Photo credit: UBC Library Communications. Source:

It sounds like something out of science fiction—software that counts the number of people in a room and reacts in real time.

But this is no futuristic idea. Stefan Storey, an engineer at the University of British Columbia, has developed technology that can count the number of wireless devices in a room and pass that information on to UBC’s building control system. The system can then adjust the room’s ventilation based on the number of occupants.

Storey has tested the technology in UBC’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre library, and found that it reduced energy consumption by five per cent over a year.

“As far as I know, this is the first technology in North America to use Wi-Fi access points as a sensor network and as a way to communicate with building control systems,” Storey said in a press release. “As we continue to develop it, we can help many more buildings become much more responsive to occupant needs.”

Storey’s invention is now being installed in 10 more UBC buildings, and will be rolled out at campuses across B.C.

UBC is just one example of a growing number of universities and colleges that are looking to smart technology to reduce building emissions. 

In Whitehorse, Yukon College opened a new trades building last year with lights and a ventilation system that will respond automatically when people move in and out of rooms. 

And the University of California Santa Cruz cut its Music Center’s electricity use by 19 per cent in 2014, after installing occupancy and carbon dioxide sensors so that the building was only heated and cooled when necessary.

But it’s not just universities that can use smart tech to be greener—there are also many devices available to homeowners and businesses.

Smart thermostats have been around for several years, including some that can learn people’s schedules and automatically heat and cool homes accordingly.

Smart power bars can shut off power to electronics when they’re plugged in but not in use, to prevent them from wasting power if they’re left plugged in all the time.

There are even smart sprinklers that use weather reports to water lawns and gardens only when there’s no rain in the forecast. 

And there’s demand for this technology. The Washington Post reported in August that prospective buyers are willing to pay more for homes with smart technology.

But as people buy more and more internet-connected devices, some concerns are being raised. In particular, some worry that hackers can easily take control of smart gadgets that aren’t protected by a strong password.

Other concerns are more fundamental. Writing in the Globe and Mail this week, Matthew Hague makes a case for “stupid homes.” His concern has less to do with hacking, he claims, and “more to do with the gnawing feeling that technology is overrunning my life.”

He cites research showing that spending time without technology at home can reduce stress and improve sleep and sex.

When it comes to smart tech, then, perhaps it’s all a question of balance.

By Maura Forrest, 20 April 2017


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This article was written for Clean Capital News a free bi-weekly publication dedicated to producing topical articles on sustainability and clean technology that advance our understanding of issues like climate change and help generate solutions for a more sustainable future.

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