When the cameras built in to everyday phones have smart thermal imaging capability, then – finally – the dreams of energy efficiency experts will come true. Consumers will have easy access to pictures showing hot spots and cold spots around windows and doors and on walls and ceilings. People will spend more to replace windows and fix the small crack around the door and patch up the insulation in the attic. Consumers will become more thoughtfully energy-efficiency minded.
Of course the cameras would not do anything that an expert with professional-grade thermal imagery device cannot already do better. But getting expert advice involves a significant transaction cost and homeowners discount expert advice because they suspect expert-bias toward overspending on efficiency. Putting relevant knowledge at the fingertips of household decision makers helps overcome both barriers.
Technology and consumer are getting closer. For about $250 the owner of a newer iPhone or Android phone can buy a FLIR ONE, an add-on thermal imaging camera, and it will make some difference. (FLIR has a cute “fun for the whole family” ad on its website for the product.) The new CAT S60 phone has thermal imagery capability built in, also relying on FLIR technnology, but it is a phone designed for those with a need for especially rugged devices. Other companies have competing products, including Therm-App cameras for Android devices and Seek Thermal’s Compact and CompactXR for both iPhone and Android phones. (You can do much more than spot poorly sealed windows with these devices, as all of the above device makers would be happy to explain.)
Someday soon ordinary consumer phones will have thermal imagery capability built in. When it happens we will see a boost in end-user energy efficiency resulting from the distribution and localization of thermal-imaging information, perhaps a force more powerful in the long run than all of the top-down efficiency regulations emerging from the U.S. Department of Energy.