It won't be like Cynthia's Cyberbar, started by two robotics experts.

by Steven Harris


I’m so bored with the term ‘Smart home’ – I’d much rather my home were clever!

Do you remember the future? A future when you would come home and your ‘computer’ (which somehow always looked like a robot, and sometimes even wore a pinny) would ask you if you’d had a nice day at the office, dear, while mixing you a dry martini? Back then, this was the pinnacle of what a clever home would do – and maybe it would do housework (cue inept Tomorrow’s World robot failing to work).

This view of tomorrow has failed to materialise. We still prefer to mix our own martinis (though the housework bit would be good) – but we need that clever home as much as ever.

Without getting too much into gender politics, I wonder if this vision of the future was to based on a male view of what a ‘home’ does. Maybe this boys’ own vision led to the ‘clever’ homes we now see at the luxury end of the market. You know the ones – think Dudley Moore’s bachelor pad with the seduction mood button.

So what about my clever home? Taking the James Bond element out of it, what would a 21st century clever home be like?

It goes without saying that my clever house will harvest and store its own energy. With the price of technologies like solar photovoltaic (PV) panels set to come down and the price of grid energy set only to go up, and the fact that one of the most efficient places to put a solar electric power generating station is on the roofs of  houses, this is only common sense.  In the future, having a house – even a dumb house – without a roof full of PV panels will seem at least bizarre and maybe decadent. Who could afford not to?

I also want my clever home to do all those smart things the utility companies and OFGEM are worrying about. It would communicate with whoever I traded energy with, telling them how much I bought and sold and when. It would keep track of my energy accounts ledger, recording how much I sold the energy for, and what I bought it in for.

My energy storage could be a set of second-use (or, as I think they call it, pre-loved) electric vehicle (EV) batteries. Let me explain why this is such a good idea.

The trouble with EV batteries is that they cost so much (£30,000, for goodness sake!), and their practical life in an EV is only four years or so (gulp!). This means that they have to be leased to drivers rather than sold outright, and even the leasing cost is high.

When an EV battery starts getting old, it may operate at 80% of its useful storage capacity, and may become slightly absentminded in reporting its stored power. While this is a problem in an EV, as it could get you stuck on the roadside, in a non-critical job where all it’s doing is squirreling away some cheap-rate electricity, it would be fine. Being non-critical would also allow the battery management software to protect the health of the battery rather than prioritising range and amenity, as it needs to do in an EV. Installed in a house, the batteries might last many more years.

That’s what I call clever!

And how would this help EV manufacturers and their customers? As the manufacturers are leasing out the batteries, they own them. If they could plan for a lease income from the same set of batteries for many years, rather than just four years in an EV, the initial lease cost in the EV could be reduced. Result – we might all buy more electric vehicles. Because of this, electric vehicle manufacturers are already looking at possibilities of energy storage use.

So far – so simple. I have a clever house that can buy low, store, and then sell high. My own clever stockbroking house, which could make me some money, or at the least, save me some. In addition, it’s a good manager, using the resources of my car to store this energy. But what else could it do?

Well, there’s no point in prudently stashing away all that energy if I’m just going to squander it at the wrong times, so my clever house would have to be a bit of a grumpy dad sometimes and go round switching off lights. Far from pandering to my every whim, it might ask me if I really want that cup of tea now, because it would be 20p cheaper in 15 minutes.

On the other hand, if I liked football – which I don’t, but if I did – my house might offer to make me a cup of tea (or at least boil the kettle) just before the half-time grid (and price) surge.

My clever house could switch on all those things like washing machines and dishwashers at times when electricity is at its cheapest. Likewise it could surf the wave of cheap electricity to charge my electric car.

So how do we make this happen??

Tune in for the second episode of ‘Me and my clever home’, same time next week, to find out more.