Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP)

It will be interesting to watch the progress on artificial photosynthesis.

“The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), to be led by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), will bring together leading researchers in an ambitious effort aimed at simulating nature’s photosynthetic apparatus for practical energy production. The goal of the Hub is to develop an integrated solar energy-to-chemical fuel conversion system and move this system from the bench-top discovery phase to a scale where it can be commercialized.”

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:

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,

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

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):

Look at the proliferation of bogus videos on YouTube:

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,, 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:

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:

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:

SolarChill – a solar PV refrigerator without battery

Solar Chill

Solar Chill

This is a refrigeration unit made primarily for storing vaccines in 3rd world countries where it is difficult to find refrigeration units to keep the vaccines chilled.

SolarChill still costs about $1500 but it is expected that the price will drop as the technology advances.

It works by generating ice in the daytime while solar is available and then using the ice for cooling at night.  This means you don’t need a battery to store energy.

It can also run off of other energy sources such as wind or from energy off of the grid.

Can’t wait until we can all have these.

The patent has been made public.  Here is a document describing how it works.

GreenVolts – Concentrating Photovoltaic

GreenVolts Logo

GreenVolts is a company that specializes in concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) systems.  They deliver the solution as a 3 kW, two-axis tracker called a CarouSol.  Basically it is a module about 20 feet wide that stands about 3 feet high and supports a number of mirrors (the light concentrators) which focus the sunlight onto specialized PV cells.

They focus on utility scale power generation.

Bay Area Companies – Alt Energy Management

I’m looking at companies in the Bay Area that are involved in alternative energy products.  My initial search indicates that most companies are involved in commercial buildings and larger projects.  Some are installers, most are sales organization.

My interest is to find a local (East Bay) organization that develops software for residential energy monitoring and management.  Hopefully I can find some meaningful work.