Power watch

Essex scientists have been awarded funding to create an intelligent plug which can monitor electricity use.

As more electrical goods look set to arrive in homes this Christmas, Essex University scientists Dr John Woods and Steve Fitz, have been awarded funding to create an intelligent plug which can monitor electricity use.

The two scientists, of the Department of Computing and Electronic Systems, have been awarded £90,000 by Carbon Connections to create a device indistinguishable from current plugs, which details individual power use and can be connected to a central, controlling system within the home.

Inside each plug will be a power meter, a microcontroller and a wireless transceiver which will relay information back to the central point.

‘People will be able to see how much power every single device uses. You will be able to see if a machine, such as a fridge, has failed, or if something has been left on, that should not have been. It empowers the individual homeowner to make a real carbon difference,’ Dr Woods said.

‘With domestic consumption responsible for a third of the total use of electricity in the UK, it’s important to provide technology which can reduce energy use. This plug represents a completely new way to quantify energy consumption and the method of information delivery is portable and fashionable and may turn the tide on the apathy associated with leaving the TV and lights on.’

The prototype plugs will be made by Ipswich company Circad, and should be ready within six months. The plugs will then be tested in the university’s apartment, iSpace, where high-tech creations can be trialled in a home situation.

Great minds

Brunel engineering student Tom Flemming developed a similar ‘Energy Awareness Plug’ back in 2006.

Flemming’s simple, yet clever, and, of course possibly somewhat less expensive, idea was to incorporate a small lamp into the back of a plug. The colour of the lamp changes from green to red in proportion to the amount of electrical power being drawn through the plug or unit.

Like the Essex researchers, Flemming also believes that his device could improve energy conservation within the home, leading to reduced energy bills as well as a reduction of CO2 emissions. Flemming can be emailed at a_garfunkel@hotmail.com.