Having a smart home is part of a natural evolution as a digital citizen and the starting point to becoming informed consumers in the energy-community era.
Today, the adjective “Smart” is associated with more and more concepts and devices: mobile phones, watches, TVs. Objects are now capable of understanding, processing information and adapting to new situations. But this also applies to whole ecosystems: smart homes, electricity grids and cities.
And we can also talk about smart people, consumers and citizens. Now is the time to join the smart revolution, a virtuous circle that combines technological innovation and informed use of resources, starting with energy itself. A good place to begin applying this energy intelligence in our daily lives is without doubt the home.
What is a smart home?
A smart home is one in which we have active control over the various items and appliances via the Internet of Things (IoT). This technology means that any object can become smart, via the presence of a microchip enabling connection to the Internet. This allows the user to interact remotely with his or her home and personalise it as desired, creating an environment that is perfectly aligned with the individual’s habits.
This smart approach is no longer simply a matter of convenience, but also an opportunity: it is important to be aware of our energy consumption and the type of source from which it originates, and to understand our carbon footprint. Transferring this awareness to your domestic life will allow you to play a role in the future, a future that has already arrived in the form of energy communities.
Let’s start from the basics: how to create a smart home.
An Internet connection is the first fundamental element in the creation of a smart home. This is considered a feature of daily life and is taken for granted, but it represents a huge modern technological revolution.
This connection makes it possible to create a virtual network between smart objects, unlike the first examples of domotics which used a physical, structural network to connect them. The Internet has led to the advent of non-invasive automation systems with lower costs which are constantly updated.
The second fundamental step is selection of a gateway, the beating heart of your smart system. The gateway is the router that allows connection and communication with multiple devices remotely.
This is one of the key functions of the Regalgrid® gateway, the SNOCU (Smart NOde Control Unit). One of its main features is the capability to connect devices that communicate via different protocols and link them up to the Regalgrid® cloud using a patented, proprietary architecture.
In the past, it was essential to check that the accessories chosen were compatible with the gateway. Now, our SNOCU unit means that all you need to do is ensure that devices can connect to the Regalgrid® cloud, and therefore communicate with one another.
What types of devices can be connected to your SNOCU? Firstly, your Regalgrid® smart node monitors, controls and optimises the performance of your photovoltaic system and storage units. But the SNOCU can also be employed to coordinate and control operation of devices in all areas of your smart home.
Safety and security
One very important sphere is domestic security. Traditionally we think of CCTV systems with movement sensors that transmit real-time images to your mobile phone, such as Xiaomi Smart Home.
But there are also systems that use sensors to control certain safety risks such as gas leaks, or ensure continuity of energy supply. A smart system can monitor energy consumption that is close to exceeding contractual limits and automatically switch off a device, sending a notification via the app and preventing disconnection of power.
- Smart lighting is currently a very popular sector due the accessible prices of basic smart-lighting kits. Ikea Home Smart, for example, allows you to programme activation, intensity, and colour of lights remotely. Likewise, Phillips Hue is capable of creating an entire ecosystem with voice-control functionality. Whichever system you choose, your lighting may be monitored and controlled remotely, optimising usage.
Next is temperature regulation in the different areas of the home. If you fit a smart thermostat, you can use your smartphone to switch on the heating, air-conditioning or boiler and set the times when they should be on, allowing you to optimise consumption.
One well-known example is the Google Nest Thermostat, which gained attention as purchase of the patent back in 2014 marked Google’s entrance into the domotics sector. This thermostat is also capable of learning how best to adapt to your domestic habits using machine learning.
Created smart or converted? This is the common dilemma for home appliances. Replacing an old appliance with a smart version is certainly one option, but we recommend you only do this if it has genuinely reached the end of its useful life. It is always important to consider the impact of disposal of electrical and electronic equipment in terms of our carbon footprint and weigh this against the energy savings of a new appliance.
If you make an informed decision to purchase a home appliance with IoT functionality, in addition to remote monitoring and control, you will also benefit from the advantages associated with machine learning. Consider the LG ThinQ washing machine, unveiled at the CES 2020 event in Las Vegas, which uses a system of weight and volume sensors to measure load, identify materials and select the correct washing cycle.
Alternatively, you can add smart functionality to appliances that you already own, connecting them to the power source via a smart plug: these feature Wi-Fi connectivity and allow you to monitor device consumption and control it remotely using your smartphone.
Finally, we have to mention voice-control systems such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, the two most well-known virtual assistants, closely followed by Xiaomi and Apple. Voice control is quick and intuitive, and this is why it is increasingly used for the command-response side of smart-home systems. Alexa, like all other virtual assistants that you can connect to your smart home, can give you information such as the weather forecast, set a timer or an alarm, play music, turn off the lights and much, much more.
Smart homes are thus becoming the smartphones of the near future: you won’t be able to imagine your life without them. However, making the most of domotics for the convenience it offers is only the start.
Creating a single eco-system including your photovoltaic system and storage unit allows you to finally get a picture of your energy profile, actively managing your consumption and exploiting the full potential of your generation plant. This is the only way to participate in the smart energy revolution and generate value for your energy community.
Smart home can be a synonym of comfort, safety and security or energy efficiency and a reduced carbon footprint or even of sustainability more generally. For the end user, all of these are valid. However, the real importance of this trend towards electrical devices (appliances, chargers or whatever else) equipped with sensors and Internet connectivity, lies in the use we make of the large amounts of data and measurements gathered, which are unprecedented in the domestic context.
We must distinguish the function from the objective. If the purpose ends with the existence of the feature itself, such as devices that are interoperable and interconnected solely to make them more attractive to prospective buyers, becoming a new “toy” in the hands of users that may soon grow bored of them, this is a legitimate consideration, but certainly lacks a long-term perspective. Meanwhile, if the purpose is to provide a tool for efficient and beneficial implementation of devices, integrating target functions that lead for example to energy savings or even a form of income within an energy community, then we are talking about a different level altogether.
And it is at this level that Regalgrid has been operating for many years. The Regalgrid platform and our SNOCU units allow leverage of all of the devices described in order to achieve target functions via the proprietary artificial intelligence of Regalgrid algorithms. In this way, a smart home can evolve to become a smart node, playing an active role in a smart grid, where the benefit for the individual (e.g. individual self-consumption) is effectively combined with a collective benefit (e.g. collective self-consumption).