Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Designing for Energy Automation

Adding an energy automation component to a home automation system opens a world of possibilities for integrators and their clients.

sonnen ecoLinx

One of the fundamental skillsets and value added offerings of a custom electronics home integrator is home automation. Our ability to automate the multiple tasks of turning on a TV, receiver, and set-top box with a universal remote control facilitates the ease and enjoyment of TV viewing for our clients.   When we program the total control system for the home so that Control4, Crestron, ELAN, (to name a few home management platforms) can turn on the lights, music, and HVAC system when we enter the home by simply saying “Turn on home,” we enhance the comfort and entertainment of our client’s homes.

Today we can design and offer an additional enhancement that augments the home automation solutions that we currently install — introducing energy automation. Energy automation is the convergence of home automation solutions, intelligent energy storage from sonnen, controllable breakers, and solar power all working seamlessly together. Intelligently and dynamically managing energy use and production along with lighting, climate, shades, and other home systems truly creates the ultimate smart home. The goal of energy automation is to give our clients a home that is more intelligent, more sustainable, more efficient, more flexible, and more resilient to the point that it improves the way they live in their homes.

Think of energy automation as another feature layer that we can add to our home automation solution offerings. Here are a few examples of how energy automation can manage the way homes use power throughout the day:

A motorized skylight that can be controlled by Control4 is very convenient because we can open and close it with a keypad, a touchscreen, or voice control.  But if we can also program that same skylight to automatically open when the room temperature is above 78 degrees, for example, we can cool the home without starting the air conditioning system during the peak time of day. Or an intelligent ceiling fan (that can also can be turned on and off with the same keypad and touchscreen or by voice) but now add the condition to start the fan for convection cooling when the room temperature is above 78 degrees, again cooling the home while reducing the air conditioning costs for the customer.

The motorized shades we have installed throughout the home for ease of use and privacy can now be programmed to open during winter months to allow passive heat gains into the home, reducing the use of an electric heater, or close during summer months to keep the home cooler. Or interior lights can be slightly dimmed during daylight hours to reduce the amount of power they use with no apparent decrease in illumination to the homeowners.

Also by Gordon Van Zuiden: Reflections on 20 Years of Networking the Home

When we add energy automation using sonnen’s intelligent ecoLinx energy storage systems (which I have written about in previous columns), we can greatly enhance the value of a home’s solar panel production by storing the unused energy generated from the sun and use it to power the home at night or during an outage. And by installing controllable circuit breakers plus the Adapt Energy Management platform (see with the sonnen ecoLinx battery, we can intelligently turn on and off circuits in the home as a function of usage and battery capacity. In the case of a power outage, we can now automatically manage the solar during the day to power the home and store excess solar energy in the battery to keep the lights on at night, until the grid comes back on.

The best part of energy automation is that we can give our customers the power to decide what needs to be powered, depending on how long they think the outage will last. Using their home automation system, customers can turn on the desired circuits in the home, from a few critical lighting paths, the networking equipment, garage door, and refrigerator during a long-term blackout or choose to keep everything on during a short-term brown out. The power is literally in their hands.

Also by Gordon Van Zuiden: Taking Your AV Expertise Outside

Just as our smart irrigation controllers can reduce water consumption by knowing the weather and not watering when it’s raining or when it’s predicted to rain, a smart home automation platform can use this same inclement weather forecast to fully charge the home’s battery in preparation for a potential power outage. The battery can also charge itself during lower, evening electrical rate periods and use that inexpensive stored electricity to power the home during the more expensive peak daytime hours or if solar power production is predicted to be low due to bad weather.

Figure 1.

One of the key products of the home automation solutions that we install for our clients are high-resolution graphic control touchscreens throughout the home and the installation of our home control software on our client’s mobile devices. We can leverage these graphical devices by showing our client’s in real time their solar power production, energy storage levels, and the immediate effect of turning on and off electrical devices on energy consumption and battery charge. When customers can see that turning on an air conditioner rapidly depletes the charge of your home battery from 18 hours to four hours, customers may rethink how long they really want to turn on the air conditioner! (See figure 1.)

All of these energy automation solutions are now made possible because almost everything in the home is network connected to each other, the internet, and a home management platform. When we add solar panels and a home battery to our home automation systems, we have a complete home and energy management solution offering. Our differentiating skill will now be how to maximize the home’s entertainment, comfort, and security to our clients while minimizing the home’s electronic and carbon footprints.

We have the networked products and platforms to design these energy automation solutions for our clients today with unique manufacturers such as sonnen and Adapt — but they require the same programming ingenuity we have applied to home automation solutions over the last several decades. Custom integrators that offer this additional value to the home automation systems currently sold will not only increase their bottom line, but will enhance their reputation as an automation expert and improve the health of our planet — the ultimate win-win-win scenario.

Want more stories like this delivered to your inbox every day? Then sign up for the free Residential Systems eNewsletter here.