Smart Sensors for Smart Homes

13 December, 2010 - 14:14

Smart Grids is a popular concept and lots of people are talking about the revolution that will be needed to cope with the construction of these smart electrical grids. SICS has developed a comprehensive picture of what is required at the end of the line, that is to say with the private end user. In a three-year project financed by the Swedish Energy Agency, SICS is investigating together with SUST (Sustainable Innovation) the possibilities of "smart houses" from an energy-saving perspective.

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The project was initiated less than a year ago and already by the summer, during Almedal's week in Visby, a demonstration house with functioning systems for smart energy savings was exhibited. The project has a rather boring name - "System-wide IT network for increased energy efficiency in housing" - but the content is very exciting. What we are discussing here is the future of energy regulation at the end consumer level; that is to say, to the benefit of everybody.The name "system-wide" involves opening up different subsystems so they can actually share and use information with each other. Today, it is not possible for an alarm to affect the temperature control system nor is it possible to see the indoor temperature from your TV. They use different ways of communicating, something that SICS has solved in an elegant way."In the world of automation there a many different ways to communicate," explains Joakim Eriksson. "To avoid managing all these protocols, we have chosen to use IP throughout. This means that in certain cases, we have to adapt some devices that still do not handle IP, but most of the time, we try to find alternatives that already support IP. The advantage with IP is that there is support for IP in all programming environments, there are good support tools and all users and developers already use it, for example for the Internet, IP-TV, IP-telephony etc."Today, IPv4 is mainly used for data traffic over the Internet, even though this standard is under dimensioned and the addresses are simply running out. The new alternative, IPv6, was developed over ten years ago, but it has not really made a breakthrough, calculations show that as little as 1% of all Internet traffic uses IPv6. The system being developed by SICS communicates directly via IPv4 as well as IPv6."Since the Western World has already commandeered nearly all the IPv4 addresses, it is mainly the developing countries that today have a greater share of IPv6 traffic," explains Joakim. "With IPv6, there are in practice an infinite number of addresses available, which means that our system is well prepared for broad utilization and expansion in many different ways."Joakim Eriksson forecasts a future where all electronic equipment in the home, such as for example TV, stereo, cooker, fridge, freezer will have their own IP address. "We will reach all gadgets with IP. In our demonstration house, we used small sensor nodes that measured parameters such as energy consumption, temperature and light and thereby we could demonstrate how a regulation system for the whole house functions."The basic concept behind the SICS system is that it will include a certain level of automation. Today, there are plenty of solutions that only consist of a display showing the energy consumption. It is up to the user to change his or her behavior. Such systems, according to some studies, can reduce energy consumption by as much as 25%. However, this assumes the user is active and continues to steer his or her consumption, something that is not at all certain."As a rule, it is difficult to show how much is really saved and the commitment often diminishes after a while," says Joakim. "Moreover, if you do not have direct resistive electric heating, then the heating is not included in such a system."The heating is decisive for the energy consumption; heating and hot water consume the most energy and it is this that has to be controlled irrespective of type. To optimize the consumption and create permanent improvements requires more than visualization. In the model with which SICS is working, all information is collected - even that related to the heating - and thereafter the equipment is controlled automatically.The next step for the work group at SICS, together with SUST, is to carry out a number of pilot installations of fully functioning systems in normal homes. The technology is developed and functions, now remains the extensive work with testing and evaluation."We are out early with test runs of this type of system," concludes Joakim Eriksson. "The IP standard creates the preconditions for simpler and cheaper equipment and more effective communications. In time, our aim is for totally automatic, intelligent systems that do not just help us reduce energy consumption but also improve the dwelling environment."Photo of the Smart Home demonstration at Almedalen, Visby, by Joachim Lindborg, SUST.