Opinion: The real benefits of smart controls

According to a YouGov study smart home devices are becoming more prevalent in UK households. In exploring this growing trend, Gareth Ash, Marketing and Technical Support Manager at Danfoss, considers the real benefits of smart heating controls.
YouGov’s Smart Homes 2018 Report found that close to a quarter of Britons own one or more smart home devices (excluding smart meters). Smart thermostats were the most popular device after smart speakers. The report also showed among people who currently own at least one smart appliance, consideration for getting other smart devices increases to 40%. In addition to these findings, a survey conducted by energy research consultancy Delta-EE estimated that around 500,000 homes in the UK installed smart thermostats in 2017 and the research expects the yearly rate of adoption to reach nearly one million by 2020.
Internet of Things
These studies indicate that a growing number of British households are buying into the benefits of a smart thermostat which allows them to control their heating on the go from their phone, tablet or other device. As well as the convenience, this capability is often promoted as a way of saving energy – and therefore money – on home heating. But what’s the reality? Well, a smart thermostat is certainly not one of the cheapest options to purchase when it comes to heating controls and the level of savings will depend to
some extent on individual users and homes. However, given the fact that so many of us now expect to be able to communicate, shop and play on our smartphones and tablets, it’s not surprising that smart heating technology is proving popular with many consumers. The rise of high-speed networking technologies means more and more household devices are connected to the internet. Virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa are part of this exciting trend, providing users with a convenient means of controlling devices remotely which, in the case of smart thermostats, can ultimately improve comfort and reduce domestic energy consumption.
Optimising energy savings
Let’s take a closer look at the key benefits associated with smart heating controls, starting with energy savings. As mentioned above, this benefit will depend on lifestyle. Needless to say, people with busy routines or irregular working hours will probably gain the most benefit from this technology. It gives them the flexibility to adapt the thermostat’s pre-defined schedules and temperatures while on the move, saving money whilst they are away and making sure they have a warm home to come back to.
For some households, using an innovative central controller to link all the elements of a home’s heating system, including room sensors and electronic TRVs, can help maximise potential energy savings even further. Installing this type of wireless device enables users to set individual room temperatures, or group rooms together to create different heating zones. Heating schedules can be personalised to suit lifestyles and energy isn’t wasted on heating empty rooms. Some of the most advanced central
controllers, like the new Danfoss Link for example, also enable the heating to be controlled remotely via a user-friendly app. Independent tests indicate that lowering home comfort temperature by just one degree can reduce energy consumption by as much as 10%. So making it quick and easy to reduce the set temperature using this type of smart technology is a way of saving energy and the environment.
Convenience and comfort
In addition to saving energy, there is the convenience factor. We all have a remote controller for our television and if we have a smart TV we may even be able to use voice-commands to switch channels – so why not control our heating in the same way? Depending on the smart thermostat, homeowners with virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa can now use voice commands to do just that. As an example, Danfoss offers a free Smart Home Skill for the voice-activated Alexa system which is enabled via the app for the Danfoss LinkTM Central Controller or our TPOne-STM programmable room thermostat.
This additional functionality brings new levels of ease and convenience. Users can ask Alexa questions such as, what is the current temperature in my bedroom, or use an Alexa-enabled command to increase or decrease the temperature in the living room as required. Whilst obviously anyone can enjoy these benefits, the ability to control home heating using a simple voice command can be a real advantage for people with limited mobility or who are visually impaired. Also, those responsible for, say, an elderly relative can monitor their heating remotely for peace of mind.
Reality check
Arguably, a high quality and correctly setup non-connected device is as energy efficient as one that is internet-connected. Also, for some households with reasonably predictable daily routines there may be minimal benefit in having remote control of the heating. Just because a device is connected to the internet doesn’t always make it better, or the best solution for every user. At Danfoss we believe it should never be about technology for technology’s sake, which is why we have developed advanced technical functions for non-connected products to ensure efficient, energy saving heating control for all users.
Although some may not like this trend towards increased automation, the integration of devices, including heating controls, into one smart home system is a reality. And it is clearly here to stay, as growing consumer pull and energy-saving regulations such as Boiler Plus look set to drive the installation of smart solutions in many more new homes and replacement heating systems in the future.
For more information visit www.danfoss.com

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