Friday, December 17, 2010

Homecamp3, Heating and Disruptive Technologies

Monday 13th December was Homecamp3, held at the Centre for Creative Collaboration, in Acton Road, near to King's Cross station.

For a Monday afternoon/evening event it was fairly well attended with about 40 to 50 present. Many of these were Homecamp regulars, plus a few new faces.

The evening consisted of several interesting presentations on energy, cleantech and interconnectivity, with plenty of beer, wine and pizza which gave the event an informal, social atmosphere.

After James Governor's excellent opening address, first up was Gavin Stark founder of AMEE who described how AMEE were now codifying nearly a million different variables around the world.

Andy Piper, of IBM, Hursley, spoke about MQTT as a means of achieving interconnectivity between physical computing devices, and quoted some examples developed by Andy Stanford Clark, who unfortunately could not attend.

Usman Haque and Ben Pirt of Pachube presented an update on the new features included in the recently released new Pachube API.

Georgina Voss of Tinker London described the first phase Homesense Project - making Arduino technology available to real families and households with the intention of incubating new projects in home energy efficiency and lifestyle change.

Unfortunately, the 8pm deadline for closure of the venue came around all too quickly, and so we quickly re-charged on pizza and retired to the local Queen's Head pub. Regrettably there was not enough time to hear all of the presentations and get around to talking to all the attendees, hopefully Homecamp4 will be a full day event, and less pressurised for time.

Thanks must go to Mike Beardmore @mikethebee and his wife, who organised the venue and were perfect hosts. Additionally to James Governor's firms Redmonk/Greenmonk who sponsored the pizza and drinks.

All in all it was an excellent evening, and just what was needed during these dark days in the run up to Christmas. Hopefully it will have sustained the momentum of the Homecamp movement and given attendees something to think about over the Christmas break.

One of the people I did get to chat to was Simon Daniels, CEO of Moixa Technology

Simon described his low voltage dc household power distribution system. The concept is based on the premise that more and more of our household energy consumption is low voltage dc needed for an ever increasing variety of low wattage electronic devices which fundamentally run on dc, such as consumer electronics and LED lighting. Low voltage dc can efficiently be distributed on a household scale using existing wiring, with surprisingly low cable losses. This eliminates the needs for lossy ac to dc adaptors, and produces a power system which is efficient and compatible with home scale renewable energy devices.

Simon describes how a small window sill mounted pV solar panel, could be installed to many properties, such as flats, where access to the roof is not available, and at a price of £1K to 3k making it more affordable than a full rooftop solar installation. The dc from the solar panel would recharge a lithium battery system and provide sufficient power for the dc distribution system. A small solar panel of perhaps 200W could provide sufficient power to offset between 5% and 15% of the domestic bill.

For this technology to gain momentum, the large manufacturers of electronic goods and appliances need to collaborate on standards for dc supply, cabling and standby switching. A generic dc cable, for example based on a USB cable but with an additional pair of high current contacts to supply the variable voltage dc power. A process similar to USB enumeration would allow the device or appliance to be recognised by a central power controller, and supplied with the correct voltage. The standby modes of many devices, such as microwave ovens, are particularly inefficient, as they need to use 50Hz transformers to provide small amounts of dc power to run the timer or clock functions. By adopting a hybrid system of a dc cable for standby mode and control and a conventional ac connection for high wattage loads, would minimise the standby load to a few tens of mW plus offer the possibility of dynamic demand control. A washing machine with a timed standby mode could be automatically scheduled to run during a time of low grid usage, or the washing heating cycle paused and restarted, on the event of a sudden large demand on the grid.

Moixa will be running field trials in the Spring.

The Moixa technology is an example of a range of disruptive technologies which will ultimately change the way in which we use and pay for energy. Industry analysts have coined the term "Electricity 2.0" to describe the outcome of these changes. When combined with other systems such as smart metering, demand based tarrifing and dynamic demand control of appliances, the package could add up to significant energy savings within the household. Every kWh of electricity saved in the home is 2kWh off the nation's gas bill and more importantly less CO2 and waste heat into the atmosphere.

By introducing an energy storage element into the grid, possibly in the form of wide scale roll-out of Moixa's dc battery system, will allow consumption to be time-shifted out of peak time, and greatly assist in load balancing. Improved load balancing will permit the wider use of intermittent generation technologies such as solar and windpower, plus reducing the wasteful start-stop cycling of conventional generation plant.

With the recent and persistent cold weather, the annual subject of home heating and fuel efficiency has once again come to mind. In the next post I will describe some recent musings.

Stay Warm.

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