– By Emily Woodland, Co-Head of Sustainable Investment, AMP Capital
Residential homes with no power bills is not as pie in the sky as you may think – the technology to make it happen is already accessible, active and growing in Australia.
When ‘The Jetsons’ first aired in 1962, its whimsical imagination of what life might be like 100 years hence was both quirky and utopian.
Today, little more than halfway into those 100 years, some of the Jetsons’ pie-in-the-sky gadgets are widely adopted and the smart technology that powered everyday life for this futuristic family is here and maturing rapidly. From smartwatches to video chat, robotic assistants and everything at your fingertips; the future is now.
More than half of Australian households today have at least one smart feature, with the Australian Internet of Things (IoT) home market exceeding $1 billion last year.
You only need to look at some of the most popular smart home devices to get a flavour for the innovation that’s sweeping into the residential housing market: smart barbecues where your app does the cooking, remote sous vide cookers for getting dinner on wherever you are, smart beds with biometric sensors that keep your bed just the way you like it, wi-fi pool cleaners and robotic vacuums and lawn mowers.
What’s even more exciting is that one in five households already have a smart home energy management system (HEMS) and this is forecast to double by 2023, with the growth rate directly linked to the speed of 5G implementation. HEMS are designed to optimise a household’s use, storage and transfer of solar energy, and they can also be integrated with home automation systems that manage lighting, appliances, climate, security and entertainment systems, and more.
A management system for a smart home is like a brain to the central nervous system: an intelligent command centre that monitors and orchestrates all the moving parts.
Renewable energy at the hub of the home
In Australia, smart demonstration home projects have been piloting energy efficient technologies and design, including HEMS, for the residential and volume housing markets for at least a decade.4 The homes are proving grounds for new ways of living that boast exciting, technology-forward features with enormous appeal.
No matter the spec, they all have one thing in common: renewable, sustainable energy at their core.
One such affordable and sustainable living pilot site is the ‘House with No Bills’. Its first family took up residence in 2018, living rent-free in this prototype energy-efficient home to help demonstrate how real-time energy data and control through the cloud can transform how electricity is managed for the benefit of consumers and the power grid.
The home’s solar PV and battery system provides energy that is either consumed, stored or sold into the grid – as decided by the HEMS – depending on the artificial intelligence system’s learned needs of its residents. Similar systems have been shown to save residents up to 80 percent off their energy bills.
Another example is The Australian Zero Emissions House (AusZEH). Completed in 2010, the house earns its zero-emission status through use of a HEMS that is powered by renewable energy and supported by energy efficient design and technology. This home is one of several in a two-year project that followed four land developers in collaboration with researchers, to demonstrate that it is possible for Australian homes – including volume housing developments – to meet their own net energy needs.
Lochiel Park is another site that is piloting similar technology on a larger scale. Established in 2004, this development is a ‘green’ village equipped with solar PV and energy efficient design. Its 106 dwellings, including one apartment complex, model a high standard of affordable, energy efficient and sustainable living for the volume housing market.
These projects and others like them are laying the table for a new way of living. Just like those gadgets from the Jetsons that we take for granted today, it is only a matter of time before smart homes are de rigueur for the residential rental and new home markets.
The average cost of a smart home is $1,000 per room, with most homes having an average of five ‘smart rooms’ added.
Rooftop solar PV, battery storage and a smart meter on which residents can run a HEMS are a good place to start. When you consider that household appliances and equipment account for about one-third of energy consumption – and therefore energy bills – and nearly half of greenhouse gas emissions in the average household, the case for equipping homes with renewable energy is strong.
How you build your smart home can then be as personal as other design choices, with smart home technology available for every basic fixture: AI-powered facial recognition video doorbells, remote controlled smart locks, smart security cameras, smart air conditioning, thermostats and room lighting.
Further value can be added with smart home irrigation systems, integrated white goods like smart refrigerators, integrated video and audio equipment, and even smart showers.
Aging-in-place technologies like pressure pads along the edge of a bed or in the bathroom, which trigger text and email alerts to family members and friends, are also available to landlords and owners catering to an older demographic.
The average Australian household already has at least 17 connected devices and this number is expected to more than double by 2022.8
The same research indicates that one in four Australians would be willing to pay more for a smart home compared to a non-smart home.9
Although the technology is still in early adoption, the pace of growth in the smart home technology market is accelerating.
An increasingly competitive smart home technology market means that landlords and owners are spoilt for choice when it comes to smart features that may help attract tenants and buyers.