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Netherlands tests automated-energy homes

Pilot project will give home owners off-peak and sun-peak options to see if they're willing to be flexible on energy usage in exchange for energy savings and sustainability.

Diagram of how the pilot home energy systems works, with written explanations in Dutch

Two new housing developments in Breda, the Netherlands, will serve as a two-year pilot project to see whether a home decked out in smart-energy tech with access to multiple energy sources, not just the electric grid, is the answer to energy savings.

Through a partnership with Netherlands grid operator Enexis, power company Greenchoice, and housing developer Heja, more than 300 homes have been built incorporating the latest energy-saving technologies. The pilot program, called Jouw Energie Moment (Your Energy Moment), could determine how people in the Netherlands choose to handle home energy management and building design going forward.

The Meulenspie development consists of 57 energy-neutral homes, while the Easy Street development consists of 246 apartments. Prices for the Meulenspie homes start at 205,000 euros ($297,000) for a small two-bedroom home and go up to 569,000 euros ($823,000) for the largest four-bedroom. Prices for Easy Street begin at 139,000 euros ($201,000) for a one-bedroom apartment with balcony, and go to 195,000 euros ($282,000) for the largest two-bedroom corner apartments.

Both the houses and apartments include solar panels, smart appliances, smart metering, and an interactive computer monitoring system. Some have the option of a charging station for an electric car.

Only the smart appliances in this case can communicate with more than just a smart grid, informing it of peak and off-peak usage hours. They're connected to solar panels on the roof of the apartment buildings and homes, as well as the grid, and are alerted when the sun is shining and electricity being generated from the solar panels is readily available.

The home energy system gives people more options because they can choose to run specific appliances during off-peak hours, which is often at night, and others during sun-peak hours.

The system gives people options for choosing things like the cheapest energy of the day, or the most sustainable option of the day, down to each appliance, and they can change-up their choices day by day. The pilot program will then track how people actively manage the choices, including whether they choose to let the home manage its energy use autonomously from a set of given preferences.

Many companies, governments, and analysts have been touting the benefits to be gained from integration of multiple energy sources. This project takes that theory down to the micro level. Instead of just the electricity company drawing from multiple sources, the Breda homes can draw from the most efficient source at hand at any given time.

The aim of the project is not to test smart-appliance and smart-grid technology; that's already been proven to work in various projects. It's to test how people choose to use it and whether a home decked out in all of the latest smart-energy tech and multi-source energy options will save energy long-term, according to Enexis.