Making A Smarter Planet, One Washing Machine At A Time
Antonio Prado Olivares 270003V34Y firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  power control systems meter automation planet rentership efficiency economics home smart smarter | 1,501 Visits
I made my home automation system pay for itself. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/untitled13/, flickr, creative commons.
When we talk about creating a Smarter Planet, much of the discussion focuses on how large enterprises and governments can transform the efficiency of our infrastructure through instrumentation and automation. That is definitely true and while progress has been slow, it is real. I know. I can see it every morning when I am at home as I walk out the door: the PG&E SmartMeter near my house.
PG&E can remotely disconnect my air conditioner at times of peak demand and they have certainly saved on having a person come by a read the meter every month or so. So far, the most visible output of all this is montly emails chiding me for my high electricity consumption. I must admit, I'm flustered as to what to do. PG&E says I'm using lots more energy than my neighbors in similar sized houses. And yet I have not a single light bulb that isn't an LED. I suspect the real power consumers in my house are two children, ages 3 & 4 who keep the washing machine, dishwasher and dryer going every day.
My experience with enabling the Smarter Planet is much more direct in the new pied-a-terre I have recenlty renovated in San Francisco. There, starting with a clean slate, I have implemented a new home automation system that's helping me cut costs and get an enhanced return on my investment.
The home automation system, NexiaLink, allows me to control lighting and, more importantly, heating remotely. I can set it up to automatically shut off the heat when nobody is at home and I expect that will save modest amount of money. When I come back, just entering my code in the lock resets the heating and cooling to my preferred levels automatically.
I don't expect much of an ROI from energy savings. All of my lighting is already LED, so I didn't even bother implementing lighting controls, except in the outside hallway to prevent people from tripping up at night.
Revenue? From your house? Yes. While it's a pied-a-terre for me, I have to admit, most vacation homes sit empty much of the time. For those that didn't, the time and cost of managing a rental property was far too tedious for many in the past.
Now, thanks to sites like AirBNB.com and VRBO.com, it's easier to rent the place online and get paid. That challenge, however, is that you still need to manage physical issues like exchanging keys and letting in repair people and cleaners between visitors. Home automation systems fix that very big constraint, making it possible to rent and manage a vacation home without setting foot in it. (makes you wonder why you got a vacation house in the first place!)
And therein lies the big payoff from home automation and connected devices: much greater capital productivity. Online services make it possible for consumers to market, rent, maintain and manage their assets from anywhere at any time. And while the cost of a home automation system isn't trivial, the entire system is paid for by renting out my house to one person for one month.
From Houses to Cars To Washing Machines
The bigger the capital expense, the bigger the ROI from investing in connected management systems. It makes sense that home automation might be the first area to see big ROI, but it's hardly the only candidate. My car sits idle at the airport along tens of thousands of others every week. Why shouldn't every airport parking lot be a giant rental car lot? As technology for connecting and managing devices gets cheaper and better, we should not be surprised to see more and more devices getting a "Rentership" make-over.
In mature markets like the US and Europe, people may prefer privacy to income and draw the line somewhere. (No, I'm not renting my washing machine out). That won't be true in emerging markets where major appliances like washing machines, air conditioners, and solar panels have a higher relative value. In those markets, "Rentership" could dramatically accelerate the adoption and consumption of these devices. The Smarter Planet may arrive one washing machine at a time.