Tag Archives: electricity

Verv Shows Where Your Energy Goes



London-based firm Green Running have launched Verv, a home energy assistant that uses AI technology to automatically figure out which appliances are running and how much they’re costing. It’s clever stuff and they’ve got 6 patents to prove it.

The UK’s smart meter programme has taken a bit of hammering in the press recently with The Register covering the debacle along with a healthy dose of cynicism. In agreement, Peter Davies, CEO & Founder of Green Running points out, “Smart Meters are being rolled out across homes but they simply don’t provide enough detail to tell the consumer what is actually costing them money. They just provide a total cost of your electricity usage. We are able to sample data at extremely high frequencies enabling us to read the ‘energy signature’ of individual electrical appliances. This means we can show the user in real time how much their appliances are costing them, in addition to an array of other functions such as alerting them if an appliance is deteriorating or if they’ve left something on.

Being able to tell which appliances are electricity is handy, especially if it reveals when an older unit is consuming too much power either through slow failure or that newer models consume far less.

Verv doesn’t need to be installed by an electrician – there’s no fiddling with electricity here. Simply, there’s three parts. A Verv hub, a sensor clamp that goes round the main power cable, and an app for both iOS and Android. The only snag I can see from the installation video, is the hub needs a power socket near the meter.

Verv is electricity supplier neutral too and it doesn’t matter who supplies the power. In fact, it’s probably a good way to check that the supplier is billing correctly as 60% of consumers don’t understand their utility bills.

Integration with Amazon Alexa is touted on the web site though there’s no detail at present on what features might be supported in the skill. There’s also no mention of an interface to any smart home gear, such as Samsung SmartThings, but I would imagine that’s on the priority list as Verv’s competitor, Smappee, is already there. IFTTT would be good too but it’s early days.

Verv is currently open for pre-orders at GB£249 with delivery expected in the autumn (the website says October, the press release says November…)


Pushing Power Back into The Grid



Phase Two Array ResizeI have always been fascinated by solar power. There’s something quite intriguing about the idea of simple sunlight hitting a solar panel and instantly producing electricity.

Home solar systems can take a few different forms. There are power backup systems that require the use of battery storage, as well as systems that allow people the luxury of electricity that live completely off-grid. Today, the most popular form of solar by far is known as grid-tie or Net Metering.

Grid-tie Net Metering

With grid-tie net metering solar power systems, no batteries are used. Grid-tied solar panels feed power back directly into the public electrical grid and can actually make the power meter run backwards. The more solar panels integrated into the system, the more potential power can be fed back into the connected electric grid. Power bills can either be reduced, or in some cases, completely zeroed out, depending on local electric power company policies.Solar Phase One

Solar panels produce DC or direct current. The power grid is AC or alternating current. Therefore, to sell power back to the electric utility, it is necessary to convert the DC power coming from solar panels into AC so it can be fed into the power grid. This is accomplished with DC to AC power inverters.Inverters Resize

I recently visited a home solar system installation where the home owner has been slowly expanding his net metering system over the past seven years. He initially began seven years ago with forty-three 100 watt 12 volt solar panels, placed on top of his workshop.

With this first system, it was necessary for him to run wires down the length of the interior roof to a bank of mounted micro-inverters that needed to be protected from the weather. One of the lessons he learned from this initial installation was that lengthy wires carrying 12 volt DC results in power loss. The longer the lines, the more the efficiency drops. Higher voltages don’t experience as much line loss.

The best way around this problem is to mount weatherproof micro-inverters directly to the backs of the solar panels. Once the power is converted to 120 volts AC, the length of the wires to the grid connection point are somewhat less critical because the voltage is higher.Grid Tie Inverter Resize

With the second phase of his foray into solar, he built a rack on a metal pole complete with a sun tracking mechanism that he built and wrote control software for himself. The rack contains nine higher efficiency 280 watt 24 volt panels with weather proof micro-inverters attached to the backs of the panels.

The weatherproof micro-inverters are of a modular design that can allow additional inverters to be plugged in to the to the system. The rack-mounted system produces as much power as the workshop roof-mounted panels, even though they have less surface area, primarily because they are higher-efficiency panels.Solar Porch Canopy

He is currently working on phase three of his system, which consists of panels that form a sort of porch canopy over the garage door entrance to his workshop.These are also 280 watt panels, each with its own micro-inverter. He is in the process of slowly adding additional panels to continue expanding his overall system capacity.Meter Output

At the moment when I took this picture of the system output meter, the total output was about 5.4 kilowatts.

A great way to learn more about solar panels, inverters and net metering is YouTube. Good search terms include solar power, grid-tie, and inverter.

Many recreational vehicle enthusiasts have developed a strong interest in attaching solar panels and power inverters to their RV’s, which can allow them to have a measure of generator-free and thus noise-free AC power and engage in extended off-grid camping.


