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Smart plugs to provide energy usage data on individual appliances

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May 28, 2012

The “MyPower Energy Platform” would use a smart plug to gather electricity usage data and ...

The “MyPower Energy Platform” would use a smart plug to gather electricity usage data and upload it to the cloud (Image: Shutterstock)

Smart meters have become an important tool not only for households looking to save energy and keep the electricity bill down, but also for utility companies striving to match electricity generation with demand. But while smart meters can provide an overall picture of a household’s electricity usage over time, a team from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies is developing a system that aims to monitor the energy usage of individual appliances.

The “MyPower Energy Platform” is built around a smart plug that sits between the wall outlet and the appliance to be monitored. Upon installing the plug, the consumer would input some basic information on their particular appliance on the MyPower website. The smart plug includes an embedded GSM unit so that power usage information it collects about the appliance can then be transmitted via SMS to a cloud-based data warehouse every 30 minutes.

The consumer can then access electricity consumption data and determine the best time to use an individual appliances through the MyPower website. While the MyPower site will be free to access for households that purchase the smart plugs, it is anticipated that utility companies and public agencies would pay to access the information.

By drawing on energy usage data gathered from other consumers, people can also see how their particular appliance compares against others, and just how much money could be saved by upgrading to a new energy-efficient model. But even without investing in new appliances, the team believes the system can provide significant savings by taking advantage of off-peak electricity rates.

“Access to this data will allow users to optimize their appliance usage and take advantage of lower electricity rates by remotely scheduling or switching off the appliance via the smart plug,” says PhD student Mahboobeh Mogaddham, who developed the system along with PhD student Waiho Wong, under the supervision of Professor Joseph Davis. “We are excited because this platform can provide a technically and economically feasible solution for households to reduce their electricity consumption by up to 10 percent – a significant cost reduction over the life of their appliances.”

For those worried that the constant stream of SMS messages from however many smart plugs they decide to place around their home will eat up any potential savings made by the system, Professor Davis anticipates that the system would come bundled with a bulk SMS plan from a mobile provider if and when it becomes commercially available.

Professor Davis believes the system could be used by manufacturers and governments to help encourage the replacement of older, less energy-efficient appliances and to support education and awareness campaigns on cutting energy usage.

The MyPower Energy Platform is currently still at the development stage and is undergoing evaluation on the prospects for commercialization by the University of Sydney. However, it was recently presented the inaugural NASSCOM IT Technical Innovation Award at CeBIT Australia 2012, where judges described it as “an example of practical innovation in taking a number of proven technology components and tackling a pressing issue.”

Source: University of Sydney

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
14 Comments

Ick. This is a very heavy-handed approach. GSM is a really expensive and difficult way to talk to individual appliances. Better to use something like powerline networking or wifi or ANT+ and have a single access point (fusebox) that can talk to everything on the power network and relay upstream by whatever channel is convenient.

There are systems that can monitor (but not control) all appliances by 'fingerprinting' the noise that they add to the power network, and then it's possible to get reasonable stats via look-up tables (it doesn't need to be super-accurate) on all appliances without having to add any extra hardware other than a single monitoring device.

Synchro
29th May, 2012 @ 12:59 am PDT

You could just use an in-line voltage regulator to reduce the total intake into your house. In the UK the national grid puts out an AVERAGE of 240V, VPhase (www.vphase.co.uk) units regulate that down to 220V and provide a steady stream to your appliances. This not only reduces your bills, but extends you electrical devices' lives!

100Jimbo
29th May, 2012 @ 03:41 am PDT

After six months of having a solar array that is connected to the gird, the most important lesson I've learned is that we need a hardware/software system that allows a smart meter to send a message to a smart circuit breaker that disconnects the 220 breakers (US) when there is a sudden loss of power from the grid, and a battery backup system that kicks in when that happens. Right now it is not the plugs that tech should concentrate on, but the circuit breaker box.

morriss003
29th May, 2012 @ 12:01 pm PDT

If the UK government was really concerned about us changing to more power efficient appliances, they would not be changing us all over to digital. Digital TV and the high amount of electricity it uses is appalling but soon they will be encouraging/forcing us to move to digital radio. I have a wind up radio and to wind it up for 1 minute gets about 1 hour or more of FM radio - the same 1 minute of wind-up gets only 5 minutes of digital radio!

Don't lets pretend that the government does anything to protect the environment, the move to make you spend more on updating your appliances is chiefly for the benefit of the companies selling you the appliances

GrannyVe
29th May, 2012 @ 02:12 pm PDT

You can always use the appliance module as shown @ enerficient's web site.

http://www.enerficient.com.au/products/appliancemodule.html

The appliance module does exactly the same as the smart plug only it is wireless and reports back to a router where you can view the consumption through a web interface.

