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.
Whirlpool is leading the way in energy monitoring and management. Whirlpool is demonstrating energy management panels and device that will track how consumers are using their products and help consumers in the future save energy. While not available today 2011 or 2012 is the target date for Whirlpool Energy monitoring and management introduction. Coordinating various appliances integration will be a major challenge in this endeavor.
PowerFilm Portable Solar Cells are both consumer and military grade flexible panels. These amorphous silicon solar cells offer an extremely rugged and inexpensive array. A 7 watt panel is about $150. The design compensates for physical damage. Their newest panel is from $80-$100 and charges through a mini-USB connector, suitable for cellphone. In the future, both commercial and residential rooftop systems will be available from Powerfilm.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found that the rechargeable batteries that replace disposable batteries somewhat lacking. The nickel-cadmiums (NiCd) suffered from the memory effect and the nickel metal hydrides (NiMH) eliminated that, but still lost charge when not in use. I’m currently using the Hybrio / Eneloop batteries which solve both of the above, but they still lack power, largely because they’re only 1.2V instead of the juicy 1.5V of disposable batteries. I’ve even a few gadgets that simply won’t work with the lower voltage.
So, if you are like me and have children who get through batteries faster than a knife through butter, you might be interested in new nickel-zinc (NiZn) batteries that are coming onto the market now from a company called PowerGenix. The best bit is the voltage on these is 1.6V and by all accounts, they last well. Once the technology gets picked up by the mainstream battery companies, it will probably improve further.
They’re available now in the US but they don’t seem to have made it over to the UK yet. As soon as they do, I’ll get a few to test out and compare against the Hybrios.
Also on the battery front, this article from the BBC highlights the issues around lithium production and why there is likely to be a shortage in the not-too-distant future. Looks like good news for Bolivia but bad news for the Salar de Uyuni.
P.S. I checked the technology out on Wikipedia and I was surprised to see that NiZn batteries were used on the Dublin-Bray train in the 1930s and 40s. Had problems with limited discharge cycles, mind you.