Ireland - Improvements at Home for the Rest of the World


Disclosure: Although I've never been to Ireland, I have family ties - my Mother is a dual citizen of Ireland and I'm hoping to take my daughter there to visit our relatives in 2016. I might be a little bit biased, but I feel it's a country worth looking at because I believe that some of the innovation taking place there is likely to make it's way into homes around the world.

When I recently read a story about how an electricity company in Ireland has teamed up with a sub-division of Google, it got me to thinking about the plucky little country that punches above its weight, and one which once again seems to be leading the world in many respects, some of which may have some interesting implications for homes everywhere.

But first, a little recent Irish history...

The Celtic Tiger

Beginning about 20 years ago the Irish economy started to take-off transforming Ireland from a nation driven by farming to a high tech export country as the result of decades of economic liberalization and low corporate tax rates which led to big American tech companies like Microsoft, Intel, and Dell locating major operations there.

So what does this have to do with home improvements? It's necessary to set the scene to understand how Ireland got to where it is now, and what the implications are for many other nations in the developed world.

Housing Market Boom & Bust

As happened in many other countries around the world, Ireland experienced an unprecedented growth in housing values. Low interest rates and the not-so-strict lending policies of banks (some of which were giving 100% mortgages to first time buyers), coupled with tax incentives led to house prices doubling between 2000 and 2006. The effect of all this was household borrowings from 2003 to 2007 rising to some of the highest in the euro area. Sound familiar?

Household Debt in Ireland

As you can see from the charts above and below, following the global economic slowdown in 2008 and coinciding with the 2009 recession, home prices began to fall while debt levels remained high and interest rates went up - a perfect storm for borrowers.

Ireland house prices

So Where is Ireland Now?

Thanks to help from the IMF and some European countries, along with large sacrifices of the Irish people to pay for the excesses of financial institutions during the boom, Ireland is now recovering steadily. Unemployment was down from its peak of 15.1% in February 2012 to 11.8% in March this year. I'm not saying that this was the first time Irish financial institutions had let the Irish public down - afterall one of their most famous collapses requiring taxpayer support came about in the 1980's when Ireland's biggest insurer PMPA went into a 30 year period of administration eventually being acquired by the nation's biggest general & home insurance company - AXA Ireland, but I am saying that the public paid for the big end of town's greed - sound familiar?

In December last year Forbes named Ireland the Number 1 Country for Business in it's annual roundup.

Once again many leading American companies have their European headquarters located in Ireland - this includes Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Ireland Led Innovation for Homes

Here are some of the interesting ways that Ireland is pioneering concepts in technology that may very well end up finding their way into homes around the world.

Free Smart Thermostats

The whole thing that got me thinking about this topic was the recent deal between Nest and Electric Ireland. As a result home owners in Ireland can now get a free Nest Thermostat valued at €374 and have it installed for free if they switch to Electric Ireland for their power provider. Although we've seen these kinds of deals before with smartphones, this could be the beginning of a new era in which home goods, appliances, and services are provided on a subsidized basis in return for entering into minimum term contracts. I believe Ireland is the first country in which this is being tried, and if it works expect similar offers to start rolling out in other countries. Details are available from Electric Ireland.

Self Powered Home Sensors

Dublin based tech company SolarPrint are developing new photovoltaic materials which are printable on to a wide range of surfaces and able to convert ambient light into electricity far more efficiently than the technology used in traditional solar panels typically used on roofs. What this will mean is that sensors for smart home systems won't be as susceptible to battery failure making them potentially more versatile and ubiquitous, as well as reducing disposable battery waste.

Smart Home Suppliers

With all the technology companies placing their European headquarters in Ireland, and the country's dedication to education in science and technology, this country has seen an explosion in all types of businesses relating to smart homes from consultants to retailers and installers - just do a search for "smart home ireland" and you'll see what I mean. Due to their early participation in the Eurozone, these Irish companies have also gained a great deal of experience in exporting and are now selling smart home technologies throughout Europe. I predict many Irish companies will be more successful exporters of home technology than their counterparts in the United States over the coming decade.

Although we traditionally think of the United States as being the leader in many things technological, I believe Ireland will be a leading player over the coming decade in new technologies and ideas for the home. They won't replace the United States, in fact it's their partnership with this country and their access to Europe which sees them uniquely positioned to achieve things other countries are less able to.

If you'd like to know more about smart homes, here are some articles you might find interesting: