Panasonic lives the green lifestyle in showcase house

Sensor-controlled LED lights, insulation, solar power, fuel cells and a networked control system aim to cut energy use

With an eye on the way we might live in the future, Panasonic opened an eco-ideas showhouse in Tokyo on Wednesday.

The house contains many of Panasonic's latest environmental technologies and a few prototypes.

Throughout the spacious house, designed to aid natural ventilation and cut down on air conditioning, there are LED lights that use much less power than existing incandescent bulbs and last longer than current fluorescent models.

The lights can be automatically controlled by sensors that measure the amount of sunlight coming into the room and adjust to compensate. This way the lights will slowly dim towards the middle of the day and get brighter towards the evening, or react more quickly if you change the light level by, for example, closing the blinds. Even better, if no one is in the room they'll switch off altogether.

To cut down on heating and cooling costs, Panasonic has lined the walls of the house with a thin and efficient insulator called U-Vacua that was originally developed for use in Panasonic appliances such as refrigerators and kettles.

Venture into the back garden and you'll find residential fuel cells that mix hydrogen from city gas with air to create electricity. Up on the roof are solar panels. Electricity generated but that can't be used immediately is stored in a prototype accumulator battery of lithium ion cells for later use.

The lights, power, heating and other gadgets all sit on a high-tech in-house network, at the center of which is the living room TV, offering a portal into the house's energy needs.

On a single screen you can monitor gas, water and electricity usage and see how much power is coming from the solar panels and fuel cells, the status of the accumulator battery and the amount of power being drawn from the grid.

A second screen provides details about the status of the environmental control systems in each room. For example, you can check the temperature of the living room air conditioning and see if the floor heating in the bedroom is on or off.

The aim of the energy-saving house is to be carbon neutral in energy usage and a third screen provides a comparison between energy creation and usage to give you an overall look at how well you're doing.

While some of the technology might be futuristic, consumers shouldn't have to wait too long until such a house is possible for real, says Panasonic. It was designed with an eye 3 to 5 years in the future.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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