Smart home Solar PV

The House with No Bills: an Australian smart home initiative

A smart home experiment seeks to find out whether it is possible to live without any gas or electricity bills.
Published: Fri 09 Mar 2018

Australian real estate developer Mirvac is putting a twist on the meaning of smart homes.

Mirvac is commencing a smart home pilot project in one of its developments near Melbourne, Australia, to investigate whether one family can spend an entire year without any gas or electricity bills.

In what Mirvac has described as an ‘industry-first initiative,’ the study will begin in 2018 and take place in a 12-month period. The developer has selected a family of four to live in the house rent-free for the duration of the trial, whose aim is to study how the family ordinarily consumes energy and observe how the house and its technologies perform.

Dubbed the ‘House with No Bills’, the three-bedroom house was built to look and feel like an ordinary house, but with several added features to enable energy efficiency and reduce the occupiers’  reliance on energy to the point that they are consuming no energy from the grid.

Smart home technologies working together

The house can generate its own energy from solar PV (photovoltaic) panels and a connected battery storage system. Other features include increased roof and wall insulation, glazing systems, LED lighting, energy efficient appliances, smart meters and monitoring systems.

The study is the first step in a conscientious effort to start building sustainable, affordable and energy efficient communities in Australia, as it investigates how it can deliver bill-free houses to the market at a price that works for the average buyer.

It is part of Mirvac’s ‘This Changes Everything’ initiative to combat climate change. The effort includes social and behavioural changes as well. Another important feature of the House with No Bills project is that the intelligent monitoring systems will provide the consumers with feedback as to how their energy is being used and how to modify their energy usage behaviour to be more efficient and economical.

After gathering data from the controlled experiment, a future phase of the project will focus on minimising water and sewage costs, using systems such as a rainwater tank to capture and reuse water. Mirvac’s ultimate goal is to enable and build fully self-sustainable homes and communities.

Some of the smart technology necessary for the house’s functionality is being supplied by energy management company Schneider Electric, which provides the smart automation technologies for the project, and Evergen, which contributes with smart management solutions.

Other companies that are taking part in the initiative include Fujitsu, an information and communication technology company; Biofilta, which provides solutions for sustainable and water efficient food growing at home; Harvey Norman, a retailer of furniture and electric goods; Smeg, and Fisher & Paykel, manufacturers of domestic appliances.

Affordable and sustainable communities

If the pilot project is successful, it could be a feasible solution to the problem of rising energy costs that many families are faced with. In fact, residents of the house will also be able to sell any surplus energy produced back to the grid, thus having the possibility to make profit from the system and provide the community with clean energy. Data gathered from the 12-month trial run will enable Mirvac and its partners to roll out smart home projects on a wider scale, thus building zero-bill communities.

In addition to the project, the company is committed to educate people on sustainability and the social and behavioural changes required to make a fully sustainable community work. It is also investigating the possibility of providing electric vehicles and bicycles for the participants in the project to reduce transport-related costs and carbon emissions.

Big data to cut energy costs

Australia is home to other initiatives to utilise consumer data to reduce energy costs. For instance, the University of Queensland (UQ) has recently started working on a ‘world-first’ big data platform with artificial intelligence. The system will be capable of harnessing data from millions of homes, as well as analysing and controlling the information real-time.

The university is working with startup Redback Technologies, which will manage a big data hub that will gather and store the information. Other project partners are Energy Queensland and Springfield City Group. According to UQ’s Professor Xiaofang Zhou, the big data collected would enable comprehensive systems monitoring. Energy retailers would also benefit from its usage to ensure more secure networks.

In addition, the platform will enable consumers to analyse feedback of their energy consumption patterns and change accordingly, achieving more energy efficient lifestyles and reducing their energy bills as a consequence. “Consumers will be empowered to take control over their household power generation, storage and consumption and are expected to see big reductions in their power bills,”  Professor Zhou said in a statement.