Making Solar Pay



I have always been fascinated by the idea of generating my own electric power. Back in late 1998 I installed a solar power system that has sixteen 75 watt solar panels, along with a 4,000 watt power inverter/charger and a bank of expensive deep-cycle batteries.  Mention solar power, and most people think that all of these elements are necessary, including the expensive bank of batteries.

It turns out there is a much better way to think of home solar energy – use solar energy equipment strictly to push power back into the electric company utility grid. Batteries should never be considered to be part of a solar installation unless utility power just isn’t available, say in a remote location. Battery technology is an albatross when it comes to being able to store enough power to meet real-world needs.

If electric grid power is available, there are only two elements necessary – the arrays of solar panels, and what are called grid-tie inverters. In this battery-free scenario, the math of pushing power back to the utility to offset electrical use becomes much more interesting.

Power companies in the United States are required by law to “buy back” consumer-generated power. A grid-tie inverter takes the DC power being generated by the solar panels, inverts it into AC power, and then sends it back directly into the grid via a standard AC power plug plugged in to a regular 110 volt outlet. It is possible to have more than one grid-tie inverters, which also come in different sizes.

The relatively high-end inverter that I have is capable of producing 4,000 watts sustained output. So, if I wanted to push 4,000 watts back into the electric company utility grid, I would need at least two more arrays of solar panels feeding DC current into the inverter.

In my case, the batteries died within about the first three to four years. I simply turned the equipment off and my youngest brother sold the battery carcasses to a battery recycler. The equipment sat dormant until yesterday. A friend that does solar as a hobby helped me check the inverter and get it up and running again. I contacted my electric company and they sent a man out this afternoon to look over and approve my system, an absolutely necessary step. So the net effect is that now whenever there is daylight, the inverter is pushing power back into the grid. Obviously the maximum amount of power is generated when the solar panels are in direct sunlight.

The electric company performed a test of the inverter to make sure that if there is a grid power failure that the inverter automatically cuts off its own output. This is quite critical to the power company, because they want to be absolutely certain that in case of a grid power failure, no user-generated AC current is being fed back into the downed power lines.

I was able to verify that my inverter was pushing power back into the grid by turning off all internal breakers in my house so that no power was being used. At that point I looked at the power meter out on the utility pole and it was actually running backwards! Of course, in normal operation with different things consuming electricity in the house it is unlikely it will run backwards much, but it will be slowed somewhat.

My local electric company is a rural electric cooperative and they actually encourage customers to set up these types of “selling” consumer-generating power systems. It helps them reduce peak demand, thus reducing the need for more electrical generating capacity on the utility’s side. Solar panels are generating electricity at peak capacity when peak demand is likely to occur when air conditioning demands are at their highest.

Can a system like this ever pay for itself? It depends on the initial cost of the equipment, installation expenses, and how long of a payback period you are able to live with. If you can do most of the installation work yourself, then obviously the math works better. Eliminating the batteries really helps the cost come down.

An HQRP 1,000 watt grid-tie inverter sells for $287.95 on Amazon.Com. Aleko brand 75-watt solar panels sell for  $149 dollars each. Sixteen of these solar panels multiplies out to $2,384 dollars. With brackets, wiring and installation let’s estimate a total package price of $4,000, which may or may not be wildly off one way or the other. The 1,000 watt electrical output of the inverter would have to offset $4,000 dollars worth of electricity over a period of years before it would pay for itself, which is likely a long period of years. If the price of the equipment and installation can be brought down, then the payback period shortens.

My electric company will only allow this type of setup to function as an offset. So, let’s say that someone was putting more power back into the grid than they were actually consuming. My power company will never issue a check for the power, so it’s really just an offset for how much I consume. With enough equipment feeding power back into the grid, it would be possible to bring electrical grid usage down to zero.

Many local and state governments offer tax rebates for new solar equipment installations, which could also help mitigate the cost.

The beauty of a battery-free grid-tie solar user-generated power system feeding into the electrical grid is that once it is initially set up, everything happens automatically. Since I already have the equipment and it is long since paid for, I might as well be utilizing it to offset a portion of my power usage.


EnerGenie Saving Money and Energy



Power EnerGenie makes products that helps you keep track of how much electricity you are using in your home and ways to control that usage. The basic product is a socket that plugs into the wall. You can then control any device that is plugged into it by your iPad or iPhone; turning the device on or off, setting a timer for either reoccurring or single phase. It can measures how much electricity is being used by individual devices. You can use it to do a cost relationship analysis. You can also compare how much is being used in the daytime and nighttime.

They also sell a Power Management System which you can set up either via USB or wirelessly. You can program it so each plug turns off and on different times. You can also group plugs together, so for example when you turn on your TV, your blu-ray player would come on. They are also going to be selling a portable charger which handles up to 40,000 mAh. The charger will be available at the end of Q2 for $250.00. The socket and power management systems are $50.00 and $150 respectively and are available now through Amazon and the Energenie website.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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How Much will that New Electronic Toy Add to Your Electric Bill?



energy calculator Many people are going to be buying and getting new big screen TVs,  computers and other electronic gear  for Christmas and Hanukkah. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to calculate how much these devices will add to your electric bill.  Even if you are not getting any new devices, it is winter in the northern hemisphere which means you are probably spending more times indoors. Watching TV, playing video games and working on computers. This leads to the inevitable higher electric bill.

