Cut Energy Costs by Creating a 'Smart' House

By Ellen Chang

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Finding ways to reduce the amount of energy used in your home is now even easier with the push of a button by accessing your apps.

Consumers now have many options to chose from so they can lower both their electricity bill and energy usage without having to spend hours installing a new product. Many products now are Wi-Fi enabled so you can access your devices even when you are at work.

Lights Out!

If you are at work and forgot to turn off your lights, now you can solve your problem by tapping your smartphone. A new light bulb called Robosmart--made by Smartbotics, a Los Gatos, Calif. startup--allows you to turn it on and off simply by using your smartphone, laptop or tablet. The light bulb is embedded with a Bluetooth sensor and works with an app compatible with Apple's iOS platform. By August, Android users will also be able to utilize the device.

"We wanted people to be able to save more energy, consume less power and pay less for their electricity," said Kelly Coffey, founder and chief executive of Smartbotics. "We are creating a product that will help you save money automatically."

The light bulb can also sense how far away the user is and will turn itself off if you leave the room, he said.

Smartbotics plans to expand its capabilities to outlets and to temperature sensors in the future so that you can make your home automated. In the works is a light sensor which would be used for light harvesting. If a room is lit by sunlight, the light sensor will notify the lights to dim or turn off automatically, Coffey said.

"We hope to make it so simple to use that the average Joe would want to buy this product and take it home," he said. "In the future you can get home automation without having to sign up via your home wireless data network."

Although the light bulb is sold currently online via the Smartbotics website or at Los Gatos hardware stores only, the product will hit other hardware stores later this summer and the big box electronics stores by fall. While paying $40 for a 40-watt light bulb seems expensive, Coffey said each bulb should last 10 years if it is used for three hours a day. Eventually, consumers will only pay $20 for a bulb. Each bulb should save an average of 72 cents annually.

Crank up the Heat!

A new thermostat that has Wi-Fi capabilities can also be accessed via a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Made by Honeywell, the Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat features a color-customizable screen and can be accessed remotely via the Total Comfort Connect app.

This device helps consumers conserve energy by sending them an alert when their home is too cold or hot, saving you energy and money. You can also turn up or down the temperature after you have arrived at work or before you head home.

"With one quick touch on a smartphone consumers can adjust temperatures or set a heating/cooling schedule based on their preferences and lifestyle," said Brad Paine, Honeywell's director of product marketing for environment combustion and controls.

Honeywell said it is also currently working with many utilities to allow consumers and communities to enroll in utility-sponsored energy savings programs that help reduce energy throughout the year, especially on extremely hot days. This helps utilities avoid using backup power stations and conserve as much energy as possible.

Consumers can save as much as $180 a year on their energy bill with a programmable thermostat, according to the EPA.

Chill Out

Now consumers even have options that are free to help them monitor the temperature inside their home especially if they are using window air conditioners. In New York City, thousands of residents are now participating in the coolNYC program, which is a partnership between utility Con Edison and ThinkEco, which manufactures the modlet, a new wireless dual outlet. Consumers receive a free ThinkEco smartAC kit that can be used to turn window AC units on and off remotely by using a smartphone and set their thermostat remotely. This device can also control multiple AC units and networks them together under a single user and gives consumers the option to work with Con Edison during peak load hours to reduce the amount of energy being consumed and reduce the risk of blackouts.

"The coolNYC program offers New Yorkers more ways to control their window air conditioners and use energy more wisely," said Amanda Lurie, coolNYC program manager. "Within NYC, there are over 6 million window air conditioners that contribute up to 20% of this demand. On hot days many people have multiple window ACs on which puts stress on the electric grid. The coolNYC program helps maintain reliability of the grid by allowing consumers to opt their window AC units into conservation events - this means the thermostats on their window ACs are temporarily set to a slightly higher temperature during times of highest grid stress.

No Energy Left Behind

Another device consumers can purchase is the $50 modlet, which is a wireless retrofit plug that eliminates the wasted energy used by plugged in appliances. The modlet can be controlled remotely with any iOS or Android device and can be set based on how you use a certain appliance.

Later this year or by 2014, Sunnyvale, Calif.-startup Ayla Networks said its software will be in retail products in the U.S., allowing home devices such as thermostats, appliances and lighting to become connected to the Internet, said Dave Friedman, CEO of Ayla Networks.

Ayla's embedded software enables chip makers, such as Broadcom and STMicroelectronics, to provide manufacturers with chips that can be interactive and easily connected to smartphones through the cloud. Essentially, Ayla equips white goods manufacturers--companies that produce appliances and other home furnishings--with the technology to produce connected devices, which is a relatively new phenomenon called the "Internet of Things" (IoT).

"Our platform connects the device and network together, allowing them talk to each other," Friedman said. "The potential is that consumers will have instant connectivity via smartphone or web-based device that automatically turns into the remote control for the home. The technology is now available, and we hope to see manufacturers introduce new appliances with Ayla's technology very soon."

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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