Utilities seek Jetsons for home of the future

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Utilities seek Jetsons for home of the future

Save the planet by blogging.

EnergyAustralia and Sydney Water have opened a tender for a family to live rent-free for a year in an energy-efficient house to be built in a "smart village" in Sydney's west.

Tender ENERGY-447194 offered a family free board for a year in the house equipped with cutting-edge energy conservation and automation technologies in return for writing about the experience to drum up support from the public and vendors. Participants would experiment with electric cars and energy storage and tour the public through their home once a month.

The successful family will announced soon after the tender closes at the end of the month and is expected to be installed in their new house by the middle of the year, an EnergyAustralia spokesman said.

The house [pictured] on John Konrads Avenue in Newington near the Olympic Stadium was one of 1000 to be built over two years at a cost of $10 million.

"As an opportunity to maximize the educational benefits of the house, EnergyAustralia is proposing to invite a family to live and report on their experience with the new technologies as they are installed," read the utilities' design brief for the house. "This reporting could include articles in print media and online.

"They would also provide an accessible and believable subject for TV media for press releases. Having a family also "humanises" the technology, and provides the potential for greater media coverage.

"EnergyAustralia could attract a significant level of interest from corporate sector participants looking to promote their new technolgies.

"Appliance manufacturers will be willing to provide more sustainable appliances for inclusion in the house if they know they will receive media coverage Also PHEV [plug-in hybrid electric vehicle] manufacturers may be more amenable to providing a car if they know they will benefit from regular, high-profile publicity."

"It is anticipated that the journalist would write a regular blog, which could include regular updates on the family's experience with the technology, and view the real-time energy usage of each appliance."

When he launched the village last October, NSW environment minister John Robertson said families would monitor their energy use and control appliances through the internet and with their mobile phones.

"[It] gives families their first detailed picture of their energy and water use, including costs and greenhouse gas emissions, via in-house displays and household websites," Robertson said at the time.

Smart Village houses are equipped with in-house displays driven by home-area networks connected to the utility's smart grid that has sensors at sub-stations and elsewhere on the network to manage power use.

"The home will provide a real-life laboratory, integrated with the intelligent electricity grid, for testing products that will help minimise energy and water use and greenhouse gas emissions," EnergyAustralia said.

"For EnergyAustralia, this will help us evaluate the practical potential for these solutions to shape future household energy management, network operation and Government policy."

It will have passive design features such as a northerly aspect, well placed trees, window glazing and insulation to reduce the need for heating and cooling appliances. The houses also have 1kW solar power systems to supplement the home's electricity supply, a gas-boosted solar hot water system and recycled water for outdoor gardens and toilets.

"The smart home will be used to educate and inspire others to adopt energy and water saving behaviour," the document said. "As new technologies are introduced into the home, the community will be able to read about the family's experience and see the reduction in energy and water use online."

Australian Computer Society Fellow and green IT consultant and author Tom Worthington questioned the competition entry process that unusually required candidates to apply through the utility's tender portal.

"The tendering system requires the entry of complex information and does not suit such a competition," Worthington wrote on his blog. "The tendering process and documentation is more than is reasonable for a family to complete."

And he was critical of the onerous nature of living in such a house equipped with up-to-the-minute data on energy use. A similar trial in Sydney's harbourside Pyrmont district failed because householders could see no benefit in the advanced systems installed for their education, he wrote.

"These projects equip homes with computer operated controls which require an excessive amount of attention from the householder," Worthington said.

"Experience shows that the novelty of such systems wears off quickly. The householder does not want to know the power consumption of their home minute by minute or to be able to control appliances remotely.

"They want the systems to be autonomous: that is, the appliances control themselves."

And telling individuals to enter false information into the tendering system to avoid having to hold an Australian Business Number was a "bad precedent to set", he said.

Once registered as suppliers with Energy Australia, candidates can download a 3.88MB file from its tender portal that has the application form, a smart home family brief and how to respond to the tender.

EnergyAustralia spokesman Kylie Yates said the tender process was chosen by the utilities on the suggeston of tender provider TenderLink to ensure it was fair and that all participants would receive the same information. Yates said the tender pack was downloaded 860 times.

The tender closes on February 22.

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