Monday, June 6, 2016

Smart Power

Only As Smart As What It Eats

One of the basics of any Smart Home that is often just assumed is that all of our switches and bulbs and voice activated toilet brushes run on electricity.  To take it farther, most of them control electricity whether by turning a light on or off, activating an appliance or changing your home's temperature when a presence is detected.  All of these things are either starting or stopping the flow of electrons through out your home.  These electrons are the food that your house eats.

But Schmoid, I can hear you say, electrons are electrons.  There aren't some that are better for your home than others, right?  There aren't high protein electrons or gluten-free electrons.  There's just electrons and they don't change on any level whether they were generated by burning coal or exposing photo-voltaic panels to sunlight.  You are correct, I reply.  But electrons aren't the only aspect here.  There's also 'Smart'.

Why Are You Smart?

To answer why a Smart Home needs its own source of power (and that's really where this is going), it's important to remember WHY you are making your home smart in the first place.  According to some people who do this for a living, the primary drivers for installing smart home products are security and energy resource management.

Energy resource management really means 'controlling energy costs' whether by turning off lights and scheduling the AC or other means.  Adding your own generating capability to your home can help on many fronts, usually paying for itself both in the short term with lower cost per kilowatt-hour and in the long term by removing a large portion of that bill entirely.  So from a cost perspective, it is smart for most people.

From the security side, the argument is, admittedly, a bit more convoluted.  It rests more on the concept of independence and control than stopping burglars.  As a home owner, you have no control over the power that is fed into your home.  How far away is that power coming from?  How dependable are the wires between my home and that generating facility?  If the power goes out, what happens to my Smart Home security system?  The answers for me are: 250 miles, usually pretty good but not infallible, and it turns off.

In fact, in the US, while the frequency of blackouts has not changed in the last several decades, the length of power outages has.  This makes home generation by any means a smart option.

The Power Devil His Due

The various US utilities are in a bit of a bind.  Most of them are under some level of state or municipal control as part of their deal to be a local monopoly.  This control is usually handled by elected officials who know that if they let rates increase too much, they will not get re-elected.  On top of that, the rate they are allowed to charge is not only for the fuel costs of power generation, but also to maintain the power lines, the grid.  An aging grid, much of which needs to be upgraded.  As more and more people take their energy future into their own hands and lower their utility power bill, this puts the maintenance costs for those lines on everyone else.

Keep in mind that residential renewable energy owners still need the grid.  The wind does not always blow.  The sun goes down at night.  But the refrigerator still runs 24/7 and that means drawing power from somewhere not at home.  Though less of it and usually at times when the grid is not stressed.  Batteries are not quite there yet: they either cost too much, take up too much space or don't have an acceptable life expectancy to make them a good idea for most of us.

'Smart' is More Than Switches and Rules

The bottom line on all of this is that a Smart Home needs smart power.  Power that is more secure and power that is more cost effective.  That's what makes it smart.


[Disclaimer: I worked for SolarCity for seven month.  I've recently left them because I was leaving the MSD alone at home too much (and because I sucked at outside sales).  They are a good company trying to do good things and there's a reason that they are one third of the residential solar installations in the US.  Having said that, they are a for-profit company and have shareholders to which the management is ultimately accountable.  I've tried to leave my corporate brainwashing behind, but I do believe in local, home installed power generations and did before I joined SolarCity.]


  1. I believe that the Tesla power wall is the right approach, but as you said maybe batteries are just not there yet

    1. It is, but it is really more of a load balancing tool rather than a full home battery backup. While it will serve that need, it will only activate 12 circuits for a maximum of 4 hours (if my memory serves me because I don't want to look it up right now). That will keep your refrigerator from spoiling food and give you lights if you need them, but probably not AC. The PowerWall is a HUGE step in the right direction, but I'm going to wait until gen 3 or 4.