In recent years, every major consumer electronics manufacturer has created a future vision where we seamlessly interact with every device and appliance in so-called smart homes.
The introduction of Geofencing technology means that home heating systems can identify when people are in or outside their homes and adjust the heating accordingly. In addition, robot vacuums and lawnmowers promise to wait on standby until they receive a command to keep the interior and exterior of their homes looking tidy while they are out for the day.
Washing machines and dishwashers can be set remotely, and it's never been easier to switch on your oven from a smartphone to ensure your evening meal is ready as you walk through the door. Elsewhere, always watching cameras allows us to speak with delivery drivers from doorbells. Homeowners can also check in on their pets to ensure they are not misbehaving or offer a few comforting words.
A fridge cam will also let you check what items you are running low on before heading to the supermarket. When finally returning home with both hands full of shopping, turning the home lighting and entertainment have all been made easier with a simple voice command to your preferred digital assistant. But this entire ecosystem of smart home products arrived when electricity was relatively cheap, and nobody questioned their energy consumption or the impacts their consumption would have on the world.
Energy-sucking vampire devices
There are endless reports of smart homes betraying their owners, the increasing risk of opening up our safe space to hackers, and it now appears we have unwittingly invited energy vampires into our homes too. They can be found in devices and appliances that continue to use energy even when waiting on standby for your next request. For example, the microwave clock and screensaver on your computer or TV are some of the biggest culprits.
Everything from phone chargers to smart toasters can collectively account for up to 20% of your monthly electricity bill. When energy prices are continuously on the rise, many are using this as an opportunity to switch off their devices to lower their energy usage and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
In the UK alone, it's estimated that households are spending £3.16bn a year for the privilege of leaving vampire devices on standby, costing each home around £147 per year. On the flip side of this argument, many will see getting into the habit of switching off everything to save 40 pence a day as simply not worth the hassle. But these vampires do not just take a bite out of your bank balance, and the small compromises we make as individuals can go a long way to building a greener future for everyone. But how did we get here?
The rise of the smart home
In under a decade, we have gone from having a handful of devices connected to our home networks to being unable to identify everything on an increasingly long list of always-connected appliances. The current advice is to switch off the power to these devices before going to bed. But I suspect many will struggle with the concept of waiting for their smart homes to boot up each day in an age of instant gratification.
Many online articles instruct users to turn off all their smartphone features to extend the battery life. But the result is an expensive Apple or Android smartphone with the functionality of a Nokia 3310. In much the same way, if we collectively turn off the power supply to the energy-sucking vampire devices in our homes twice a day, you could be forgiven for thinking, what's the point of even having them in the first place?
When buying a shiny new must-have gadget, we seldom question how long it will be before the manufacturer gets bored and stops supporting the product. As we fill our homes with devices that will eventually stop receiving software updates, security patches, or new features, the actual costs of running a smart home are arguably yet to be realized.
Less is more
With a global focus on fewer devices rather than more, could the vision for smart homes be heading for an early demise? As you read this, it's safe to assume that consumer electronics manufacturers worldwide are already thinking up next-generation low-energy devices that better for the environment and standardized connectivity.
Samsung's Smart Energy and Home Care section is an excellent example of how a tech company empowers users to proactively monitor their energy usage of Samsung appliances. But the environmental impacts of asking everyone to throw working products onto the scrap heap and upgrade to newer devices that promise to be more energy efficient could exacerbate the issues and add to the conversation about tech’s waste problem.
Of course, many will argue that blaming households as the primary contributors to climate change is a convenient way of shifting the blame. Especially considering a study revealed that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. But as energy prices continue to rise, maybe it is time to be a part of the solution rather than the problem while cutting the costs of bills.
There needs a better solution than asking everyone to choose between setting the clock on multiple appliances each day or staring at them flashing the wrong time while waiting for the Sattelite TV box to load as a silent rage builds within. However, we have already sacrificed privacy for convenience, but we need to ask if our planet is a price worth paying. For these reasons alone, maybe it's time to rethink the smart home and the energy it currently consumes.
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