Smart Home Technology Won't Save Energy; It Wastes It.

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CC BY 2.0. My Hue smart LEDs use more electricity when they are off than when they are on/ Lloyd Alter

A new study claims that energy efficiency is driving the Smart Home market, but in fact, every bit of smart tech is a little vampire.

A study from GMI Research estimates that the global smart home market will reach US$ 125.9 billion by 2025. According to the summary:

The household consumers are focussing more towards reducing their energy costs by using these technologically advanced home appliances... the lighting control held the largest share in the smart home market in 2016. The increase in the adoption rate of intelligent lighting controls by households worldwide has fuelled the growth of the market. These have the ability to reduce electricity consumption as it consists of advanced sensors which automatically adjusts the intensity of artificial light according to the surroundings.

Energy Digital interprets this with the title: Energy efficiency could drive the smart home market to reach $125.9bn by 2025. We learned of this via a tweet from consultant Mike Rogers:

I am rather proud of the fact that here on TreeHugger we were the first to use the term "dumb home" four years ago, in a discussion about Nest Thermostats, talking about how if a house is built properly, it doesn't need a smart thermostat.

Then there is the Passivhaus, or Passive House. It's pretty dumb. A Nest thermostat probably wouldn't do much good there because with 18" of insulation, and careful placement of high quality windows, you barely need to heat or cool it at all. A smart thermostat is going to be bored stupid.

Since then, TreeHugger Sami has demonstrated that in a leaky old house, smart thermostats can be very effective and can save energy. But smart lighting saving energy? I am sorry, but that is just dumb. In fact, smart lighting might actually increase energy consumption.


Lloyd Alter/ the bridge/CC BY 2.0

A smart lighting system might turn off or adjust the brightness of a bulb, but an LED bulb already uses very little electricity, say 7 watts per bulb. But when you make it smart, it is always connected, consuming a teeny bit of power to talk to the controller or bridge; one guy with a meter tested it at 0.4 watts, or 9.6 watt/hours in the course of a day. When on, the Hue bulb draws 8.5 watts, so the bulb uses as much per per day while it is off as it does when it is on for 66 minutes. So my beloved Hue bulbs in my George Nelson fixture over my dining room table actually use more electricity while they are off than when they are on.

It also means that if you have a pile of smart bulbs and gadgets, you are consuming a fair bit of electricity. You would need 150 of them to be equivalent to a 60 watt bulb burning, but in this era of Alexa and internet connected electric toothbrushes, that's not a stretch.

According to the GMI report,

Increased demand for energy efficient systems and solutions, growing need for advanced security and access control solutions, as well as rising usage of smartphones and tablets in smart home solutions, can be attributed as the potential reasons for the growth of smart home market.

But with the exception of smart thermostats in crappy houses, none of this saves energy. It just wastes it, in the name of convenience. Asking Siri to turn off the lights is fun, but we would be better off in terms of energy and exercise if we got up and flicked a light switch. Rather than saving energy, the Smart home is going to be a great big energy suck.

To pick up on Mike Rogers' tweet, we will be better off off with a gadget-free dumb house any day.