National Renewable Energy Lab is building homes of the future that are smarter than you

Categories: Environment

National Renewable Energy Lab.JPG
In the future, your home and its appliances might talk to you, make decisions for you, and, if the National Renewable Energy Lab is successful, help you save money.

And, you know, make Planet Earth a greener place. Get more details and see photos of our domestic future below.

Westword recently visited the Golden campus of NREL, a national laboratory associated with the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and got an exclusive presentation of one of the lab's newest projects -- what researchers are calling the "smart home."

Smart Home Laboratory of NREL.JPG
Sam Levin
Smart Home Laboratory designed to operate as a mock home within NREL's facilities.
We're familiar with the way phones and other 21st century gadgets have become "smarter" thanks to advanced computing and communication capabilities. But in the case of NREL's work, a team of researchers is examining how the actual appliances in the home might become so smart that they can communicate with other appliances and more.

For example, this technology could make homes significantly more efficient by having the appliances communicate with the electricity grid, so they would register when power is cheap and expensive during the day and then tell users to turn them off or on.

"The whole concept of automated home energy management is based on the idea that more and more appliances are becoming smarter," says Lieko Earle, a research engineer at NREL, sitting with her colleagues and Westword inside a part of her team's lab that is set up like an actual home, complete with energy-efficient appliances they are testing.

"When all the parts in your house are able to exchange information with one another automatically and exchange information with the grid automatically and exchange information with the user, how can we use that capability to enhance the energy efficiency features of your home as a system?" she asks.

The idea is not entirely new: Among the high-tech home automation features that have already made their way into many homes are advanced lighting systems that know users' preferences or other technologies within the house that are programmed to respond to residents.

But the advancements that already exist have not really taken energy efficiency into consideration. The team at NREL thinks there is a huge opportunity for energy savings that hasn't yet been explored in any substantive way.

"We're also very interested in what this means to the grid," Earle says.

Page down to continuing reading about NREL's smart-home project.

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