I work at home, so if anyone could do a better job of timing the use of appliances to off-peak hours, you'd think it would be me. But the truth is, I never think about it. Like most homeowners, I have too many other things on my mind, including writing this blog. The best way to get me to think about power usage would be to give me a device that forces me to think about it. In other words, something that would let me know exactly how much I'm spending when I run a load of laundry at 2 p.m. on a weekday afternoon. Which is precisely why there is so much interest right now in "demand-response monitoring." The use of networked in-home displays (IHDs) would give consumers a real-time view of energy usage and utility pricing. And, in fact, people are interested in getting that. A recent survey found that 69 percent of consumers expressed high interest in IHDs.
This should be no surprise with the rising cost of electricity. The demand for electricity comes from all quarters: industrial, commercial, government and residential users. And it's growing with population and with the number of devices each of us has in our home. (If your home looks like mine, there are three or four outlets with power strips and an octopus of wires attached to the strips.)
There's also the issue of needing new sources of power generation. There's no doubt that we need greener generation sources (like solar, wind and wave energy) and to begin retiring the heavy carbon footprint sources. But while we're making that transition, the competition for the limited electric power available during daylight hours is fierce. As a society, we need a way to lighten the load.
An obvious solution is getting people to schedule nonessential power usage during off-peak hours. This has already been promoted heavily, and even with the promise of money-savings, large numbers of us still aren't doing it. But what if we had real-time data that told us what the current costs are for the power we're using. Then it would be a little like looking at two products on a store shelf and choosing the less expensive to save some money. If people will clip a coupon and tote it to a store to save 50 cents, they're highly likely, given the same choice with power, to delay their use of the washer, dryer or dishwasher.
To deliver such real-time feedback on energy costs, a home would need a home energy management system (HEMS). This embedded computing device would track appliance energy use and cost, and provide automated and manual settings for powering appliances. The information would be available to a homeowner through an IHD.
Embedded Intel processors enable developers to create a range of monitoring devices, ranging from platforms powered by the Intel® Atom™processor to multifunction devices based on the Intel® Core™2 Duo processor. For handheld IHDs that could be easily carried from room to room and networked through a wireless home LAN, a low-power solution makes the most sense. After all, it makes no sense to burn a lot of power to save power. And no one wants to recharge such a device every few hours. That's where RadiSys, a Premier Member of the Intel® Embedded and Communications Alliance (Intel® ECA), comes in. Designers of IHDs would be smart to check out the RadiSys Procelerant PICOZ500.
This low-power single board computer (SBC), based on the Intel® Atom™ Z510 processor, includes an integrated video controller that can support a variety of touch screens. A PCI Express* Mini Card socket makes it easy to add wireless LAN capabilities. And the power source is a single input-voltage power rail that can support operation with two to four Li-Ion or Li-Polymer cells. Additional battery management or Smart Battery support can be provided using an optional battery controller module.
According to Jennifer Zickel, Product Line Manager of RadiSys Single Board Computers, the PICOZ500 is ideally suited to space-constrained applications with a need for passive cooling and low-power operation. (See its listing in the Intel ECA Solution Showcase for more information). And with the Intel Atom Z510 processor, up to 512MB DDR2-400 integrated memory, and a MicroSD socket for up to 2GB Flash memory, this little SBC is ready for just about any processing task a HEMS is going to throw at it.
"We're relatively new to the home market," says Zickel, "but we believe we have some excellent products with which to pursue it. The question is how fast will the market for IHDs grow. Our feeling is that they will soon be a fast-growing segment of the 15 billion intelligent, connected devices the IDC predicts to be online by the year 2015."
It's obviously going to take some ecosystem building among appliance manufacturers and HEMS makers to get this market into high gear. But the benefits of doing so simply can't be ignored. And both governments and utilities are anticipating what could happen when thousands and even millions of households shift even small amounts of their power demands to off-peak hours on a consistent basis and free up that energy for work that has to be done during peak hours. Such a mass change in behavior could enable shutting down the worst carbon-producing power plants and even help put off building new power plants until green alternatives become more price competitive.
What's your take on IHDs? Do you see them soon becoming part of the digital home?