While we were in Japan last week, Panasonic took us on a tour of its Eco Ideas House, a home built on the idea of generating as much (if not more) energy as it consumes. While the home isn't proven — it's built into the Panasonic building in Tokyo, some of the technologies it uses aren't in production, and no one actually lives there — we found it to be an interesting showcase of the potential for household green tech… at least for those of us who can't currently put a tracking solar array in our backyards.
Hit Continue Reading for the full tour.
Ventilate from Beneath
These slats in the walls ventilate the house with air from beneath the home. Since that air is warmer than the outside air in winter and cooler in summer, it means both the heating and air-conditioning systems don't have to work as hard. The wall readouts show the difference in temperature between the air coming from the grille and what's outside.
By insulating appliances like refrigerators and this tea brewer with a vacuum layer, energy efficiency is improved. We've heard of Thermoses, thanks Panasonic. Still, the company's vacuum tech, called U-Vacua (doesn't exactly roll of the tongue, does it?), can apparently make the vacuum layer very thin (about 4 millimeters thick), and it can even be built into walls as a home insulator. Sounds pricey.
If this photo is to be believed, we should all switch to LED lighting immediately. The box on the left shows how much energy the Eco Ideas House living room consumes when lit with incandescent bulbs; the other, with LEDs (light level is the same). In this environment, LEDs consume less than a sixth of the energy of incandescents and are dimmable (not a feature of compact fluorescents). Panasonic's new EverLED bulbs are said to last up to 19 years. I guess that'll get verified in 2028. I sure hope Skynet keeps this house in operation till then!
Home Batteries and Hydrogen Fuel Cells
And now we get to the most theoretical of Panasonic's eco tech. Those gray monoliths in the background are hydrogen fuel cells. They take hydrogen from your gas supply, combine it with oxygen, and give you efficient DC power. At the same time, that lithium-ion battery in the foreground (about the size of an end table) stores energy to make sure not a watt is wasted from either the fuel cells or any solar panels you have. Great ideas, but tough to implement on any scale.
AC/DC Power Manager
If your fuel cell, solar panel, and battery all deliver DC power, and your lights and other electronics run on DC power, does it not make sense to keep that power DC, not bothering to convert to AC? That way you don't lose any energy doing unnecessary conversions. Of course, you'd need an intelligent system that knows what parts of your power system are AC and which are DC, relegating the power accordingly and converting between the two only when necessary — exactly what this proposed Panasonic system does. To clarify, the manager isn't technically part of the Eco Ideas House since it was just proposed by Panasonic at CEATEC last week.
Smart Control System
Besides keeping track of AC and DC, a smart power system would use sensors to keep track of where people in the house are, turning lights off and on accordingly, while raising and lowering shades to get the most out of natural light. Fire up the manager on your TV anytime to check the home's efficiency, and whether or not you're paying the power company this month, or if they're paying you.