Archive for category Sustainability

Physical dashboard devices – Eh!

According to this article by Katie Fehrenbacher at Gigaom, the developers of home energy management systems have figured it out that there’s no future in dedicated dashboard devices when you have a marketplace full of iPhones, Android phones, iPads and other tablet devices.

The dedicated dashboard devices would be able to display various conditions of your home energy system, your local weather, etc., and to control devices in the home.   But now that we have Android phones and iPads, these new devices can access the web and use either native web pages or specialized apps.

It’s a no brainer.   Have a web based system as the default UI and provide specialized apps for hand held controls.

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Tendril's Hybrid-HAN

Tendril has a post on their blog that talks about an emerging style of energy monitoring connectivity that they are calling a Hybrid-HAN (home area network).  It envisions a dual network, one that utilizes a the Utility’s smart meter and a second provided b y the consumer; a wifi router, for example.  They figure this is a good thing because it will unburden the smart meter from the growing list of sensors and controls that will become more popular as consumers learn to understand the benefits of monitoring their home environment.

The consumer side of the system uses something called the ZigBee Smart Energy Profile.  Not sure about the Smart Energy Profile but Zigbee is a well known low power wireless protocol that I’ve been experimenting with for a low power, inexpensive monitoring system.  Each Zigbee (aka xBee) module can transmit or receive signals that cover most residential buildings and costs about $20.

Interestingly the image shows the data from the consumers gateway (basically a specialized router) being fed back to the utility company but I’m not sure that’s the way it will play out.

In the future, data locality will not be so crucial.  There are always concerns about this or that silo of data that stands alone and unaccessible from external sites.  But as we grow to understand the benefits of shared data, any system will be able to aggregate date from any other system (with proper authentication of course).

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Earth Hour

Today was Earth Hour day where people from all over the world call for action on climate changing policies by turning out as many lights as possible for at least one hour of the evening.  Check out their video:

Visit their site: http://www.myearthhour.org/

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Bloom Box

Bloom Energy's "Energy Server"

Bloom Energy's "Energy Server"

I’m not sure I’m convinced that the Bloom Box, featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes last week, is a reasonable answer to our power issues, but is sounds interesting.  And, after 8 years in development and $400m in VC funding and some actual systems in place at Google and Wal-Mart (customers), it seems there’s no looking back for the Bloom Energy’s Bloom Box.

What is the Bloom Box.  It is essentially a fuel cell that uses natural gas and special low cost components.  The fuel cell itself looks like an 8″ stack of CDs but the power unit, the Bloombox or Energy Server, is about the size of 2 refrigerators; and costs about $700,000-$800,000.  Each!  The installation at Google’s campus looked like they had about 20-30 units.  That’s a good start against the $400m investment.

Of course the outrageous price might be likened to the $10,000 PCs that are now many times more powerful and cost on the order of $500.  So what costs hundreds of thousands of dollars now might be a few thousand dollars in, oh, perhaps 20 years?

The promise of a Bloombox is that someday we can have our own Bloombox next to the AC unit on the side of our house and be completely free of the grid; except…  we will still need natural gas to power the fuel cell.

Call me cynical, but for now I’m a bit skeptical.  We will still need to pay for natural gas (the old fuel), we still need to pay for a bloombox (whenever it comes down to being affordable by people like me), and because of the VC investment, they’re sure to have all the patents locked down.  It’s unlikely therefore that we can go buy a knock-off “Boombox”.

I think it’s interesting that they’re calling the box a “Power Server”.  Great marketing.

Here’s a flash presentation from Bloom Energy’s site about how the fuel cell works:
http://bloomenergy.com/products/solid-oxide-fuel-cell-animation/

Good Review: blog.mapawatt.com/2010/02/21/bloom-box-an-unveiling-of-the-fuel-cell-future/

Another view: cleantechblog.com/2010/02/saving-cleantech-bloom-town-silicon.html

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Who owns your thermostat?

Once the smart meters have replaced your old analog power meters the next step is access to the appliances in your house allowing your power provider to control when you use those appliances.

Interesting to think about….

Here’s an interesting post on Home Energy:
http://www.homeenergy.org/blog.php?id=30&blog_title=Who_controls_your_thermostat?

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Computerized Electricity Systems

Computerized Electricity Systems has a software/hardware home energy solution that tracks energy usage in a residential setting.  They offer a replacement electrical panel that allows for monitoring of energy usage within the various breakout lines of the house wiring.  They also provide a software tool, a portal, for displaying the energy being used.

System prices range from $600-$3000 depending on the options.

Residential Diagram

C.E.S. System

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Tenrehte's PICOwatt

Announced at CES 2010, this is a wifi enabled device that sits between a house appliance and the wall socket.  It has a small linux based OS and web site so you can access each device via a web interface.

It can monitor the energy use as well as control the device so it does a lot.  Sadly, it it said to cost about $80 each.

TOO Expensive. Seems like a low tech Kill-a-Watt ($20) and a spreadsheet would still be more efficient.

News | Tenrehte Technologies, Inc. | USA.

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Energy Dashboards

I’m interested in software development for home energy management systems.  The most efficient software delivery platform would take the form of a Dashboard.

The “Dashboard” is a software version of what you see behind the steering wheel of your car.  It has taken on the term to mean a software application, often in a web page, that has meters and dials to display, in a meaningful way, various things in the real world; like the weather, volatile stock prices, air quality, traffic, and all manner of things that warrant monitoring.

