What’s wasting power at home? Ask your app!

What’s wasting power at home? Ask your app!
Photo: Bryce Vickmark

Scientists from MIT have developed a device and software that calculates total power being used by each appliance in the home. The device is affordable and calculates precisely. The main aim of the designing system is to keep complete information inside user’s own home. It removes privacy concerns that potential users may have when considering the power-monitoring system. The detailed information depends on exclusive user’s requirement or interests. It can be supported by customized apps that can be developed using MIT team’s system.

As compare to other approaches, this novel device has some key advantages. They are like:

  • It does not need any complex installation process.
  • No wires need to be disconnected.
  • The system is designed to be self-calibrating.
  • It models data very quickly. Thus, the sensors can gather enough detailed information about spikes and patterns in the voltage and current that the system can.
  • Tell the difference between every different kind of light, motor, and another device in the home.

After testing, results show that it can reduce energy as well as greenhouse gas emissions. One result at a military base, used for training exercises shows that large tents were being heated all day during winter, even though they were unused for most of the daytime hours. That means a huge waste of fuel and money. Another test installation, in a home, found an anomalous voltage pattern that revealed a wiring flaw that caused some copper plumbing pipes to carry a potentially dangerous live voltage.

Steven Leeb, MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering, said, “For a long time, the declaration has been that if we could get access to better information (energy use), we will capable of making some significant savings.”

First was the ability to control voltage and current changes without cutting the main power line to a home or business or plugging every appliance into a special monitoring device. Other groups have attempted to use wireless sensors to pick up the very faint magnetic and electric fields near a wire. But such systems needs a complicated adjustment process since the fields in some places can cancel each other out. The team overcomes this problem by using an array of five sensors. Each sensor is slightly balanced from the others. The calibration system tracks the readings from each sensor and detects which one is positioned to give the strongest signal.

The next trick was in detecting how to gather lots of data flowing from high-speed sensors. This is done to catch out which bits corresponds to voltage and current and how that information will be used to detect signatures of particular appliances. It’s possible because each device has unique characteristics. After large testing, the team is able to develop a catalog of such signatures to detect all kind of electrical load.

After large raw data generated by the system, the team had to detect how to extract the detail information. They then show in such way that would make it easy for people to make decisions about energy investments. They developed an interface that allows users to “zoom in” on specific time segments.

Leeb said, “A bunch of major players has gotten into, and out of, this field including giants like Google and Microsoft. But now, we solved the key issues and come up with a practical and very powerful system. We had the major insights of keeping most of the data within the home and sending only small subsets out into the cloud for processing solved two problems at once. First is, it removes the privacy concerns of using such a system. And another one, it removed the huge bandwidth and data transmission costs that would be required if the raw data was sent to a central facility. “

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John Donnal, coauthor said, “Once the system has been developed as a commercial product, it will cost only $25 to $30 per home. Still,we are trying to minimize installation barriers. This noncontact sensor is simple enough for most home users to install on their own. It just goes on with a zip tie.”

According to William Singleton, “It is a superior example of how theoretical scientific and mathematical principles can be brought to bear on the real world, practical, problem-solving applications. By using team’s sensing system essential savings in energy resources can be done. Hence, this will provide maximum options for battlefield commander in accomplishing his mission. This is done by eliminating the whole base camp logistics footprint, and ultimately save lives of warfighters involved in base camp sustainment and resupply.” (William Singleton is an engineer at the U.S. Army Fort Devens Base Camp Integration Laboratory.)

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