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Energy Storage Will Be a Critical Component of Next Generation Smart Homes

Consumers looking to automate their homes can consider a wide range of smart home “hubs” — that is, devices that enable control over temperature, music, lighting, appliances, and other components. Products have emerged within the young market from technology manufacturers such as Amazon (Echo and Echo Dot), Samsung (SmartThings), Google (Google Home), and Apple (HomeKit). Yet, what if the best hub for a smart home isn’t a technology-based one, but an energy-based one?

Energy Optimization

In a recent article for The Motley Fool, author Travis Holium proposes that energy storage devices could be “the new smart-home hub.” He argues that tech-based platforms are “built to connect people to a central hub that will interpret voice instructions, not to automate control of the home in a ‘smart’ way.” He goes on to suggest that energy storage units can optimize energy consumption in a way that other types of devices can’t: “It’ll turn air conditioning or heat down when electricity prices are high or turn on dishwashers and washing machines and even charge an electric vehicle when energy prices are low.” Several companies, including SunPower, Tesla, and Sunrun have already developed such units. 

An Important Puzzle Piece

At the very least, energy storage units should be an integral part of the smart home configuration. According to Energy Matters, “Leveraging the power of connectivity, a smart home’s potential in enhancing our lives and taking more control over our homes, including in the area of energy efficiency, is truly staggering.” The smarter the home, the more it can also reduce costs and the amount of work needed to maintain the living space.

Brad Dore of AltEnergyMag notes that, for homeowners using solar power in particular, “A high-voltage battery is an integral part of the smart home equation.” He explains that the other pieces of the intelligent home puzzle include PV and battery inverters that work in total alignment; a cloud-based monitoring system, and, if applicable, an electric vehicle charging station. Dore writes, “In a future with smart homes, people can leave for work and set their appliances to run during the day when electricity is cheaper. While they’re gone their PV system will generate clean solar power and use it to power preset loads during the day, while storing the excess PV-generated electricity in the batteries for later use.”

Early Stages

Despite these benefits, energy storage is still in its early stages, and, for the moment anyway, remains a hard sell for some consumers. For one thing, as pointed out in a recent Good Energy article by U.K.-based Juliet Davenport, some homeowners don’t yet have energy generation technology (such as PV panels) installed. Davenport notes some other drawbacks as well, including the expense of energy storage units and their limited lifespan. She writes, “There are some good and some bad systems out there and, similarly, good and bad installers. The weak points in the systems we’ve seen tend not to be the batteries themselves, but the control systems that sit between the battery, any home generation equipment such as PV panels, and your energy-using appliances.” Such a weakness is likely to hamper the ability of this technology to serve as a key component in a smart home system.

Finally, Davenport observes that, in the U.K., government policies don’t yet reward consumers for helping to reduce greenhouse emissions. In the U.S., energy storage policies differ from state to state, and are subject to change. For example, in Colorado, a recently introduced bill seeks to enable consumers to “install electricity storage systems with a discharge rate of up to 25 kilowatts (kW) alternating current (AC) for later use or to provide a backup in case of an outage.”

It additionally restricts the ability of utilities in the state to impose additional charges on energy storage customers, according to Peter Maloney writing for Utility Dive. Maloney notes that state lawmakers are hoping to prevent what has happened in other states, such as Arizona, where “some utilities are fighting back against the growth of rooftop solar by imposing fees and changing rate structures.”

As energy storage quality, cost, and legislation improve, more consumers will find it a viable option, and — along with enhanced technology solutions — a smart addition to their smart homes. 

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