Nest, Airbnb Green The Sharing Economy

Google bought Nest for $3 billion to help kickstart the smart home zeitgeist. Nest teamed up with Airbnb to share the searing demand of the rental hypermarket.

So far, it’s a three-way tie for first in line to prove their energy efficiency bonafides.

Nest’s Learning Thermostats give Airbnb’s hosts and guests the ability to remotely control their rentals like self-aware microgrids. According to Airbnb’s environmental impact report, that means their hosts use 63 percent less energy than hotel guests in North America and 78 percent less than those in Europe. That equivalent, the company added, to thankfully yanking 33,000 to 200,000 cars off the road. For their part, Nest’s smart thermos can save families both energy usage and cash on their bills; its “Saving Energy scenarios” posited savings of 14-26 percent, depending on the family.

This calculated ecocentricism is partially why Airbnb is heating up like Earth itself, and going so far to launch a magazine called Pineapple. The hotel industry’s pace is slowing and its carbon footprint is overweight. And lately Earthlings are just as happy to stay at an empty Airbnb house, apartment or even shipping container, preferably solarized, right down the street from wherever they want to be. If they can use a data-rich Nest app to control their rental’s temperature and emissions, even better.

“Airbnb wants to help hosts on their quest to be green,” bizdev head Lex Bayer said in a Airbnb press release on Nest. “We want to enrich the lives of our hosts, their properties, and the communities they live in.” [Both Nest and Airbnb declined to comment on the record for this article.]

So one hopes that as Airbnb rolls out its Nest rentals with free Learning Thermostats, it selects sites with installed solar systems to crunch even bigger energy efficiency numbers. The environmental impact of solar power isn’t zero, but it’s far closer to it than coal or gas, which is where the not-so-clean energy that Nest and Airbnb more efficiently regulates comes from. And while it’s nice to see solar panel conversion efficiency leader SunPower team up with a slowly electrifying Ford (and even the Sierra Club), a four-way SunPower collision with Google, Airbnb and Nest would more seriously, and quickly, evolve the smart home future.

Solar partnerships with large, slow-moving dinosaurs like Ford — or Wal-Mart, which contracted SolarCity to solarize its facilities in up to 36 states in the next four years — are necessary, and even refreshing. But it is the smart home future of Nest and Airbnb, more energy-efficient and less hassle than hotels and/or cruises, where solar could have a significant impact as well.

Because while it is instructive to compare the environmental impact of Airbnb customers to that of their counterparts in carbon-intensive hotels, it’s not really a fair fight. The objective of the smart home future is zero emissions, and hotels spit out anything but. Plus, who knows how many Airbnb rentals once sat empty but are now emissions sources empowered by coal, oil and gas? Airbnb’s environmental impact study has detractors, but the jury on the true carbon footprint of its proliferating rentals is out until further studies arrive. Until they do, the solar industry is a potentially powerful partner for Airbnb, Nest and Google, which recently gave $145 million to SunEdison while promising to invest in the industry overall about $1.5 billion for 2.5 gigawatts of capacity.

It’s reasonable to expect, if not demand, that renewable energy be a primary target of the sharing economy. One wishes that all parties capitalizing on Airbnb/Nest smart homes — from hosts and guests making and saving money, to cities like San Jose, which is considering legalizing short-term rental services to impose a 10 percent tax on stays under 30 days — were as deeply committed to first solarizing their properties, for the good of us all.

This article appeared at Solar Energy