Life in 2030: Big Brother will be watching with greater efficiency

By Beck Vass

The Herald is running a series previewing how life might be in 2030. Today, Beck Vass looks at the homes of the future.

Solar panels are predicted to make way for energy-absorbing building materials, an expert says. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle
Solar panels are predicted to make way for energy-absorbing building materials, an expert says. Photo / Wanganui Chronicle

New Zealanders are likely to be bound by home-building laws that ensure properties generate their own energy and recycle their own water within 20 years.

Futurist Robin Gunston says that while there are no rules and regulations in place, within two decades he expects the construction of buildings to be based mainly around minimising the financial and environmental cost of just two things - energy and water.

By that time, Mr Gunston believes there will be legislation in place that builders will have to adhere to because of the need to reduce carbon use as a natural follow on from the Emissions Trading Scheme.

"At the moment it's all optional but I believe that within 20 years you won't be able to build a house unless it is totally energy-efficient. It will take that long because there will be a big debate."

At the annual CEATEC expo, Tokyo's biggest consumer electronics exhibition held in October, big-name brands showcased their future plans and all placed a huge emphasis on researching and creating eco-friendly appliances.

Homes that detect what room you are in and adjust lighting and heating accordingly are expected to become the norm within 15 years.

Mr Gunston said he expected New Zealand wouldn't be far behind.

"As Kiwis, we are massive consumers of both [energy and water] compared to many other parts of the world.

"So we'll have things like walls that heat up to absorb the sun and then give the heat back into the house," he said.

"You won't add a solar panel to your roof. Basically, when you think of putting your roofing material on, it will be solar-absorbing materials that will then be used for heating the water.

"Each house, I believe, will totally reticulate as much as possible all of its waste.

"I don't know if we'll go as far as composting toilets, but possibly ... I think we will get a large trend that way to total recycling and purification of all of our grey water so each home then puts that out into garden sprinkler systems.

"So we'll have a highly energy-efficient house.

"We will also be connecting all our houses up into the grid as exporters [so] if you're generating more from your house than you consume because you've got a very energy efficient house, it will just go out into the grid and you'll get a credit for it."

Mr Gunston believes that within 10 years it will be commonplace to monitor things such as home security, air conditioning and lighting using the internet or mobile phone - all connected to a central control panel that tells users how much energy their home is consuming and what appliances are using it.

With a growing ageing population, robotic assistance is also more likely, with health-based robots being developed to enable elderly people to remain in their homes for longer by helping them in and out of bed and around the house, lifting heavy items, and reminding them to take medication.

Mr Gunston said there would also be more prisoners on home-based detention.

"We're going to see a lot more devices that are going to keep an eye on you and a lot more devices that basically feed you educational-type things that you've got to [do] as part of your sentence plan," he said.

Two decades on he said there would be more of a Big Brother element.

"The government's going to know a lot more about you.

"The minute you put all of these kind of metering devices and things in your home you're going to be hooked up somewhere to some great centralised computer that's going to know all about your power consumption and your gas consumption, and the more we use the internet for conveying lots of this information the more people can watch what you do.

"That's a natural corollary of the future."

- NZ Herald

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