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The Internet Might Actually Start Paying You To Use It

Your house is robbing you blind, and you probably don't even know it. Each day it picks a few dollars out of your pocket and hands them to your local utility, or worse, just throws them into the trash. Add it all up and we're talking about hundreds, if not thousands of dollars that your house is quietly costing you each year.

How to fix your leaking nest
Thermostats control about half of a home's energy. However, simply owning a programmable thermostat isn't enough, it actually needs to be, well, programmed. That one step can save the average consumer 20% of their utility bill or an average of $173 per year. However, most of us fail to properly program our thermostat. On top of that, few take the additional steps to lower our utility bills such by simply changing the temperature setting to conserve energy while we're on vacation.


Photo credit: Google Inc 

Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  )  is hoping to stop the waste. The company recently spent $3.2 billion to buy Nest Labs, which developed the Learning Thermostat. Nest's $249 thermostat programs itself so that consumers won't have to. That savings alone can yield a payback of under two years. However, that's just the start. Its auto-away can save consumers up to 6% more on an annual energy bill just by adjusting the temperature for a two week vacation. Meanwhile, its Nest Leaf feature challenges consumers to change the temperature in their home by a degree in order to save another 5% on their utility bill. Finally, its filter reminders can shave another 5% off of a consumer's bill by letting consumers know its time to change the filter. It all adds up to quite a payback over time.

The smart laundry room
Google isn't the only company hoping to save consumers a little money by investing to save energy. Whirlpool  (NYSE: WHR  ) believes its 6th Sense Live technology will not only give consumers peace of mind, but can also cut their energy bill. For example, the Smart Energy feature can save users $20-40 per year by connecting to the Smart Grid used by utilities and then optimizing energy use by scheduling the washer or dryer to run during off-peak hours. In addition to that, the EcoBoost option can save energy and money by using a portion of the dryer's dual heating element and extending drying time.


Photo credit: Whirlpool Corporation 

The only problem with Whirlpool's Smart Energy feature is the fact that the payback period from energy savings alone isn't quite as compelling as those found in Google's Learning Thermostat. A Whirlpool dryer, for example, featuring the 6th Sense Live technology retails for $1,439.10 at a local home improvement store. However, a simple high efficiency sensor dryer retails for $899.10 at that same store. That puts the payback differential from energy savings alone at more than a decade.

Thinking inside the icebox
takes saving money a step further with its Smart ThinQ technology. These appliances are smart grid ready, meaning these are designed to detect the lowest power consumption in the area so that the appliances can operate when energy rates are lowest. However, LG takes the smart refrigerator to a whole new level as it can tell its owner where to look for a food item as well as what items are closing in on an expiration date. 

Because it knows what's inside, though this information does need to be entered manually, it can make it easier to compile a shopping list or even suggest a meal recipe built around the ingredients inside. On top of that its Smart Access refrigerator app makes a trip to the grocery store even more efficient. It can let consumers know what needs to be purchased as well as providing recipe ideas with a summary of the ingredients that need to be added to the shopping list.


Photo credit: Flickr/David Berkowitz

Here again the problem is that the current cost outweighs the energy savings. The LG refrigerator with Smart ThinQ technology is $3,149.99 at a local appliance store. That's well over $1,000 more than a comparable sized refrigerator. However, with estimates suggesting that Americans throw out between 14% to 25% of the food we buy each year, the savings from not wasting really add up as the average family tosses out $1,365 to $2,275 in food each year. Simply knowing when food expires, and consuming it before that time, could yield a very quick payback for this LG refrigerator.

Final thoughts
Internet driven smart technology has the potential to pay consumers back in a hurry by using less energy. Google's Learning Thermostat, for example, already has a less than two year payback for those that don't currently utilize a programmable thermostat. Energy savings, however is just one of the many ways that Internet driven smart technology can start paying off. LG's Smart refrigerator has the potential to save consumers a lot of money as we stop wasting what's inside. Best of all, if those savings are invested wisely, it'll really really compound over time.

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Matt DiLallo

Matthew is a Senior Energy and Materials Specialist with The Motley Fool. He graduated from the Liberty University with a degree in Biblical Studies and a Masters of Business Administration. You can follow him on Twitter for the latest news and analysis of the energy and materials industries:

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