Lower Costs Thanks to Smart Plugs

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© 2012 Alain Herzog
© 2012 Alain Herzog

Residents of a new eco-development on the coast can better control and understand their energy usage, thanks to a system that allows outlets to communicate with each other through the power grid.

Glancing at one’s daily consumption of energy would lead to usage that is more reasonable and less greedy. Such a challenge gave birth to eSMART. This EPFL spin-off is in the process of installing its system of smart plugs in 450 apartments in the Eikenøtt neighborhood, developed by Losinger-Marazzi in Gland. Interconnected plugs transmit their data to software that displays real-time expenditures of water, heat, and electricity on a touch screen. An indicator turns red when consumption is abnormally high. The display responds as soon as a unit is turned off.

What is the secret to this new energy management system? It is a small module that fits behind the outlets and enables them to communicate with each other through the power grid. "Other systems exist," says Laurent Fabre, co-founder of the start-up, "but this technology from the Electronics Lab at EPFL has the advantage of ensuring implementation that is both simple and fast, all without creating additional electromagnetic waves." If one of the modules were to stop working, the others would continue to function undisturbed.

A Fun and Easy System

With the flick of a finger, the user can see consumption of hot water, heating, electricity, as well as overall expenditures of energy or water. Each selection can be viewed by day, week, or month. It is also possible to compare to the average consumption per capita of the district, the Swiss average, or even one’s own consumption from the previous week... This equals plenty of ways to become mindful of the use of resources. The device even announces the provisional amount of the monthly bill in pursuit of meeting a household-specific spending target. Fun to use, it offers several other attractive features that integrate its use into everyday life. The news, local events, bus timetables, weather, an intercom, and even customizable virtual post-it notes are integrated into the system.

In the Concept of the Eco-Neighborhood

Intelligent energy management fits into the overall concept and trend of the eco-quarter. The term refers to housing that tries to balance, as much as possible, various environmental issues, with the goal of reducing a building’s impact on nature by controlling energy consumption, managing movement, and promoting social diversity. Construction materials and sites are closely monitored to minimize the impact on the environment.

As noted by Stéphane Montfort, project leader for Losinger-Marazzi, "the eSmart outlets are integrated into a broad concept and are intended to prove their effictiveness in the long term." Training sessions and discussions with residents will be organized to follow the impact of the eSmart system on the energy behaviors of individuals. "If each person in Switzerland reduced energy usage by 15 to 20 percent, that would amount to an annual savings equal to the production of a nuclear facility such as Müleberg," said Fabrizio Lo Conte.

An Extension of the Home Automation System

A consumer version of the eSmart outlet system is about to be placed on the market. The interface can be accessed remotely from any media connected to the Internet. In the short term, the system will also integrate home automation functions. Each user can check power consumption, turn a lamp on or off, control blinds and remote devices, and even decide to dim the lights in certain rooms. In cases of the failure of one of the appliances, such as a fridge or heater, the user is notified via SMS.