Tag Archives: energy

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…)


SolarGaps Launch on Kickstarter



SolarGaps combine venetian blinds with solar panels to keep interiors cools and generate electricity. Easily mounted on the exterior of a property over windows, the SolarGaps smart blinds are a clever solution that’s available to all homeowners, not just those with roofs.

Todd interviewed Erik from SolarGaps at CES this year and as predicted, the products are now on Kickstarter for delivery in September. The campaign seems to be going well, with nearly 95% funding and 23 days to go – I think they’ll hit their target. There are different sizes available but for indicative purposes, a 3′ by 3′ blind costs US$390, which is 50% off the suggested retail price.

As smart blinds, the SolarGaps can do clever things, such as altering their angle to maximise sunlight on the panels, or automatically opening if someone comes into the room. SolarGaps integrates seamlessly with smartphones, Google Home, Amazon Echo, and the Nest Thermostat. It can either feed electricity back into the grid or into a battery system like the Tesla Powerwall. The SolarGaps generate about 100W per square metre.

Looks like a great “gen 1” implementation.


SolarGaps Solar Panel Smart Blinds at CES



The trouble with solar panels is that they take up a fair bit of space, typically on the roof of a property, which means that those living in apartments or condos often miss out on the opportunity to generate electricity from the sun. SolarGaps have a solution to this issue, with solar panels that also work as blinds, both generating power and shielding the interior. Todd talks to Erik at SolarGaps to find out more.

SolarGaps smart blinds are fitted to the exterior (or interior) of windows and automatically track the sun to maximise electricity generation and minimise heating effects. Installation is straightforward and each panel on the outside generates around 100 W-hrs per square meter so a south-facing 3 bedroom apartment could produce around 4 kW per day. As the blinds track the sun, the output is typically 20% higher than the equivalent static photovoltaic pnel. The blinds can be fitted inside too but this reduces the power output.

SolarGaps is launching on Kickstarter in February with a price around US$480 per square metre, rising to around $1000 per square metre when the product is launched, so if you are interested, get in early.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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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.


Wireless Power Consortium at 2016 CES



Qi EverywhereScott Ertz interviews Arun Kumar, partner presenter at the Wireless Power Consortium booth.

They discuss the current state of wireless charging technology. They demonstrate a 15 watt wireless charger hooked to a laptop. It will soon be possible to integrate wireless charging circuitry directly into laptop computers for the first time, perhaps within a year.

Scott also interviews John Perzow, vice president of market development, about longer-distance charging. John demonstrates that it is now possible to charge a Qi device up to an inch away through an inch thick block of wood. Distance charging is problematic since electrical charging efficiency drops off very quickly with distance.

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Upp Fuel Cell at CES



Beupp LogoWhile USB battery packs are ubiquitous, they’re only any good if there’s somewhere to charge the battery pack in the first place. If there’s no electrical supply, options can be limited but with Intelligent Energy‘s new hydrogen fuel cell, Upp, there’s one more option available. Todd and Jamie get enthused with Julian Hughes of Intelligent Energy.

The Upp fuel call consists of a hydrogen micro generator and reusable fuel cartridge. One fuel cartridge gives approximately five full smartphone charges and is approved for carriage in aircraft. Each cartridge has a shelf-life of nine years, making it perfect for storage for emergencies. As it’s a fuel cell, not a battery, it doesn’t need charged from the electricity. Once turned on, the Upp with power devices at 1A via a full size USB port.

When spent the fuel cartridges can be recharged with hydrogen and extra cartridges can prolong time off grid. It’s perfect for those on long hiking trips or for those involved in emergency disaster relief.

The Upp is available in the UK for £149 including one cartridge. Additional cartridges are £49 and recharges costs £5.95. The Upp is expected to come to the US later in the year.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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ThingCharger Eliminates Cable Clutter



ThingChargerDevice chargers are the bane of modern life with a complete rat’s nest of cables and connectors behind the average desk. Todd chats to Seymour Segnit from ThingCharger about their Indiegogo campaign for a cord-free charger.

The ThingCharger plugs directly into a power socket, with the device’s charging connector on the top of the unit, and pass-thru power outlets meaning that you don’t lose the socket but even more cunningly, you can stack the ThingCharger to charge multiple devices at the same time.

A range of interchangeable charging connectors – Apple 30-pin, Micro-USB, Mini-USB, Apple Lightning – will be available so that different devices can be charged from the same charger and cleverly, the connectors can be stored in the ThingCharger so they’re much harder to lose. It’s brilliant all round, so much so that ThingCharger raised nearly $650,000 against a £25,000 target.

ThingCharger is expected to be available in Q3 of 2014 and you can pre-order now for $29.95.

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

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