Smart homes, smart watches, smart everything these days – but what is a smart appliance, and how will they affect our lives now and in the future?
People can now control their home’s appliances and systems using a smartphone, tablet or laptop via an Internet connection. A human is required to issue a command, which is followed by one or more connected devices.
A good example is a Smart TV. ‘Dumb’ TVs can only receive signals. A smart TV connects to Wi-Fi, runs apps and also operates other smart devices for you from a dashboard. Human input is still required, however, and the Smart TV doesn’t do anything unprompted.
Many feel a truly smart home needs to go one step further with devices that talk to each other and respond intelligently to our inputs and behaviour patterns. A house would learn to dim the lights 15 minutes before your preferred bedtime. The weighing scales could make the fridge offer you an apple because you’d been putting on a few pounds.
These appliances collect and analyse data and can ‘converse’ with each other through what is known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Artificial Intelligence (AI) is when the appliance starts to think and act for itself and interact with other devices.
Smart heating thermostats are part of a wave of ‘smarter’ products; they interpret what you input, can learn from what you do, can react to other data like weather forecasts.
Different products offer different functions. Most will link to your phone, but some will know when you (or your phone, at least) are away from home. They might adjust the heating accordingly, or they might send you a message so you can turn the heating off – using your phone, of course. The cleverest systems will learn from how you set your heating, how you adjust it and how you occupy the home, and will start to anticipate your behaviour and heat your home differently as a result.
There’s more in our blog on how to take control of your heating at home.
Smart meters have come in for some stick – possibly because they’re not actually very smart. They are just meters, after all. They are convenient and show you how much electricity and gas you are using and send this data directly to your energy supplier. You won’t need to give meter readings, and it means the end of estimated bills.
The exciting bit isn’t the smart meter itself, it’s the smart things you can do once you’ve had one fitted. Most of the smart products we’re talking about here either need you to have a smart meter, or could do more for you if you have one. Find out more in our blog on how smart meters could save energy into the future.
A genuinely smart appliance will respond to new information and change its behaviour accordingly, for you or your home’s benefit.
A smart meter can show people the optimum time to use power, based on price and national grid supply, perfect for running a dishwasher cycle or charging the battery of an electric vehicle. Cheap or low carbon power is likely to be available overnight, however, when most people are asleep.
Smart appliances get told when there is cheap and green power available, and use this information to help them decide when to turn on. So your dishwasher might turn on while you’re out, and the car battery might start to charge in the middle of the night, all without a human required to programme them.
Find out more about choosing energy efficient appliances.
To benefit properly from smart appliances, you really need to be on a smart tariff. Octopus’s Agile Tariff is an example of a smart meter working alongside a flexible tariff to take advantage of energy booms, using smart meters to shift your electricity use to when it’s cheapest. Smart tariffs are a great way to take advantage of energy spikes produced by renewable energy sources on either very windy or sunny days. So making use of them can help the UK’s grid go greener, as well as helping to keep your bills down.
Find out more in our blog about balancing the grid with smart meters.
Smart charging is a vital consideration for people with electric vehicles that need charging, or with a home battery system. Your smart meter and smart tariff know when the price of electricity is low, so you can charge during times of electricity excess and low prices.
Electric cars are essentially large, mobile batteries and offer a two-way movement of energy with a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) system. After charging the car when electricity is at its cheapest, the energy stored in the car battery can be used in the home or sold back to the grid at times of peak demand, reducing bills and potentially earning the householder money.
Find out more in our blog about the Powerloop project, which explored how electric cars could manage electricity bills.
A house that combines the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence (AI) collecting and analysing our data could drastically change our lives.
Imagine an intuitive house where everything is voice-activated and your needs are learned and then anticipated. A cooker that delays your dinner if your journey home is slow; a stereo that knows you love to listen to Primal Scream before a run and a lounge that gently dims the lights as you start to feel sleepy.
What about a robotic arm that can act as your personal sous chef? A smart pet could easily be the gadget to break AI into the mainstream.
Local, renewable energy could power this home and heating, using supply and demand data to best cater to our needs and the environment.
Brian Horne is a Senior Insights & Analytics Consultant at Energy Saving Trust.
He said: “Smart homes have the potential to automate, save money and save carbon.
“At the moment, some so-called smart systems are just remote controls. We need to look at what we have in our homes, what’s on offer, and the question of do they do what we want them to do. Is it useful?
“Of course, if we do get fully connected homes with appliances that talk to each other that raises the question of do we want it to be fully automatic? Is our data secure, and how far do we go? Ultimately, that should be a decision for the householder – smart homes should be about taking control of our lives, not giving it up.”
Last updated: 29 October 2020
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