Household energy monitors

Industrial control and instrumentation technologies could help household appliances tell their owners when they are using too much power, thanks to German researchers

A monitor display that warns householders when electrical appliances are using unusually large amounts of power could help reduce domestic energy usage and allow people to keep control of their bills, according to developers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits. Bringing concepts from industrial control and instrumentation down to a domestic scale, the researchers are developing a system of sensors, data handling and displays that could be deployed in kitchens within the next couple of years.

‘Each electrical appliance is fitted with sensors that continuously measure the electricity being produced,’ explained Peter Heusinger, project manager. ‘The sensors then send this signal to a server which lies concealed in the fuse box.’ The server uses this data to calculate the energy being consumed by each appliance and compares this with previous consumption values. If the value increases sharply, the server sends a message to a display unit.

For example, an open fridge door would be detected by a sudden rise in consumption, while worn bearings on a washing machine would lead to a gradual increase in consumption. Each would lead to a different message being sent to the display. ‘This message can be in the form of a text message, a message on a display or one displayed in a user interface on the computer, depending on the user’s preferences,’ said Heusinger.

The researchers have built a demonstration version of the system, but need to undertake further development to make the sensors suitable for mass-production, which would be needed to launch the system commercially.