Smartphone apps bringing energy management home

As smartphones continue to take over almost every part of our lives, managing our energy use at home may be the next thing coming.

At least that's what four Canadian academics are projecting. A paper recently published in the International Journal of Sustainable Energy looks at how smartphones could significantly accelerate home energy audits for greater energy conservation over traditional methods, like having trained energy auditors driving from house to house to look at heating and cooling systems once every year.

Their study analyzed 157,000 homes in Southeastern Ontario and found it would take 55 years to complete an energy audit of every house using the tremendously inefficient traditional method. With smartphones at every house, however, this same task could be completed all at once.

The usefulness of smartphones may come as no surprise, but energy management gadgets have yet to catch on in homes at the same rate as commercial real estate. It seems energy savings, while great if you're a business with high-energy needs, aren't as compelling for homeowners. Most energy management systems are too complicated, and the savings aren't big enough to justify effort on the part of the homeowner.

Nevertheless, there are lots of startups and big companies out there trying to solve this problem -- and crack this market. Technology research firm ON World predicts that by 2016, global revenue for home energy management will surpass $4 billion. Market researcher Pike Research makes a more conservative estimate with $2 billion in global revenue by 2020. Either way, there's lots of money to go around.

So the interest -- and opportunity -- is there, but the question remains, how do you make energy management more accessible for the homeowner? Smartphones may be the answer. After all, according to research from 2011 by IT consulting firm Accenture, 50 percent of 18 to 24 year olds and 44 percent of 25 to 34 years old were interested in smartphone apps that allow them to measure their energy consumption.

Jonathan Collins, principal analyst at market research firm ABI Research, said smartphone apps are one major factor behind the current growth in home automation -- 1.5 million home automation systems were installed this year, and many include energy management.

"Mobile devices increase awareness, as they [make it] easy to share with someone that you have home automation," he said.

Image of assorted smartphones provided by ALT1040 from Blogosfera via Wikimedia Commons

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