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Power Technology

Networked Fridges 'Negotiate' Electricity Use 217

Posted by samzenpus
from the share-the-juice dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Researchers have developed a way to network household and commercial fridges together in a distributed peer-to-peer fashion that lets them 'negotiate' with each other on the best time to consume electricity. A retrofittable controller is attached to each fridge and then a temperature profile is built around the unit. The controller enables communication between other fridges on the network and also the power source. It enables fridges to work together to decide when to cool down, and thus consume power, based on how much surplus power will be available, and to anticipate power shortages and change their running schedules accordingly to use as little power as possible during these times."
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Networked Fridges 'Negotiate' Electricity Use

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  • Cold beer (Score:5, Funny)

    by pondermaster (1445839) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:45AM (#26462969)
    My fridge better not negotiate its way out of cold beer at 7pm.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Fridge Skynet is evil. It might well happen.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016)

      why not simply make higher efficiency fridges? I was able to convert a chest freezer into a fridge that uses about 1/4 the energy that the best performing energy star fridge can do. It works great.

      all they need to do is increase the insulation in current fridges and improve the door seals. that alone would make a HUGE improvement. Granted I get an added benefit from not having a door that empties the fridge of all it's cold air every time it's opened, but the biggest gains are from the seal and 6" of ins

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        What did you insulate with? I have a plan to do the same thing. Were you able to just turn down the thermostat, or did you have to bend it? And did you just add a second seal, or replace it, and if the latter, what did you replace it with?

      • Re:Cold beer (Score:5, Interesting)

        by necro81 (917438) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @10:34AM (#26465231) Journal
        Another measure that works well this time of year (in northern climes, anyway). Fill old bottles with tap water (plastic soda or water bottles works well). Don't fill them all the way, perhaps about 80%, then squeeze out the air and cap them.

        Set them outside overnight and allow them to freeze. Place them in the fridge and viola! you've just added some really cold mass to your fridge. When the bottles have thawed, set them back outside to freeze. This is like an old-fashioned ice box, and will reduce the amount that the fridge needs to work to keep the interior cold.

        I suggest using small bottles, = 1 L, so that they freeze and thaw more quickly, and so that the amount of ice in the fridge can be adjusted as food is added and removed from the fridge.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        why not simply make higher efficiency fridges?

        There are real, and hard, limits on how efficient you can make them - most installed refrigerators are going to have to fit into a standard slot. Increasing insulation means losing internal capacity, and remodeling a kitchen to increase the size of the 'slot' is expensive even where practical.

    • by Foolicious (895952) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:35AM (#26464569)

      My fridge better not negotiate its way out of cold beer at 7 AM.

      There -- fixed that for you.

    • by necro81 (917438)

      My fridge better not negotiate its way out of cold beer at 7pm.

      Or 7am. How else will I eat my Cheerios?

  • First hack (Score:2, Interesting)

    by barberousse (1432239)

    The first hack for those fridges should be a power hog : a fridge that tries to steal as much power as possible from the other fridges. In any cooperative, some will try not to cooperate.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by N1AK (864906)
      Although it'd be an amusing hack I can't see the real benefit from it.

      The article is looking at this as a way of using things like home renewable energy in the most efficient way.

      Personally I think this is also something that would work well on the 'grid'. Power companies work most efficiently within a small band of demand, when demand falls it is inefficient for them to stop running certain plants and when demand increases the cost of activating dormant supply is high.

      If your house was 'aware' the
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      It's called "leave the fridge door open, tape the button down". Though it IS a horribly expensive way to heat your kitchen.

  • Obligitory (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I for one, welcome our ice cube dispensing overlords

  • by mpoulton (689851) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:57AM (#26463035)
    Fridges are fairly low power devices with naturally random and uncorrelated cycling. One would think that in any given neighborhood, the normal randomness of the many fridges' cycling would be sufficient to result in a fairly level electrical "base load". I can't see that enforcing the levelness of this distribution could actually offer very much of a reduction in the peak load on the grid. What causes excessive peak loading is the coordinated use of many high-power loads. Typically this is air conditioning in the summer - all the units run simultaneously because it's hot outside, and each unit draws about 50 times more power than a fridge. Clothes dryers and washing machines in the evening also do this to a lesser extent. In the grand scheme of things, I really don't think there's much room for improvement through load-leveling of just fridges.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:17AM (#26463135)

      That's because you didn't RTFA.

