In­tel­li­gent elec­tri­city meters? More be­ne­fi­cial things ex­ist (but need im­prove­ment).

In Ger­many you need to in­stall an in­tel­li­gent elec­tri­city meter if you make lar­ger changes to the elec­tri­city in­stall­a­tion in your house (or if you build a new one). At first this sounds in­ter­est­ing. If you look closer, you need to de­cide if you want to laugh or to cry.

Such an in­tel­li­gent elec­tri­city meter is able to dis­play the cur­rent power con­sump­tion in a di­git­al dis­play (if the power con­sump­tion stays the same, you can test with this how much power a spe­cif­ic device needs). It is also able to at­trib­ute the power con­sump­tion to dif­fer­ent times of the day. An op­tion­al fea­ture (here in Ger­many) is the pos­sib­il­ity to trans­fer cap­tured data to the power com­pany. It is not re­quired that the home-​owner is able to see all or even any data from an in­tel­li­gent elec­tri­city meter.

The prom­ises are, that with such a device people could pay less money by us­ing the wash­ing ma­chine or the dish wash­er or sim­il­ar devices dur­ing times when not much people want to use en­ergy.

So far so good, but…

  • My wash­ing ma­chine or dish wash­er are about 1 – 3 years old. We did not buy the cheapest ones, but they do not of­fer to start the wash­ing upon in­put from an ex­tern­al sig­nal or just by ac­tiv­at­ing the power (if they lose power, the chosen wash­ing pro­gram is re­set to the de­fault pro­gram). Am I sup­posed to buy a new one?
  • The power con­sump­tion of all the ne­ces­sary in­fra­struc­ture (di­git­al stuff in the elec­tri­city meter, net­work con­nec­tion to the power com­pany) is not zero, and it is the own­er who has to pay for this.
  • When every­one is wash­ing when not much people want to use en­ergy, a lot of people want to use en­ergy in such mo­ments. It may still help a bit the power com­pan­ies be­cause they do not have to gen­er­ate power (and have ex­penses be­cause of this) which is not used, but I doubt the con­sumer will get a big re­duc­tion then.
  • The dur­a­tion of such power-​surplus times with a re­duced price may not last dur­ing the com­plete time a wash­ing ma­chine needs. It may be even the case that a high-​price time slot may get ac­tiv­ated shortly after (if this is done by (ma­li­cious) in­tent or not is not even rel­ev­ant, as the con­sumer can not do some­thing about it as he is prob­ably sleep­ing when this hap­pens in the night).
  • The power com­pany may be able to get a de­tailed trace of what hap­pens in a house (the own­ers are get­ting up at 11am, only take a shower every two weeks, have prob­ably a big plasma TV which runs all the day, …).
  • I doubt the device is free of se­cur­ity holes or pro­tec­ted enough against eaves­drop­ping (with all the pro­fil­ing im­plic­a­tions, or pos­sib­il­it­ies to ma­nip­u­late the data (pos­it­ively or neg­at­ively) dir­ectly in the device be­fore trans­mis­sion to the power com­pany).
  • I do not think the most in­tel­li­gent and consumer-​friendly devices will come with enough stat­ist­ics or access-​possibilities to really sat­is­fy the con­sumers.

More in­ter­est­ing would oth­er things which could help cut costs. For ex­ample small low-​power net­worked sensors which de­tect if a window/​door is open, the tem­per­at­ure in a room, the out­side tem­per­at­ure, the sun­light in­tens­ity and so on. To­geth­er with some ac­tu­at­ors like for ex­ample to close the win­dow, close the shut­ter, change the heat­ing, turn off lamps and so on, it would provide much more im­me­di­ate be­ne­fit. In a new build­ing, the net­work could be wired, but in an old build­ing the sensors need to be wire­less and battery-​powered.

A pos­sible solu­tion could be done via bluetooth v3 in a mesh net­work (yes, if it is not open source, I would also be scep­tic­al if the com­pany which pro­duces this has enough know­ledge to make it se­cure), polled by a cent­ral sta­tion which could put the sensors in si­lent standby to re­duce the amount of ra­dio pol­lu­tion and in­crease bat­tery life­time. If some of the sensors and ac­tu­at­ors are con­nec­ted (e.g. room tem­per­at­ure and heat­ing ac­tu­at­or plus a clock), you could even let it run in autonom­ous mode (time based heat­ing to a spe­cif­ic tem­per­at­ure) and only need to con­nect to it if there is a spe­cif­ic need. Such a situ­ation could be that the win­dow sensor de­tects an open win­dow, so the heat­ing can be turned off. Or maybe the sun­light in­tens­ity sensor de­tects (or the base sta­tion es­tim­ates) an intensity-​rise of the sun­light, so the heat­ing could be re­duced in ad­vance.

Some­thing like this would give im­me­di­ate be­ne­fit (in com­fort) to those who in­stall it, and in a long-​term view it would/​could cut the costs down a bit.

I am aware of some wire­less sensors/​actuators, but they are re­l­at­ively ex­pens­ive, the ra­dio pol­lu­tion (and type) is un­known to me, and the pro­tocol is not open, so I do not know if it is se­cure and how to im­prove things I do not like.

Any­one with enough hard­ware know­ledge and open source/​hardware spir­it out there to pro­duce a mod­u­lar base for sensors/​actuators (bluetooth + I/​O for sensros/​actuators/​pc-​connection + con­trol­er)?

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