Z-Wave Series: Why do standards matter anyway?

There are plenty of resources out there for discovering the intricate differences between the many home networking technologies being deployed today. There’s also no shortage of competing opinions on the matter of which is best for cutting costs and adding convenience for a broader customer base. But few of the discussions center on the bigger picture effects of a single standard for making homes smarter and more energy efficient.

With big savings to be had, the push for more energy efficient homes is gaining momentum and technology is a big part of that. If the 1 billion smart devices predicated to be in American homes by 2025 becomes a reality, the importance of standards is magnified. The least significant reason is not, of course, the amount of power the devices themselves consume.

To be sure, smart devices are outstandingly more efficient and capable than their conventional counterparts. They are able to deliver detailed usage data to homeowners or building managers allowing the to take corrective action. And, in some cases, they are also equipped to communicate with utility providers, learn when energy costs the most, and adjust usage patterns to create savings. By some estimates, smarter homes can be in the range of 70 percent more efficient, which for the average American household could mean savings upwards of $800 a year. But unlike the switches, power meters, and appliances of the past, smart devices include energy monitoring and communication devices that are constantly using small amounts of power.

For many of the leading standards, power consumption in standby mode is under a single watt. However, even fractions of a watt can be significant when considering the projected scale of the smart home market over the next few years. Wi-Fi devices, for example, which operate at just under one watt in standby mode could cost consumers in the neighborhood of $900 million more than lower power wireless alternatives (This figure was calculated at $0.10/KwH, which is below what most U.S. customers actually pay for their electricity). Of course, that number will continue to climb as long as energy costs continue to rise.

As part of our series on the popular home networking technology, it should come as no surprise that Z-Wave is a front runner in the low power category. Because Z-Wave products transmit data less than one percent of the time, they spend most of the time in standby mode, consuming only a small fraction of one watt of electricity. When devices “wake up,” they don’t need to transmit tons of cumbersome data (e.g., streaming video), so relatively little power is needed even then. These features are no acident Z-Wave was developed with home networking in mind.

Zigbee, a standard frequently compared to Z-Wave, does satisfy the low power requirement and isn’t without its own merits. However, some key differences do remain. In an upcoming post, we’ll take an objective look at what sets these two technologies apart.

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