Are green homes, buildings, and cities a fad or the way of the future? The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) unveiled a new lab that is designed to look like a typical home, yet can generate as much energy as it uses in a year.

This news piqued my interest and has me wondering if net-zero energy homes are the way of the future—not because of the sustainability benefits to the environment, but more so because of the cost savings to the homeowner.

Let’s take a look inside the lab. Through the first year of operation, the home will demonstrate net-zero energy usage. A solar photovoltaic system will generate electricity to power lights and appliances. Excess energy will automatically be sent back to the local utility grid by means of a smart electric meter. When the house cannot generate enough energy on its own, it will draw from the grid. (Still, NIST says throughout the course of a year, the home will produce enough to make up for that purchased energy.)

During this time, nobody will be allowed to enter the house. Rather researchers will use computer software and controls to simulate the activities of a family of four living in an energy-efficient home. For example, lights will turn on and off at specified times; hot water and appliances will run; and small devices will emit heat and humidity just as people do.

Following that first year, the home will be used to improve test methods for energy-efficient technologies and develop cost-effective design standards.

If NIST can show the feasibility of net-zero energy homes and continue to help develop new technologies and standards to enable these homes, it could be a very appealing option to homeowners, leading the way for green homes to become more commonplace.

As another example, a recently implemented international smart-grid demonstration project in Los Alamos, N.M., aims to promote the wider implementation of renewable energy and energy conservation through the use of smart grid-related technologies in three different sites.

At the Smart House Demonstration site, a home energy-management system, from Kyocera, equipped with sensors allows the home to improve energy use from the solar system, appliances, and grid. Like NIST’s lab, this project was established to demonstrate how technologies can help improve energy management.

Data collection and analysis is set to run until March 2014. At that time, opportunities will be provided to use the resources to conduct further research and product testing.

I am hearing more often about projects such as this that are being done to demonstrate how smart-home technologies can improve energy management in the home. It seems to me that we might have only begun to scratch the surface for how M2M and connected devices can be used to help build green homes.

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