Energy Management in a Smart Home
Energy management is more important than ever, including in smart homes. Increasing energy prices, the rise of solar-at-home and renewable energy sources in general, heat pumps, EVs, home energy storage and dynamic energy tariffs all make energy management a key part of smart home – and your monthly costs.
So how do you properly manage energy in your smart home? How do you make sure you balance energy with comfort and convenience? And how do you make sure you're not wasting energy or money? Let's take a look at the status quo in 2023.
- Energy management factors
What factors play a role in the way you generate and consume energy at home?
- Separate solutions
Which solutions are available right now for the different factors?
- Energy management systems and smart home
How to centralise control, insight and automation, and what are the characteristics of a good energy management system?
Energy management factors
There are a couple of factors that heavily influence the way you use and pay for energy at home. Always take these factors into account when you select an energy management system, or when you look to conserve or manage energy. Don't stop at the factors that are applicable to you and your home right now. Instead, take some time to think about what factors play a role in the future as well.
Common factors for energy management at home
There are a couple of main factors around energy management found in modern day homes:
- Solar at home
- Type of heating and cooling: city heating (hot water), gas, heat pump or electrical / radiant
- Major energy consumers and their buffering capacity
- Availability and use of EVs
- Availability and use of home energy storage, like home batteries
- Type of energy contract: fixed, variable or dynamic
Together, these factors create your home energy environment. It's good to think about your current situation and future plans for each of these factors to make sure your energy management system fits.
If you don't yet know all your plans, it's good to stay as versatile as possible with your system. Choose one that connects with tons of different solutions, like Homey (especially Homey Pro is an energy management powerhouse).
Some of the factors above are pretty self-explanatory, but let's quickly walk through them:
Solar at home
Solar at home is a popular and well-known factor. Installing solar panels on your home help you generate your own renewable energy, save money on your electricity bills, and reduce your carbon footprint. To effectively manage your solar energy, it's important to monitor your energy consumption and production to ensure you're using your solar energy efficiently, ideally on the times you're also generating it.
Type of heating
Heating (and possibly cooling) is where homes typically use their most energy. There are multiple types of heating available, and their characteristics differ quite a bit. In general, heat pumps are the most efficient electricity-based heating option. They are often combined with electric radiant heaters or 'space heaters' for specific rooms. This combination is favorite for new, often 'gasless' homes.
Other solutions use city heating (with a hot water network) or gas. As you can't generate that energy yourself and prices are fixed for longer terms, these latter options are less flexible. In general, the more electric your heating system, the more you can steer and win with energy management. Savings by using less energy, are of course attractive for all types of heating.
Major energy consumers and their buffering capacity
Take inventory of your biggest energy consumers in your home. Next to your heating, these might include washer/dryers, dishwashers, saunas or a pool if you have these, electric or induction stoves, electric ovens or freezers. Note that some of them might have 'buffering capacity', meaning that they can 'store' energy. This creates a lot of energy management opportunity.
Buffers can, for instance, be freezers that can freeze between -18 and -30 Celcius, rooms that can be heated or cooled between 19 and 22 Celcius, pools that can be of slightly varying temperature, heat pump buffer vats that can be hotter or colder, or EVs or batteries that can be charged between 60% and 95%. If you think about it, you might have more energy buffers at home than you thought.
All of these buffers allow you to manage and schedule/shift your energy consumption to favorable time slots: either when you're generating with solar, or when dynamic prices are low.
Availability and use of EVs and home batteries
EVs use a ton of energy, and all of it is obviously electrical. Since they can also act as a buffer (see the paragraphs above), having your EV, EV charger or both connected to your home energy management system helps a lot. The same holds for home batteries, as they share a lot of characteristics: EVs are essentially driving batteries from an energy management point-of-view.
Type of energy contract
Lastly, your type of energy contract plays a large role. With the rise of renewable energy sources, energy prices start to differ a lot, even during a single day. Some contracts, called 'dynamic tariffs' take this into account and charge different prices per hour, with prices typically known 24 hours in advance.
With proper energy management, this type op contract can end up to be a lot cheaper than the well-known fixed or variable contracts. Dynamic tariffs are offered by companies like Tibber and are available in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, with more European countries quickly joining as these contracts help accelerating the energy transition.
If you are still on a fixed or variable contract, energy management is mostly about energy savings. If you're on dynamic tariffs, however, it's also about scheduling, or shifting, your usage, allowing you to pay a lot less for the same amount of energy consumed.
Separate solutions for energy management
For all of the factors above there are separate solutions. To do proper energy management, you need a single system to be in control, but we'll talk more about these systems later. For single solutions, it is always best to choose one that can be connected to other systems. This way, your single solution is able to integrate with a proper energy management system now, or in the future.
Connected solar at home
Solar panels themselves are pretty dumb. It's the inverter that is bridging your panels to your grid where it becomes interesting. For solar panels, there's only one thing that's really important: being able to communicate how much energy you're generating. There's two ways to do this:
- Get an inverter that is connected. For instance, inverters from EnPhase, Growatt, SolarEdge, SMA, Tigo, GoodWe and Huawei can connect to Homey Pro, so they can communicate their generation to you, as well as to a smart home / energy system.
- Get a smart meter add-on that can separate your solar generation. Usually this is called a '3-phase meter'. Brands like Eastron and Tibber have add-ons that can do this, and can be connected to an energy management system like Homey.
