Home Depot Green Energy Expert: Americans Are Taking Control Of Their Power Use
Green tech expert Jennifer Tuohy discusses new home energy tech and developments for renewables in the US
The American consumer is leading the march toward energy efficiency in this country. They’re embracing government-sponsored programs such as Energy Star and technological advances like the Internet of Things (IoT) and solar panels to reduce their annual energy usage and put money back into their pockets.
While the residential sector is currently the largest consumer of electricity in the country, taking a 38 percent share (1.4 trillion kWh in 2015), residential energy intensity (the measure of the energy efficiency of a nation’s economy) is projected to decline even as the population grows.* The average household’s purchase of electricity is predicted to fall 11.3 percent between 2015 and 2040, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2016. This is not only previously unheard of, but signals a change in the way Americans are consuming energy.
The AEO report cites “Federal efficiency standards for most major end uses, including lighting, space cooling and heating, and water heating, as well as state and local building energy codes” as being the main reasons for the decline. They also single out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which allows states to encourage purchase of specific energy-efficient technologies. They project consumers will receive subsidies of up to 15 percent between 2020 and 2025.
*Electricity sales in the residential sector are projected to grow by 0.3 percent per year from 2015 through 2040 as the number of households increases by 0.8 percent per year.
The Role of Energy Star
A key component of subsidies for consumers has been the Energy Star program. Launched in 1992, the program has helped homeowners, governments, organizations and businesses across the country adopt energy-efficient products and practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut their energy bills. In 2014 alone, the EPA claims Energy Star efforts helped Americans save more than 360 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and $31 billion on energy bills.
While it was initially a slow and sometime painful process, the success of Energy Star and similar government efficiency programs goes beyond just the products they helped shape. Today, energy efficiency is a driving factor when consumers shop for home products—be it washing machines, refrigerators or thermostats. Americans are thrilled at the prospect of saving money on their power bill, whatever their view on climate change may be. In short, they are embracing this newfound control over their electricity use.
An Energy-Saving Smart Home
It is this mindset that has led to the burgeoning success of a new industry: the smart home. While the concept of a smart home is decades old, the concept of a smart home that saves energy (and thereby money) is the one that is gaining traction among consumers.
If you are looking for the most energy efficient refrigerator when shopping for a new appliance, it makes sense you’ll also ask the same thing about lightbulbs or thermostats—both products have been revolutionized by the smart home industry. Companies such as Nest, with its Learning Thermostat, and Hue, with its LED smart color changing light bulbs, owe their success in large part to claims of energy efficiency.
New data from Juniper Research reveals that the number of IoT-connected devices will reach 38.5 billion in 2020, up from 13.4 billion in 2015—a rise of over 285 percent. While agriculture, manufacturing and industry will account for a large portion of that, by 2022 the average home is expected to have 500 smart devices.
There is plenty of evidence indicating that smart technologies translate into smarter energy use. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) points out that refrigerators today use about a quarter of the energy they did in the 1970s and LED lights consume a sixth of the electricity incandescent bulbs did.
“New technologies have dramatically cut energy use for many kinds of equipment, electronics and vehicles,” the ACEEE says. “Smart homes—with appliances connected to the grid, thermostats that adapt to families’ schedules, and windows that block sunlight that is too bright—promise further savings and more control for homeowners.”
The category of smart domestic products is growing rapidly, ranging from HVAC, lighting, media and entertainment gadgets to appliances like cooking ranges and washing machines. When you consider that the top six consumers of residential electricity are heating and cooling, water heating, lighting, refrigeration and home entertainment systems—between them claiming 64 percent of electricity use in the home—you can see how smart products save homeowners a lot of money.
Rise of Solar Power
As consumers become more in tune with their energy consumption, they have started to look at where that energy is coming from, both from an environmental and cost savings perspective. The rapid increase of solar panel adoption in residential homes over the last decade directly parallels the rise in the cost of fossil fuel generated power and the decrease in the cost of solar.
According to Michael Liebreich’s presentation at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit this spring, the cost of solar has come down by a factor of 150 since 1975 and volume is up by a factor of 115,000. He attributes this shift to sustained long-term deployment programs.
By early 2014, America had more than 480,000 solar systems installed, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, with small scale systems on residential rooftops accounting for the majority of installations. Not only does solar power generate clean electricity, but it can protect consumers from price spikes and the rapidly rising cost of electricity.
Installing solar panels on a home’s roof connected to a transfer switch means the homeowner can switch back and forth from the grid to “off-grid” as consumption, price and weather dictates. Clearly consumers are serious about taking control of their power use.
The smart home and solar power are combining to push the energy savings of programs such as Energy Star to the next level, empowering consumers with more tools to monitor, regulate and reduce energy use in every aspect of their home.
Jennifer Tuohy is a home-energy-saving enthusiast who writes on green homes news and developments for The Home Depot. Jennifer’s articles seek to provide homeowners with the knowledge they need to make strong energy-efficient decisions. If you are reviewing transfer switches for your own home, you can visit Home Depot’s website for more information.