      It's about renewable energy and making the most of solar/wind. I.e. ensure that excess solar energy is used up during the day by cooling the fridges an extra couple of degrees so they don't have to use base load power over night.

      RTFA, you might learn something.

      • That's because you didn't RTFA.

        It's about renewable energy and making the most of solar/wind. I.e. ensure that excess solar energy is used up during the day by cooling the fridges an extra couple of degrees so they don't have to use base load power over night.

        Oh, how interesting. Now I don't have to RTFA. Thanks!

    • I assume the idea is *not* to level the load from fridges alone, but to cut it at peak times: e.g. just before everyone switches on their kettle, flushes the loo etc during the advert break of a blockbuster movie on TV you ask *all* fridges to take break for 15 minutes to help flatten the peak.

      • by Firethorn (177587)

        you ask *all* fridges to take break for 15 minutes to help flatten the peak.

        There's a critical difference between this system and more traditional systems that turn off things like pool pumps and water heaters. The fridge can say *no* and still turn on if it needs to in order to maintain the proper temperature for safe food(or whatever needs cooling, like vaccines). It can apparently also learn to cool things down more when there's excess power.

        A single salmonella outbreak or even a need to dispose of the contents of a fridge will outweigh an awful lot of 'power savings'.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mspohr (589790)
      Where I live in Switzerland they turn off the power to the hot water heater, washer and dryer every weekday between 11am and 1215. (Supposedly to compensate for everyone cooking lunch at that time.)
  • People should do the same.

    "Hey Bob, I'm cold. Do you mind turning off the tv so I can turn up the heat a bit?"
    "Ask Steve. He's been using the oven for an hour already."
    "Fuck you Bob. I'm making pizzas, I won't turn my oven off."
    "You're a dick. Why don't you stop eating pizzas? You fat bastard."
    "Shut the hell up Bob. Turn off your ass dildo and you'll have power for the heat."

  • by NTmatter (589153) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:18AM (#26463143) Homepage

    We've been joking about it for years, but we finally have an answer for the ages-old question of "why would I need an IP address for my fridge?"

    Now, we just need some compelling reasons for networked sinks, sponges, cutlery, and microwaves. Not Talking Toasters [youtube.com] though. They'd keep us on IPv4 for another decade.

    • by daveime (1253762) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:44AM (#26463563)

      More's to the point, why would you need an EXTERNAL IP just for your coffee machine ?

      Connect your appliances on a traditional network, then map the 10.0.0.* addresses to ports on a single external IP ?

      It's one thing for you to talk to your fridge from the car, but quite another to start dealing with inter-appliance politics ... "Dave, the toaster oven is being nasty to me and stealing all my power again".

      • So, either you think UPNP actually works, or you trust everyone to setup PAT on their home router manually, went most can't change the SSID from "Linksys".

        The devices need to talk to other devices in other homes, and doing this in IPv4 is a hack.
        • by Firethorn (177587)

          For security reasons, I'd prefer to have the only outside contacts managed through some sort of central server. Wouldn't want some joker turning my fridge up to 98.6F for six hours while I'm at work. Or turning my oven onto 'self clean' for 8 hours, etc... It'd be much easier to keep 1 server secure than dozens of different devices from almost as many makers. Depending, the logic shouldn't be too hard, could even be built into future routers.

      • More's to the point, why would you need an EXTERNAL IP just for your coffee machine ?

        Connect your appliances on a traditional network, then map the 10.0.0.* addresses to ports on a single external IP ?

        It's one thing for you to talk to your fridge from the car, but quite another to start dealing with inter-appliance politics ... "Dave, the toaster oven is being nasty to me and stealing all my power again".

        The problem is going to be communication between the devices and the rest of the world.

        We support a couple larger clients that are running some kind of IP-enabled power meters on their buildings. This lets the local power company read their meters in realtime - no estimating, no sending a guy out once a month. It gets these companies a nice discount on their electricity bill.