Connected heating solutions
Heating systems differ a lot. They are all controlled by thermostats though. There's smart thermostats available for almost every heating setup. For energy management, you need a thermostat that can be controlled by your energy management system. Luckily, systems like Homey are compatible with a wide range of thermostats for multiple heating configurations:
- Multi-zone heating with different thermostats. Popular in Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden. Brands like Heat-it have connected room thermostats for this option.
- Heating with a main thermostat (either single or multi-zone). Popular in Western Europe. Brands like Honeywell Evohome, Tado and Netatmo have connected products for this.
- Multi-zone heating with just radiator thermostats. Popular in Germany / DACH and Central Europe. Brands like Eurotronic, Aqara, Danfoss and Fibaro have smart radiator thermostats for this heating setup.
- Heating (and cooling) via air conditioning. While you might think of an AC for cooling, the fact that it's based on a heat pump makes it a pretty decent and efficient heater as well. Brands like Daikin, Panasonic and Mitsubishi have connected ACs, and Broadlink, Switchbot and Tado have Infrared AC controllers.
- Electric space heaters. Brands like Mill and Adax have connected space heaters. Next to that, most simple space heaters can be switched on and off with a simple smart plug.
Solutions for major energy consumers
This one is the hardest, since the type of major consuming device differs per household. However, there are certain categories and solutions that might work:
- Connected white goods / appliances. Bosch, Siemens and Miele are brands that offer these. You can schedule the start of programs with a management system like Homey.
- Smart Plugs. Add them to any mains-powered device to switch them on or off. Some feature energy measurements as well. Note though, that a lot of devices require a 'start' button or something to be pressed. For this, you could extend the plug with a Switchbot bot, but the solution is not the most elegant.
- Built-in relays. Built to switch also heavy-duty gear, these built-in relays can switch any electrical product, and are often invisible after installation. Note that it requires electrical knowledge to install. These are not the most user-friendly devices. Available from a wide range of brands like Heat-It, Fibaro, Qubino, Shelly and more.
EVs, chargers and home batteries
To integrate your EV into your home energy management, you must be able to control the charging of your EV via your management system like Homey. Most popular EV brands, including Tesla, Kia, Hyundai, VW, Audi and Volvo integrate with Homey Pro. Next to that, chargers from Easee, myenergi and more work with Homey Pro as well.
Type of energy contract
If you have a bit of an energy management setup, you might want to switch to a contract with dynamic tariffs. You can save quite a lot on your electricity bill. Dynamic tariffs charge your the real price for energy. This removes risk for the energy company, meaning a lot of departments can be scrapped.
There's a lot of options out there, which vary per country. In Europe, Tibber is the most mature, as they also have their own HAN/P1 dongles, proper app, integration with Homey and more tools to get grip on your usage. However, other providers will also work relatively well, since the wholesale prices in most regions are known. You can often integrate these in your management system like Homey.
Energy management and smart home systems
OK. So we know about the different factors now, and about separate solutions. Now how do we start with real energy management? The key lies in having a single system. One system, that connects with all of the energy solutions in your home, and brings them together.
Energy management system possibilities
You can do more if you bring products and solutions together. For starters, you can easily see how each part of your home is doing, without the need to dive into a lot of different apps. But the real power is in automation. Make your home, and all the parts in it, react on each other.
For instance, you can start consuming energy when your solar panels start generating it. This means you can start to heat, or cool, your home then. Or you can charge your EV. Or run your dishwasher.
The same is true when the electricity prices change with dynamic tariffs. Are they low right now? Heat or cool your home a bit extra, or charge your EV to the max. Are the prices high? Wait a bit and use the buffers in your home to still live comfortably. Maybe even generate solar energy to reap the high prices! When you have a system that unifies the solutions in your home, the possibilities are endless.
A good system for energy management
A good system for energy management should have a couple of characteristics:
- Connect with as many energy solutions as possible, giving you ultimate control and freedom of choice.
- Able to work with and automate based on on dynamic pricing.
- Allows you to easily automate your home based on your wishes for comfort, convenience and energy – without you needing to learn code.
- User-friendly and accessible from anywhere in the world to monitor and control.
- Bonus: also integrate with the rest of your smart home for a single, unified experience and even more energy savings.
Even though energy is a hot topic right now, there are not that many systems on the market that tick all the boxes. It is not easy, nor quick, to build a user-friendly system that is as versatile in control and automation.
There are some closed solutions that tick some of the boxes, but are hard to integrate with other systems, and sometimes require extensive installation. On the other end of the spectrum, there are DIY systems that require you to build everything from scratch and learn how to code.
Energy management with Homey
With Homey, we set out to build a better smart home. Energy management is a core part of smart home, and Homey already connects to over 1000 brands in the home. Next to that, Homey Flow and Homey Advanced Flow allow automations based on anything – from a motion sensor to your solar panel output and the energy prices of this hour.
We built Homey to be versatile and powerful, but also user-friendly. It integrates with almost all connected brands and solutions, has powerful Insights and automation tools, but requires no coding at all.
This makes Homey a very powerful system for smart home and energy management alike. You can start with the basis, including lights, plugs and thermostat control completely for free with the Homey app.
And for the real work, including solar panel inverters, EVs and Advanced Flows, we have our powerhouse Homey Pro.