generating reports (from the healthcare products). When can you get a taste of the future? September 25th if you live in
Orbit City Japan. As for the rest of the world? We’ll just have to be patient.
Filed under: Household
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Just when we thought we’ve seen it all in chair design, this creative idea left us speechless. Framed by an integrated bookcase, the innovative Sunflower Chair created by designers He Mu and Zhang Qian from the Shanghai University of Engineering Science may occupy more space than your common living room chair, but its functionality more than makes up for that inconvenience. According to Chair Blog, the model recently won the Redtory Design Award at the Design for Sitting Gran Prix competition in Guangzhou, China. And that comes as no surprise; the Sunflower Chair bursts with originality and is one of those items that has “must have” written all over it. A fluffy cushion provides a high level of comfort and the possibility to relax in more than one body position. A clever shelving system for books and magazines surrounds the user, who can simply reach out and grab his or her favorite publication. The supporting legs are barely noticeable, a design approach that emphasizes on the “sunflower” itself. How would you comment on the overall design of this chair? Would you consider it as an addition to your home?
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Inspired by the growing number of family pets, Korean designer Seungji Mun figured out how to offer pet owners a fun, dynamic piece of furniture to share with their cats: “Companion animals are no longer pets but positioned as companions of people. And in Korea, more than 10 million people are living with pets.” This built-in system for cats to have their fun while being close to owners was designed with functionality in mind – crowded urban living spaces leave too little space for pet furniture. This propels the Cat Tunnel Sofa to a level of versatility that solves the space problems for both humans and their feline friends. The backrest was imagined as a tunnel that starts on the ground, working its way up and around the sofa to shape an armrest. Pierced by a gap in the middle, the tunnel allows cats to interact with the person(s) occupying the sofa: “After analyzing and observing cats’ habits and behaviors through experts’ opinion and sufficient research, we designed the structure and shape of the sofa to be fully in harmony with.” Do you think this looks like a viable space saving solution for cat owners?
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