Smart energy is one of the world’s fastest-growing business sectors. But what do the emerging technologies and trends mean for the workplace of the future?
In the past, an energy-efficient office meant turning off computer monitors overnight, installing energy-saving light bulbs, and unplugging the photocopier over the Christmas break. While those are all good, practical measures, smart energy offers a much more integrated and high-tech method of cutting power bills.
Take away the jargon and smart energy simply means being aware of your energy usage and being able to tailor it to suit your needs. It works on two levels.
For governments and large industry, the introduction of a ‘smart grid’ means being able to monitor and program energy usage by household, factory or business. For consumers and individual offices, there’s a huge range of devices available on store shelves that allow energy consumption to be tracked and adjusted via smartphone apps. These two approaches, although very different, promise far-reaching changes to workplaces throughout Australia.
Welcome to the smart grid
The smart grid allows real-time monitoring of energy consumption by both suppliers and the end user. In other words, it takes the guesswork out of the equation, and allows you to see exactly how much power a factory, home or office is using at any given moment. Because this power usage can be monitored, it allows people to adjust usage to take into account daily spikes and lulls in energy costs.
While this sort of technology isn’t publicly available just yet, it is on the way, and will provide consumers and business with unprecedented control over their power usage. In the interim, various smaller products are already on the market, allowing people to monitor and optimise their energy consumption on a room-by-room, product-by-product basis.
Wireless energy means no more desks
As part of a drive towards a wireless, more energy-efficient office, companies like IKEA have introduced furniture that allows people to charge their phone or laptops without a power cable.
The lack of messy cables is an obvious bonus, and the freedom to move around provided by wireless technology may mean the traditional desks of old become a thing of the past.
Smarter, more efficient buildings
We know now that a great deal of energy loss from buildings is caused by inefficient windows. While ‘smart’ windows are not as exciting as wireless offices and other innovations, they can save organisations a small fortune in electricity bills, especially when partnered with automated blinds and shading.
Lighting is another area with huge potential. We all know that switching over to energy-efficient light bulbs can save money, but a range of companies are now producing lighting apps that allow users to program the most energy-efficient usage throughout the day.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things refers to a home or office in which individual appliances are all connected wirelessly to the internet and can be programmed remotely. This is already a reality, and various kits are available that can sync up different devices and monitor usage from a tablet or smartphone. As prices drop, it will be more common to see connected offices, capable of being run, organised and optimised from a tablet.
Smarter means healthier
While a lot of smart energy solutions started in Silicon Valley at the offices of tech giants, the numerous benefits of a smarter, more connected workplace are fast trickling down into the mainstream. A cleaner, more energy-efficient workplace not only saves money, but studies have shown it has far-reaching benefits for both staff morale and health, which translates into substantial savings on sick leave and lost productivity.
Looking to the future
As the price of smart energy solutions has tumbled, more businesses have begun experimenting with the technology. This has already started to influence everything from office layouts to lighting to employee health. And while the smart grid may not be here just yet, the idea that energy usage can be monitored, optimised and programmed for a brighter future is quickly finding an audience in offices around the country.
Along with smart technology, the right energy plan can help you reduce your energy bills.