In its simplest form, a smart home will be a house that has two-way communication between its appliances/devices, and the national electricity grid. This communication will typically happen via a ‘flexibility supplier’ – a service to help manage load on the grid - that can save you money and reduce unnecessary energy use.

The transition to a smart home

The transition to a smart home is a two-step process. First, you can look at making your existing home appliances ‘smart’ by fitting simple technology upgrades that minimise electricity consumption, or by linking those appliances to a home energy management system (HEMS) or ‘hub’ that does all the thinking for you. By taking these first steps you are also preparing your home appliances to be able to communicate with a flexibility supplier, which is likely to become available next year.

Steps you can take now

Tackle your ‘quick wins’

  1. 1

    Wrap your hot water cylinder

    Wrapping your hot water cylinder in an insulation blanket can help it retain heat for longer.

  2. 2

    Switch to LEDs

    Changing to LED light bulbs can dramatically reduce you lighting energy consumption.

  3. 3

    Monitor heat pump use

    Only run your heat pump when you are at home and ‘heat the space you are in’.

  4. 4

    Compare prices

    Check out independent advice from sites like Powerswitch to make sure you are getting the best deal you can from your electricity provider.

Assess your existing appliances

The transition to smart appliances has been happening behind the scenes for a while now, and lots of kiwis may already own appliances that can easily be made smarter to use less energy.

Hot water cylinder - this consumes around one-third of the electricity in the average kiwi home. It is constantly working to keep your water heated, even when you’re not home to use it.

One action you can take now to improve this is installing a smart thermostat to map your hot water use, which will automatically turn your cylinder off or down when hot water isn’t needed.

Talk to your electrician about which smart thermostat is suitable for your hot water cylinder and make sure the one they recommend has the correct communication capability.

Heat pump - All heat pumps sold in New Zealand over the past ten years can easily be made ‘smart’ and there are 900,000 of them installed in kiwi homes.

Contact your manufacturer to find out what it takes to make your heat pump smart. They can also give you advice on low-cost ways to get your heat pump ready to communicate with a flexibility supplier when it becomes available.

Look at your energy use and costs

It makes sense to focus on where most of your energy is used. The average home’s energy bill is made up of around

  • 1/3

    hot water

  • 1/3

    heating and cooling

  • 1/3

    everything else

Install smart plugs

‘Smartness’ can be retrofitted to existing appliances by plugging an appliance into a smart plug. For example, you might set up a load of washing before you go to bed, and your smart plug can switch it on when electricity is at least cost - ensuring your load of washing is ready to hang out the next morning.

Smart plugs can cost around $20 and can be used to optimise your appliances to run when demand on the grid is low, and electricity is at its cheapest.

The role of the home energy management system

A fully functional smart home will include a home energy management system (HEMS) which is a simple device that does all the thinking for you. The HEMS monitors all of the smart devices in your home network and ensures that the most optimised choices are made.

For example, if you are a busy family of five, your HEMS can decide where and when electricity it is most cost effectively used, such as:

  • The family EV, which will be ready for another busy day of action, even if it’s charged overnight – when electricity is cheapest.
  • Your heating and cooling, which can be timed for when you get home or wake up in the morning.

Smart home solutions providers (who can supply HEMS or help you connect your devices to a HEMS) are readily searchable online.

Looking ahead

The majority of appliances and technology installed in kiwi homes are not yet ‘smart’ or need simple upgrades to retrofit smartness. However, things are changing quickly in New Zealand – with smart appliances becoming more available.

The biggest energy and cost savings will be unlocked with the introduction of the flexibility suppliers in New Zealand. This is likely to happen in the next year or so and will open the communication ‘conversation’ between your home and the grid.

  • Your home to the grid

    The energy required by your home will be communicated to the grid, so that your energy use can be ‘optimised’ – meaning you only use what you need when you need it, at a time that minimises your costs without impacting your lifestyle. This also ensures that New Zealand’s grid and electricity distribution systems are also optimised reducing costs for all users.
  • The grid to your home

    The energy that is provided to your home will be influenced by the overall demand on the grid, the cost of electricity at the time, and the amount of renewable energy available. If the grid is experiencing high demand, your appliances that don’t require energy at that time may switch off, dial down or shift to a period of lower demand.

Ensuring your flexibility

EECA is currently working with the Electricity Engineers’ Association to establish common ‘Open Communication Protocols’ (OCPs) that will be applied to this two-way communication.

OCPs will ensure consistency across all flexibility suppliers, enabling you to easily switch from one flexibility provider to another and ensure your household demand is as flexible as possible.

Buying a smart EV charger

A smart electric vehicle charger can manage the electricity used by an EV by reducing the rate of charge, or by delaying a charge to a period where electricity is cheaper. These are still unregulated, so make sure to do your research, and only purchase a ‘smart’ EV charger to ensure you are ready when flexible demand services become available.

Optimising solar

If you have solar (photovoltaic) panels, in conjunction with an energy storage system and a HEMS, you may be able to charge your vehicle from your solar panels (if your vehicle is at home and plugged in to a charger).

What to ask when buying a smart appliance and why

Smart Homes Guidance - Publicly Available Specification (PAS)

EECA has commissioned Standards New Zealand to produce a PAS for Smart Homes, to help New Zealanders understand how they can make their existing home ‘smart’ and begin the transition to this new technology.

PAS are voluntary guidance documents developed by Standards New Zealand. This provides information to help New Zealanders understand what a ‘smart home’ is, and how to prepare to live in one.

Read more about the Smart Homes PAS - Guidance for Smart homes | EECA(external link)

Related links

Smart homes – the basics

Choosing good appliances | Gen Less

Efficient appliance calculator