As humans, we all mean good. Ordinary consumers, enterprises and governments have all joined efforts to tackle climate change or, at the least, limit our impact on the environment. But the reality is that we’re limited in our capabilities and our understanding of the challenge ahead. We won’t be able to make significant progress without smart data-driven tech to support us. Which is why digital retrofits of homes should become a standard measure alongside more traditional approaches such as insulation.
A recent international survey conducted by Schneider Electric found that consumers considerably underestimate the effect they and their homes are having on the planet. They believe that industry causes 50% of all Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions while our homes only emit 7-8%. But the reality is quite different. Buildings and construction alone account for over 35% of global final energy use and nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions. In the U.S., for example, over a fifth of all emissions are directly attributed to household consumption.
Additionally, by 2050, electricity use in homes is set to more than double, outstripping industry, as well as commercial and transport use combined. It’s clear that, for too long, households and consumer activity have been put on the backburner in the fight against climate change. To achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, our individual homes must become net zero. Yet, faced with a global pandemic, it’s crucial not to weigh consumers down with restrictive measures that limit their freedom or enjoyment. Fortunately, the growing phenomenon of energy efficient home improvements provides a solution.
It’s not about consuming less, it’s about consuming better
Small wonder that ‘energy efficiency’ resonates better with consumers than ‘sustainability’ or ‘climate change’. Two-thirds of consumers feel home energy efficiency is important. Meanwhile, only half feel carbon emissions are a threat and that reducing their own carbon footprint is important. Indeed, sustainability and climate change appear lower in consumer priorities across the US, France, Germany and Sweden.
The good intentions are there, however. Over half (55%) of Brits say that it’s important for their home to reach net zero emissions within their lifetime – though this rises as high as 60% for those aged 35-54. Net zero homes are vital to slashing emissions and solving climate change challenges, and homeowners need to adopt sustainable features to address this. By generating as much clean, renewable electricity as they consume, homeowners will be able to tackle this problem. But consumers don’t seem to know how – without sacrificing their lifestyles – which many don’t see as an option or a possibility.
We know that the most effective ‘diet’ – whether we are talking about food or energy – is not the one that limits our consumption. It’s the one where we understand how much energy we are using, and if there is a better way of making a long-lasting change without ‘relapsing’ into bad habits. The role of technology in our homes should be to contextualise and analyse our energy efficiency efforts to come up with a target goal that is achievable and healthy for us. We need an equivalent of a Fitbit for our homes to keep us on track.
It’s time to bring smart energy home
Smart home technology is already popular. The majority (69%) of U.S. households now own at least one smart home device, according to the Consumer Technology Association. Household penetration in the UK is expected to hit 63% by 2025. What’s more, half of multiple device owners are interested in purchasing a hub. According to Schneider Electric research, the top benefits of smart home technology are perceived as home safety and security, reducing energy consumption, and lowering energy costs.
In general, consumers are driven to purchase smart home devices because of ease of use and installation, as well the benefits they provide in cost and energy savings. Yet what we are seeing is that despite most consumers owning a piece of smart technology, it isn’t revolutionising the way we live and how we save energy. In fact, it may potentially even be adding to our environmental footprint.
What consumers need is technology that enables unprecedented visibility over energy habits at home, and which provides objectives that consumers can easily understand and adjust their energy usage to meet. The importance of integration solutions, which connect and analyse data from a wide variety of smart products in the home, can’t be overstated. The goal of net zero homes will be achieved, but only in regular achievable steps rather than ambitious moon shots that don’t come to fruition. Once our homes have become truly intelligent, a realistic path to net zero will be revealed.
Some things are just outside of our control. Nearly two-thirds of energy consumption by buildings is supplied by fossil fuels for direct use or for upstream power generation. There’s not much one individual can do to change this, but they can have agency and impact on a local level. There is now an evident increase in the number of people wanting to make energy efficient and eco-friendly improvements to their homes, with comfort, size and design no longer topping the list. People are willing to make changes, but not compromise on their current lifestyle. This is where we can make technology work harder for us. Technology and applications that don’t simply gamify energy monitoring and consumption but provide us with the easy-to-understand insights that point us towards decisions that can help to reduce carbon footprints for good.