Nico van der Merwe, VP of Home and Distribution at Schneider Electric, looks at why our industry needs to start educating homeowners if we’re to achieve the ambitious ‘net zero carbon’ targets in the future.
Over the last few years, we’ve all done our bit to limit our impact on the environment, changing our everyday behaviour to try to reduce global warming. However, we’re all limited by our understanding of the real challenges that lie ahead.
While individuals have a role to play in tackling the threat, they can’t do it alone. Smart data-driven technology will be essential, and digital retrofits of homes need to become the norm to ensure success.
A recent survey by Schneider Electric highlighted how consumers underestimate the potential effect their homes have on the planet. Consumers believe that industry causes 50% of all Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, while homes only emit 7-8%. However, reality provides a stark warning: buildings alone account for a staggering 35% of global final energy use and nearly 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions. What’s more, by 2050 electricity use in homes is set to more than double, outstripping industry as well as commercial and transport use combined.
Despite our efforts, it’s clear that household and consumer activity has largely been ignored when it comes to tackling climate change. One thing is certain: to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, our individual homes must become net zero.
Introducing a Fitbit for the home
It’s no small wonder that ‘energy efficiency’ resonates better with consumers than ‘sustainability’ or ‘climate change’. Two-thirds of consumers feel home energy efficiency is important, whereas only half feel carbon emissions are a threat and that reducing their own carbon footprint is important. Sustainability and climate change appear lower in consumer priorities across the US, France, Germany and Sweden.
The good intentions are there, however. Over half (55%) of Brits say that it’s important for their home to reach net zero emissions within their lifetime, and that figure rises as high as 60% for those aged 35-54. Homeowners now need to adopt sustainable features to address climate change challenges, and aim to generate as much clean, renewable electricity as they consume. Most householders don’t seem to know how to go about this, however, without sacrificing their lifestyles.
We know that the most effective ‘diet’ is not the one that limits our consumption. It’s the one where we understand how much energy we’re using, and if there’s a better way of making a long-lasting change without ‘relapsing’ into bad habits. The role of technology in our homes should be to contextualise and analyse our energy efficiency efforts to come up with a target goal that is achievable and healthy for us. Essentially, we need the equivalent of a Fitbit for our homes to keep us on track.
Monitoring energy habits at home
Smart home technology is already popular. The majority (69%) of US households now own at least one smart home device, according to the Consumer Technology Association. Household penetration in the UK is expected to hit 63% by 2025. What’s more, half of multiple device owners are interested in purchasing a hub.
In general, consumers are driven to purchase smart home devices because of ease of use and installation, as well as the benefits they provide in cost and energy savings. Yet what we’re seeing is that despite most consumers owning a piece of smart technology, it isn’t revolutionising the way we live and how we save energy. In fact, it may potentially even be adding to our environmental footprint.
What consumers need is technology that enables unprecedented visibility over energy habits at home, and which provides objectives that consumers can easily understand and adjust their energy usage to meet. The importance of integrated solutions, which connect and analyse data from a wide variety of smart products in the home, can’t be overstated. Once our homes have become truly intelligent, a realistic path to net zero will be revealed.
Some things remain outside of our control. Nearly two-thirds of energy consumption by buildings is supplied by fossil fuels for direct use or for upstream power generation. There’s not much one individual can do to change that, but it’s important to remember that they can have an impact at a more local level.
With evidence that individuals now want to prioritise energy-efficient improvements in their homes, the future outlook is more positive. Technology that offers easy-to-understand insights to guide us towards making decisions will be key to the next stage of sustainable development at home.
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