This article was originally published by Alliance to Save Energy and is republished with permission.
Connected “smart” devices are increasingly a feature in American homes. For example, U.S. demand for smart thermostats is expected to grow substantially through 2022, when they will account for more than 70% of the thermostat market. As homes and buildings become more connected, opportunities to manage energy use to save money will also increase. The Department of Energy (DOE) notes that smart sensing, metering, and control technology is already helping building owners and home owners to see and adjust their energy use.
For many Americans, these benefits remain out of reach
The Federal Communications Commission recently found that 21.3 million Americans still lack access to high speed internet. In rural America, on Tribal lands, and in underserved communities this frequent lack of access stifles meaningful connection to the economy of the 21st century.
Connected devices require high speed internet to work. They simply cannot send and receive the data they need to operate without access to a reliable, fast connection. This means that more than one in every twenty Americans is unable to see the energy cost savings from smart thermostats or other such technologies due to lack of connectivity alone.
And it is not just home owners, renters, business owners, and utilities that miss out on savings. Public institutions like hospitals and schools go without these benefits in rural America and on Tribal land. In cash-strapped municipalities, those savings could go a long way.
Grid operators also benefit from connected devices. Smart sensing, metering, and control technology provide flexibility for demand-response, allowing operators to adjust energy use during peak demand. This opens a whole new set of doors for energy efficiency and other utility programs that encourage smarter – even optimal – use of electricity. And when smart devices share information within the grid, their combined savings can be even greater, as the Alliance noted in recent comments to DOE.
Congress could help expand broadband access
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently held a hearing on H.R. 2741 – the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s (LIFT) America Act. Among the bill’s many provisions, including several directly addressing energy efficiency across sectors, is a title that would significantly boost access to energy saving technology for millions of Americans by investing $40 billion to build out high-speed broadband across the country.
While LIFT America currently lacks bipartisan support, there are numerous ways Congress could invest in expanding broadband, and many Republicans have been outspoken about the need to improve our digital infrastructure to reach unserved areas. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, has said that “we need to build out more broadband to more places in America. Period. Hard Stop. We should all be for that.”
Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), the ranking member of the telecommunications subcommittee, has similarly signaled support for rural broadband funding. Alliance Honorary Advisor Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) co-chairs the House Rural Broadband Caucus which, in his words, “has been a staunch advocate for closing the digital divide in this country.”
There are a lot of issues in today’s Washington where both parties seem to have trouble even agreeing on the problem. Expansion of broadband access is not one of them. Democrats and Republicans alike can see the benefits that broadband access brings, and now it is up to them to find a solution that lets all Americans reap those benefits.