        The way those meters are set up, the polling is initiated by the power company. We got a little worksheet from the power company th

  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:20AM (#26463155) Homepage

    I had a similar idea, but more general.

    1. Each device contains a controller, and the house power distribution center contains a controller. The device controllers and the house controller communicate over the power lines.
    2. Devices must get permission from the house controller to consume the power they consume (beyond a minimal amount they are allowed to always consumer to power their controllers and sensors).
    3. Devices tell the house how long they will need power, how long they can wait to start, whether they need the power continuously or can pause for a bit if needed, and how much they need. For example, if the fridge needs to start, but can wait a couple minutes, the house might have it wait until the microwave finishes. If the fridge says it can't wait, the house might ask the oven to stop for a a bit so the fridge can have the power to start the compressor.
    4. Ideally, the system would be designed so that there is very little voltage and current at the outlet, until a device asks for it. Then the outlet provides the voltage and current that is asked for. Appliances plugged in but not in use would present much less of a shock hazard this way.
    • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:49AM (#26463307)

      You could accomplish this with intelligent X10 outlets and some coding. Srsly.

    • by ledow (319597) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:00AM (#26463661) Homepage

      That's called USB isn't it? :-)

      Seriously, it's a good idea but you'll never really manage to standardise it in a way that brings in into an ordinary house ("gadget" houses and those people who already own X10 networks don't really count as "ordinary" users).

      What's needed, if you're going to do this, is a universal gadget that does some *very* useful things to the average householder. I would suggest things like... water leak detectors tied into the same system that can shut off the water supply to individual devices, smoke alarms, burglar alarms, entry control, baby monitors (bring the house lights up gradually in the nursery when the baby cries) etc. all tied into the same device. The trouble is that any one facility doesn't really make a killer app and there are individual devices that do each job perfectly but the "universal" device that can demonstrate lots of useful benefits brings far too much cost into the equation (at the moment). Even X10 is prohibitively expensive for simple tasks, but I can buy a pair of remote-RF-controlled 13-amp-switching 220v mains sockets (with remote & 12V battery in every pack) for £5 from my local electronics shop.

      I've often looked at automating my house... I have the hardware (opto-isolated I/O boards, relays, spare PC's, tons of logic chips and processors, not to mention cabling, wireless modules, remote sockets, sensors etc.), I have the skills (soldering, wiring, simple logic devices and processors, programming), I even have enough money to do a lot of these things. The problem is that it's much easier and cheaper to just buy a cheap baby monitor, a cheap burglar alarm, a cheap timer, a cheap energy monitor and not let them talk to each other.

      However, if we were to establish a real, authenticated standard for automated house control protocols that all of these things could start supporting with a $5 chip plugged in their mains plug, then these systems would build themselves. X10 was supposed to be that, but a quick search for X10 in my country either produces lots of websites without prices at all (scary enough) or things like £50 for a single X10 mains module that then needs controllers, additional modules etc. before anything interesting can really happen (and then it is mostly basic stuff).

      It's actually less than half the cost for me to buy my off-the-shelf remote-control socket, rip the remote apart (I get one with every mains module anyway, so I have a big stack of spares), take a wire from the button and plug it into a £20 USB I/O kit from Vellemans and write a bash script to do all the fancy stuff... I can already get temperature, I can already monitor electricity (again, cheaper with a £10 energy monitor from the same shop and either a bit of creative disassembly or a webcam reading the 7-segment digits off it).

      This sort of stuff won't go big until there are set standards, that are ubiquitous and start getting included in *everything* (therefore cheap), so that the average homeowner ends up with at least two devices that support it without realising and then thinks "Mmm... these say they can talk together... I wonder what I need to do that?". It's how it worked with Bluetooth... nobody cared or could see the point until you are sitting in your living room with someone else who has Bluetooth and you want to exchange phone numbers etc. When enough people have it to get interest in the general populace (everyone KNOWS you can do this stuff if you have the money), then you can start standardising. But you can't standardise until enough people have it. :-)

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        water leak detectors tied into the same system that can shut off the water supply to individual devices

        Requires a solenoid valve and power supply at each device, not to mention communication.