There are tricks you can use to lower your bill. However first you need to figure how much you are using. This is where the Consumer Electronic Energy Calculator created by the Consumer Electronic Association comes in. The calculator is now available at the GreenerGadget. The calculator is very easy to use. It is divided into various categories, computing, entertainment, home office, digital imaging and telecommunication. Under each category the appropriate devices are listed. You simply move the device you have or want into appropriate room on the diagram. It will ask you how many you have and how often you use it. It will also give energy tip for each item. Once you have added all your items it will calculate your energy usage. It will let you compare your usage to the average American household. It will also show you which category is using the most energy. With this information you can then start making changes on how you use your devices and save some money on your electric bill.  If you have a website and want to encourage your readers to be more green you can download a free widget from the GreenerGadget and add it to your website


Verbatim Demos LED Bulbs at The Gadget Show



Verbatim LED LightsVerbatim are best known for their data storage products and I can remember having piles of Verbatim floppy disks back in the day, as it were. Younger readers will know the company for blank DVDs, memory cards and USB memory sticks but Verbatim have recently launched an LED lighting business.

Offering direct plug-in replacements, the goal is to encourage consumers to replace existing incandescent lights with LED-based equivalents. The power savings can be considerable with 60 W bulbs being replaced by LEDs closer to 10 W in power.

Verbatim LED Lighting Demo

At The Gadget Show Live, Ian tells me more about Verbatim’s LED lighting products and why we should all switch over.


Green Plug Brings Control to AC-DC Conversion



Green Plug LogoAs energy prices rise and green credentials come under scrutiny, each step in the energy path is being examined for inefficiency. Andy and Courtney listen to Paul Panepinto from Green Plug on their technology.

Green Plug have developed a digital controller to optimise the conversion of electricity between AC and DC. For the non-engineers, AC (alternative current)  is what is in your wall socket and DC (direct current) is what most of your gadgets use. All those power bricks and wall warts are transformers combined with AC to DC converters to change 110 V AC to 12V / 5V DC.

Green Plug has pioneered the use of intercommunicating digital power and load processors to optimise the AC-to-DC power conversion and increase efficiency. It’s an area that has been typically overlooked in power management but Green Plug has reduced the implementation cost to make the inclusion of the technology cost-effective. Over the next few years, it’s likely that this technology will start to appear laptop and phone chargers, so keep an eye out for it.

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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Allure Energy Intelligent Thermostat with Proximity Control



Allure Energy graphicAllure Energy introduced their latest energy management product, EverSense, at CES 2012. Andy learns how to save money on your electricity bill from Kevin, Allure Energy.

Allure Energy’s EverSense, a thermostat replacement technology, is based around a tablet device that can make intelligent energy decisions on your behalf. The proximity control feature raises or lowers the temperature in your based on how far away you are from your home. By using a GPS app on your iPhone (or Android smartphone) that sends back your location, EverSense knows where you and if you are coming home, it adjusts the temperature to your preferences. Cool.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net.

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GreenWave Reality Smart Home Services



GreenWave Reality LogoTodd interviews Greg Memo from GreenWave Reality, a global innovator in the emerging smart home services market including home monitoring and elderly care. On show is their home energy management solution that uses wireless (ZigBee) plug-in devices to monitor and control power consumption.

The system is not just limited to power management as other remote monitoring and control technologies such as lighting and video can be included. The complementary iPad app allows the homeowner to select individual rooms within the property and make adjustments if necessary – for example, a thermostat could be turned down or the timings changed to alter when the heat comes on.

The overall solution won a CES 2012 Innovations Award so congratulations to GreenWave. Available now, starting from $200.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast network.

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GE Nucleus for Home Energy Management



Andy and Tom interview Elizabeth Kurfess, Product Manager for General Electric on GE Nucleus, a home energy management system. As utilities start to install smart meters on the outside of homes, the Nucleus unit wireless communicates with the smart meter to bring information on power consumption and tariffs into the home, allowing the homeowner to make intelligent decisions about the use of electrical power.

The information held in Nucleus can be shown on the homeowner’s PC or smartphone so that a real-time view of power consumption can be seen.

Nucleus can also connect to GE’s Brillion-enabled household appliances (white goods) to get information on consumption and instruct the appliance to stop or start depending on price. For example, a tumble dryer could be told to start drying once the cheap rate cuts in or stop if an expensive tariff comes on-line.

Wireless communication uses the Zigbee specification to pass the information between the appliances, the smart meter and the Nucleus. Information comes from the meter every15 seconds. Unfortunately, not every smart meter uses Zigbee – each manufacturer is different.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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