There is also a solution for the circuit breaker box.

You can do all of that that you are after morriss003.

Hope on to the website and if you do not find what you are after talk to me and will explain.

enerficient
29th May, 2012 @ 05:49 pm PDT

The goal of the MyPower Energy Management Platform is the capture of finely grained power consumption data at the appliance level from a cross section of households. The data warehouse on the cloud will store the data that will be a valuable resource to a variety of stakeholders including the home consumers (to make sensible decisions on the timing of use and optimal replacement , electricity service providers (to help them manage their peak loads better, and to offer more value added services), appliance manufacturers (to help design more innovative products), and to relevant government agencies (to create data-driven policies to encourage energy conservation, design better pricing models etc).

Appliance level data is critical; over 52% of all Australian greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the residential sector arise from appliances.

The SMS costs can be lowered through bulk contracts and will be free to participating households. wi-fi would be better but for patchy coverage.

jdavis
29th May, 2012 @ 07:39 pm PDT

The use of SMS by a machine is illegal in most places.

solutions4circuits
29th May, 2012 @ 10:05 pm PDT

This is almost like reinventing the wheel If one visits the Maplin UK site one can find all kinds of proven gizmos to do just what they are trying to do here. Why would I want my consumption data to be on the internet in the first place ? There are $19.95 devices available in US that do the same job and store the logs and data within the device itself. The electric company does not care what your per device / appliance consumption is. YOU DO and you need that information.

BTW we too have 240/250 volt supply in India. Using 220 V certified European appliances leads to overheating and higher consumption. I used the basics of electrical engineering to solve the problem. I started off with a 240 V primary to 30 volt /20 amp secondary ISOLATED transformer. Connected the windings as an auto transformer such that I got a 275-245-0 volt autotransformer. Now I connected the input to the 275-0 V taps and took the output from 245-0 v taps. In this configuration with the input being 245 volts I got my output to be app 220 volts. Most of the power was transmitted type and very little was of transformed type. Eliminated overheating altogether, increased the appliance life AND reduced my energy bill.

pmshah
30th May, 2012 @ 06:25 am PDT

jdavis, you're missing a few things there. Individual appliances only need to communicate locally, there's really no need for them to be able to talk to the wider internet directly - numerous appliances each with their own GSM radio, sim card, connection (and security) problems is just asking for trouble, expense and inefficiency. Certainly where I am, wifi to my router and ADSL up from that is cheaper and far more reliable than my GSM connection, and a powerline network would be more reliable still. You could reasonably use SMS for a centralised uplink, but doing it for every appliance separately is just crazy.

As far as tracking individual appliances goes, a line noise analyser has the enormous advantage of being able to get data for individual appliances without any hardware changes, and when you add a new appliance, you just plug it in and it's automatically tracked, even if you plug several into the same outlet. It may not be quite as accurate as a real individual meter, but knowing whether your fridge pulls 200 or 205W is far less significant than knowing whether you have a fridge or not.

Synchro
30th May, 2012 @ 07:12 am PDT

Synchro, your point about connection and security in the kind of SMS network that we propose is well taken. One of our challenges is to adequately address this in our prototype and pilot.

I would, however, draw your attention to the goals of our project which is briefly stated in my previous post. This is not a solution for individual homes only; it is about building a large data repository of highly disaggregated appliance-level consumption data to enable us to extract and mine actionable knowledge for a range of stakeholders.

jdavis
30th May, 2012 @ 05:07 pm PDT

Solutions4circuits, apropos the legality of machines sending SMS, Telstra markets a product called Telstra Desktop Messaging for sending bulk SMS messages from PCs or Macs.

jdavis
30th May, 2012 @ 05:56 pm PDT

This might be an interesting research project but I really hope that everybody is sane enough to not do make this into a product.

Besides there already exist products in the market that do use ZigBee radio to do exactly what is done here.

Kris Lee
5th June, 2012 @ 03:28 pm PDT

This project is not about a product or gadget. It is a solution to a complex problem.

jdavis
6th June, 2012 @ 10:27 pm PDT

Over here in England, we are doing this already...

Check out http://www.eon-futurehome.com/smart-plus/

Is a great system and I'm having it installed tomorrow and looking forward to being able to monitor what my new tv, new washing machine etc uses, and whether they are as 'efficient' as they claim (I'm hoping they are).

Good value as it is based on a 2 year contract, and uses minimal data as it is done via a smart hub router thing, which sends data to a portal web based app, where all your energy usage is mapped out on graphs and stuff. The other cool thing is that you can turn off those appliances remotely, as long as you have access to the android/Ios app or internet to the web page.

willcox77
23rd August, 2012 @ 08:10 am PDT
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