The Future of Green: Automatic Light Switches Reimagined


**This is the fourth installment of our new blog series: The Future of Green. Every other Friday we will post a blog about a cutting-edge and futuristic innovation in the world of green technology. Technology is one of several barriers that stand between today’s society and a sustainable future. The innovators we highlight through The Future of Green are shattering those barriers. Make sure to tune in every other Friday for a glimpse into the future of energy and sustainability.

The amount of energy consumed by buildings is astounding. Residential and commercial buildings account for nearly 40% of total energy consumption in the US. The vast majority of this energy is used for heating, lights, and electricity. Even more shocking, most of this energy consumption is unnecessary—lights get left on, heating systems continue to pump out heat when nobody’s home, and appliances consume “vampire energy,” even when they’re turned off. Fortunately, innovators are hard at work to come up with a solution for this problem. In this edition of The Future of Green, we’ll highlight a few of these innovators.

In an effort to tackle both “vampire energy” and the problem of appliances being left on, Birkeland Current has developed The Pinch, an RFID-controlled device that automatically turns off power strips or light switches when residents are not in the vicinity. The Pinch works by requiring users to carry a fob. When the fob is close by, the light or power strip automatically turns on, and when the fob leaves the area, the appliances turn off. The device can also gather data about the user’s energy use, allowing for customized scheduling or remote control over lights and power strips. According to its makers, The Pinch has the potential to cut user electricity costs by 35%.

A German company has a similar vision for the future of home energy consumption. The company developed an app, called Tado, which—like The Pinch—monitors your location and adjusts your thermostat accordingly. Using GPS technology, it determines when you are away from home and turns off your heating system to save energy. When you’re on your way back home, the app will automatically turn your heat back on. The Tado also allows you to adjust your heat remotely and monitor your energy usage and money saved. “Our control algorithms actually start to make the whole space really smart. The focus is to use real time signals which come from the smartphone app or Internet weather data to adjust room temperatures.” The company claims that the app can cut your heating costs by 27%.

Students in Stanford University’s Solar Decathlon have a slightly different plan to combat energy waste. They’ve designed a room switch, which connects to the lights and other appliances in a room, allowing you to turn everything off at once when you leave a room. The room switch will have a touchpad, and different “tap or swipe sequences can issue different commands to turn off some or all electricity to a room.” Rather than develop a system that automatically turns off lights and appliances when you leave a room, the students wanted to incorporate some element of personal responsibility. “We want to give people a sense of understanding of their energy consumption, and to empower them to make better energy behaviors because they want to. If they actively reduce their energy consumption in the house, then hopefully they’ll behave that way in the rest of the world too.”

In light of the overwhelming amount of energy consumed in buildings, energy efficiency technology—much like the room switch, Tado, and The Pinch—has the potential to significantly reduce our ecological footprint.

Check back in two weeks for another edition of The Future of Green. In the meantime, revisit the first three installments in the series: floating offshore wind turbines, The Hyperloop, and smart windows.