I’ve been looking at some providers of Home Energy Management Dashboards (and perhaps the energy generated).  This is some of what I’ve found:

I first saw the design from Lucid Design Group at the David Brower Center building in Berkeley. It’s an amazing building and their dashboard software shows the status of the buildings various systems.  You can see a live demo here: http://buildingdashboard.com/clients/brower/

Lucid Design Group has what they call a “Starter Kit” for commercial and residential use.  The basic starter kit for commercial use comes with a single current monitor (requires an electrician to install the hardware) and costs $10,000.  I think I read that the residential system goes for $7,500 but I couldn’t find that again.

Greenbox comes from some folks originally involved in the development of Flash technology, so I expect they would use Flash for their Dashboard.  Their web site describes the various components of their consumer dashboard; brief overview of your energy usage, daily patterns that affect your electricity usage, categorize your electricity usage, calculates your carbon footprint based upon your energy usage profile, compare your usage anonymously with other homes like yours, etc.  They don’t seem to have it finished yet so I don’t know how much it costs.  I did sign up to be notified when they’re ready.

Agilewaves has a residential offering and it seems they have the ability to track devices and appliances within the home.  They can track electric, gas and water use, temperature/humidity, output from solar PV, performance of solar or geo-thermal water heating, indoor air quality, and provide accurate consumption and carbon footprint information in real-time.  They also have an OEM offering.

Again there is no pricing information but you can call them to discuss the istallation.

Tendril has an offering  that sits between your utility company and your house, .  Their system has a browser based Internet dashboard that enables you to monitor, manage and control the energy consumption and each of the smart devices in your home.  However they only sell to the utilities so each page that describes their products has the following:

This product is not currently available in retail stores, please contact your utility to get smart energy in your home today.

Their hardware uses wireless zigbee technology and they have a device that plugs inline to an appliance which makes possible to monitor and possibly switch a specific device  on/off.  They have display devices that show system energy stats, they have a air conditioning thermostat control and devices to boost the wireless signals and to connect the signal to the internet.

On the site the monitoring functions are promoted to the utility companies as a way to track customer usage and to be able to influence customer usage based on demographics collected about energy use.

As far as I can tell they only have agreements with Reliant in Houston and Tucson Electric Power.  You might want to call your utility company and see if they’re working with Tendril.

There are some hardware based monitoring devices that don’t have a web portal but instead show the stats in a small display.  Examples of these are DIY Kyoto, Onzo, and The Energy Detective (TED). These are all in the range of about $100 – $200.

Overall the web based portal systems that reflect energy use, energy generation and other home statistics are generally too expensive.  The systems that depend on the utility companies’ smart meter offerings have the problem of allowing too much knowledge of the internal, personal energy useage.  Too much big brother for my taste.

What we need…

…is a series of inexpensive devices based on the zigbee wireless protocol which relay the energy usage to a modified router (or a simple PC) that then transmits that usage data to a secured web portal.  The inline devices should be priced in the range of $10 each for simple data aquisition and $20 each for data and on/off control.  These devices should be placed on all significant appliances, light switches, etc.  Consumers could then monitor very specific usage within their private, secured web portal and changes made in the portal should be reflected in the devices.

This could thought of as a sort of a mashup between the Kill-A-Watt, Zigbee (think Tweet-A-Watt), X10 appliance modules and a web services portal.  Also look at the framework by ioBridge.

For inspiration, check out this site in the Netherlands, bWired.nl.

Please let me hear from you if you know of any other dashboard monitoring systems for residential use.

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Internet Noise and Energy Scammers

I search the Internet for organizations that are focused on energy management.  Posts here on the blog reference interesting ideas and get posted on to my twitter account.  Occasionally on my twitter account, I get followers purporting to have some information about free energy.  Following these links has led to more than a handful of bogus sites, interconnected, that offer some kind of information (books, videos), for a fee, which will help you create your own cheap, or free energy.

These some of the sites I’ve found:

Here are YouTube videos (which point to of their site,s Earth4Energy):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJUN1CTn1r8
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYeynLy6pj8&feature=related

Look at the proliferation of bogus videos on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=earth4energy&search_type=&aq=f

Doing a Google search for one of the people referenced in the sites, Michael Harvey, reveals many sites about scams but these scammers have done their homework.  In order to counter the negative sites, they’ve flooded the Internet with positive and/or neutral reviews.  Unbelievably, they’ve even got a site that looks like it might be a site about their scams,  http://www.earth4energyscam.org, which is actually one of their sites.

I did find a site by a guy named Peter Parsons who has done some comprehensive research on these folks:

http://www.nlcpr.com/Deceptions6.php

Interestingly he also sells a book about how to slash your energy costs so you should even be skeptical of him.  His site seems legitimate and he has an interesting blog with meaningful information.  This post speaks to the issues I am talking about: http://nlcpr.com/blog/?p=17

The Internet noise by these scammers is spread through what is known as affiliate marketing; not unlike Google AdSense.  You’ll also see a lot of Google ads on these sites, so they’re making a bit on click-throughs. More sites means more click-throughs.

With all of the frustration over high energy costs, solar PV being so expensive for example, it is a crying shame that folks like this flood the Internet with scams claiming to provide the answers to cheap/free energy.

Bogus twitter accounts:

Move2Green, GreenEnergy2day, AlternativeERG, homesolarpower6, NaturalEnergyHQ, makecleanenergy, WilburKilroy

Updates, as I find more:

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Smart phone powered by offset weight

Ulysse Nardin Chairman hybrid smart phone

Remember the old mechanical watches that used to wind up by wrist motion?  They utilized an offset weight that spun around inside the watch and slowly but surely kept the watch wound up.  Well here’s a cell hone that does the same thing.  I’m sure it’s expensive.

What other items could we power this way?

Ref: http://www.uncells.com

Found here: http://blog.longnow.org/2009/09/03/mechanical-cell-phone/

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