Domestic energy efficiency has advanced a long way over the last few decades. Despite our overall energy consumption increasing by just over a third since 1980, on average our homes consume around 10% less overall. How can this be the case when we have so many more electrical appliances? Back in 1980, not many homes had more than a single TV, and computers and mobile phones were essentially non-existent. Yet somehow they used more electricity!
The answer to this question comes down to one simple principle. Energy efficiency. Government regulations and technical advances led by the private sector have resulted in appliances that are simply more sustainable. Throw in a better public understanding of the importance of reducing carbon emissions, and also the use of money expert comparison sites to track the expense of powering a home, and it the picture becomes a little clearer.
Expect to see this trend become ever more prevalent in the near future, as sustainability has become a huge industry that continues to rapidly expand. Here’s a selection of the most recent energy efficiency innovations that are already helping homeowners save money that we can expect to become commonplace over the coming years.
1. Smart Homes
At first glance, you may wonder what the point is in buying a new domestic appliance that is advertised as ‘internet-connected/ready’. After all, who is going to need a web-compatible refrigerator or air conditioning unit? It is increasingly common for newly released appliances to boast this feature because in the coming years, our homes are going to be much more connected than at present. Being able to monitor and control energy expenditure remotely via smartphone is a tech that is already with us – but these are still the early days.
The next big step forward is going to be the implementation of wireless sensors throughout the home. These will connect all the appliances in the home to a centralized control panel which will automatically instruct how they interact with the energy supply. For instance, appliances not in use, but on ‘standby’ mode will be entirely disconnected from the power supply when nobody is at home. Heating and air conditioning use will be precisely measured according to the ambient temperature. Just these two examples – and there are many more in the pipeline – are set to shave a considerable amount of household energy consumption in the very near future.
2. Next Generation Home Insulation
The US Industrial Science & Technology Network takes the approach that heating and cooling costs can best be reduced by simply developing superior insulation. While still at the development stage, these are promised to be far more efficient at preventing heat from escaping.
As may be expected, they are also going to be environmentally sound and most likely comprised of recycled foam materials. Should these be proven to work, there is a very good chance they will become the industry norm for new build and redeveloped housing in the years to come.
3. Reflective Roofing Materials
While insulation is ideal for maintaining an ambient temperature what about those who live in warmer climes? Everyone knows how expensive it is to run air conditioning 24 hours a day, but there have been considerable recent advances in reflective rooftop materials. Currently, these work by using special pigments that are coated onto the roof in order to reflect sunlight and heat.
The next generation in development will use fluorescent pigments that look likely to be up to four times more efficient. So for those who reside in areas where effective air conditioning is essential around the year, these new materials may well be an absolute godsend.
4. Magnetocaloric Refrigerators
A fridge powered by magnets? Close, but not quite. Refrigeration technology has barely changed or advanced since they were first introduced. Modern fridges still rely on vapour compression, which unfortunately requires chemical coolants that are notoriously bad for the environment.
Next-generation models are going to be able to make use of water-based coolants that make use of the magnetocaloric effect. In layperson’s terms, this is the use of magnets to alter the magnetic field which can provide an extremely energy-efficient cooling effect. Expect this to become commonplace in the coming years, thanks to their potential in enormously reducing energy expenditure and carbon emissions.
5. Much More Efficient Heat Pumps
Considerable progress has been made by the US Building Technologies Office in developing heat pumps that essentially move heat throughout the home. There are three models in design that promise to considerably reduce expenditure on heating while also significantly reducing carbon emissions:
A low-cost gas-based heating pump could massively increase efficiency and result in lowering heating costs by a staggering 45%.
Multiple function fuel-based pumps designed for domestic use can still save an estimated 30% with the added bonus of also providing more efficient water heating.
Natural gas-based heating pumps connected with air conditioners aim to use a very low emission boiler to cater to all domestic needs regardless of the season.
These styles of heat pumps are also going to be used to significantly reduce the energy used by clothes drying machines. General Electric has already near completed its first gas pump-compatible dryer. This is intended to reduce the energy consumption of perhaps the least efficient appliance in the home by up to 60%.
6. Even Better LED Lighting
Energy-saving lighting may have become the accepted norm in many households, and the good news is that it is set to become even better. At present these are up to 85% more efficient than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, but the next generation – scheduled for a few years’ time – promises to double their efficiency. An improvement up to 230 lumens (from the current 115) is forecast.
7. Advanced Window Insulation
While still in development this may not sound like a huge advance, but could well result in enormous net energy savings down the line. Using microprocessors and sensors to measure sunlight and radiant heat, these are going to automatically provide shading to assist with providing ideal natural lighting and also assist with heating. Expect these to be integrated with the general smart home system outlined above in due course.
So there we have seven of the most exciting and interesting energy efficiency innovations that we can expect to see in the home over the coming years. While some are already in production and others are just passing the prototype phase, the future is looking positive in terms of reducing emissions and better managing energy consumption.