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Smart living: How integrated services are coming to your home

Smart meters are opening the doors to city-wide networked services that feed into individual homes.

The technology that makes networked smart meters possible could be expanded to provide in-home communication and monitoring by security or healthcare services, according to experts speaking about the future of smart cities.

In a talk at London-based green construction exhibition Ecobuild, Mark Atherton, director of environment for the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, explained how networked smart systems were already being used the supply air source heat to social housing.

He explained that by using an IT system to manage the supply enabled the organisation to find ways to “smooth out the demand curve” – to regulate supply to reduce spikes in use by controlling the amount of heat is supplied to individual households at a given time.

“These technologies won’t just be used to enable smart meters but can be used for security and health services”

Atherton also explained how this system could be expanded to other services, such as in-home health monitoring or support for the elderly.

Institute of Sustainability chief executive Ian Short shared this view of the potential for networks. “These technologies won’t just be used to enable smart meters but can be used for security and health services,” he said.

Individuals in need of assistance could simply push a button in their home to communicate with healthcare or security services. These services would have access to data to assist with their work, for example in the form of medical readings for a healthcare professional or live local crime data for a security expert.

While the system has some obvious benefits, it raises serious privacy concerns for individuals living in networked homes, summoning up an almost Orwellian image for some.

The example Atherton cites of an existing project is in social housing, where the local government has a greater right to add such systems than in private houses. This division could lead to a two-tier system where social housing is largely networked and monitored, while private housing is largely not – something that would be very concerning for some rights campaigners.

“A little bit into the future you might see electrical vehicles being built into the same grid”

However, the technology is not necessarily a bad thing. With adequate legislation and monitoring and use it could become a valuable system and an effective way to link homes together in a sustainable way.

The grid could also be expanded to include wider city services. “A little bit into the future you might see electrical vehicles being built into the same grid,” said Atherton.

For governments and organisations looking to get users to embrace these technologies, it will be a matter of trust. Short believes this is something that can be built by involving the community in the development of such systems.

For Atherton, explaining the benefits is central to such a system’s success: “It’s all about going in and explaining it to people,” he said.