While politicians, pundits, and activists yammer on about the future of our energy security and what it means for the environment, green technologies and practices continue to play a dismally small role in America’s overall energy portfolio. Coal and natural gas generate 67 percent of the nation’s electricity; renewable contributes a measly 13 percent. The numbers for Texas are far below even the national average with renewable sources generating a dismal 1% of the state’s electricity – mostly from largely foreign-financed, massive wind-farms in West Texas. Coal, natural gas, and oil production have an established supply chain, and an entrenched legacy, that has been developed and refined over the past century making fossil fuels relatively cheaper and more readily available than renewable alternatives. Renewable systems on the other hand, such as photovoltaic solar panels, have only recently become cost-competitive thanks to a glut of overproduction in China amplified by the global economic downturn.
However, America now has a major new source of energy that could rival the contribution made to the economy by natural gas and coal according to a report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The study concludes that up to 22 percent of current U.S. energy consumption could be replaced by what experts are calling “intelligent efficiency.”
The key to understanding the rise of “intelligent efficiency” is to stop thinking about energy efficiency simply in terms of more efficient devices or cutting-edge technologies and to start thinking about it in terms of adaptable, complex systems connected through Internet and computer technologies.
A huge deterrent to efficient homes is simply a product of homeowner behavior (e.g. forgetting to shut the windows or turn off the lights). With intelligent systems this can be rectified through real-time warnings and displays of what the problem is, and more importantly, how to fix it. A “smart” home would be able to identify what systems are operating, what devices are consuming the most electricity, and even the quality of the interior air in each room. Ideally intelligent systems would adjust autonomously of the user to maintain maximum efficiency with a minimum of input, monitoring, and maintenance.
That means if the whole family is out of town, the house would automatically cut power to extraneous devices, reduce the amount of electricity dedicated to climate control, and ensure that all the light fixtures are off – essentially a “sleep” mode not dissimilar to the low-power function found on laptops and other portable, energy-conscious devices. Many eco-builders, such as Native, often include smart electrical panels that offer complete and comprehensive energy management and other value-added services to residents and tenants such as proactive appliance maintenance. For homeowners that means that the real-time performance of their house is quantified in understandable terms that are easy to comprehend and easy to adjust on the fly.
Building an eco-friendly home demands not only sophistication in technology and a respect for the natural environment, but also an adaptive intelligence that makes sustainable technologies tangible, accessible, and most importantly, adaptable.
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