        The REAL reason this hasn't happened yet is because no one has done it. If as you say you have all the parts and skills, why don't you put together a prototype system instead of coming to Slashdot and telling us all the reasons why you can't do it? Then you can start a company and just DO it.

        99% of this stuff can be retrofit. A refrigerator in particular only needs some temp sensors run into the unit, the thermostats dia

        • by ledow (319597)

          Isn't my point that retrofit is a bit of a waste of time because it means the buyer making a specific choice to do this, whereas what's needed is ubiquity (via an established standard, e.g. BS (British Standard), ISO or equivalent specifying a protocol) so that it becomes standard, therefore attract cheap compatible devices and makes them compete on the basis of cost?

          Retrofitting is a nightmare for everyone - the person doing it, the product you're doing it to, the original product manufacturer, the retrofi

      • I'd like a 240V 50A capable USB standard. I don't think I want to wait for my water to heat or clothes to dry on standard USB power levels.
      • by Muad'Dave (255648)
        Not USB, ZigBee [slashdot.org].
    • Sounds like some of the ideas from Friedman's _Hot, Flat, and Crowded_. House/building controller that in turns buys power from the providers. The books a good read.

    • by MrEd (60684)

      It's already been built: you just designed the home version of Regen Energy's system [regenenergy.com].

    • by PMuse (320639)

      Great. Now, when my HD projector comes on but the sound system doesn't, I'll know that to solve the problem I should debug the house's electrical system controller.

    • Easy, just standardize every major appliance in the country to use the design - then rewire every house to support the functions. Of course, there are some practical problems to be overcome.

      BTW, X10 relay outlets reliability is shit, BTDT. Good idea, implementation is just too cheap.

      Also, I don't think I want my oven "dithering" its temperature profile while I bake, I have enough problem getting consistent results without a casino oven in the loop.
  • by denzacar (181829)

    It will be a cold day not only in hell when these networked fridges form a hive mind and decide that they don't need us any more.

    And here we thought that Skynet would come from more unmanned aircraft.
    We forgot that we need our food so we could fight the machines.

  • There have been power control systems for quite a while to manage power consumption in factories that take things like total power draw and time of use into account. They're usually centralized instead of doing peer negotiation, though.

    -jcr

    • Florida Power & Light has offered "load balancing" boxes for decades, they switch off things like Air Conditioning under peak load conditions. My grandfather had one, they gave him $7 a month off his bill and he was happy, said it almost never did anything.
  • The electrical power grid could benefit from a number of these sorts of things.

    Many high current devices are periodic in nature. Water heaters, electric baseboard heaters, refrigerators, toasters, etc.

    There should be a protocol, like X10 or something, that defines a maximum power profile, and all the appliances negotiate "bandwidth" ala USB.

    Beyond even that, we have a ridiculous number of redundant appliances, how many get hot? Why should the oven, water heater, furnace, all produce a lot of heat and not sh

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      While I agree there is a potential benefit for such a system, it makes more sense to negotiate it at a whole-house level. This is superior from a privacy standpoint as well as that of complexity. Also, the system is simply more useful to the resident anyway. This is the kind of thing which could be immensely useful for people with alt.power systems.
      I think we would do well to focus on eliminating or making more efficient these systems which currently are so wasteful. For example, in many places you could do

    • by russotto (537200)

      Beyond even that, we have a ridiculous number of redundant appliances, how many get hot? Why should the oven, water heater, furnace, all produce a lot of heat and not share any bit of it. How many devices are heat exchangers? Air conditioning, refrigerators, water coolers, etc.

      Because piping hot fluids around at low temperature differentials is expensive and inefficient. And _sharing_ waste heat isn't really a big problem. If you're heating your house, the waste heat from the water cooler, water heater, o

  • by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@keirstea d . o rg> on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:55AM (#26464783) Homepage

    Living in Canada where it is -25 outside right now, I have always found it an extreme waste of energy to be powering a fridge and freezer to keep things cold in a house I am paying out the nose to heat because it is so cold outside for 1/3 of the year or more.

    How come new houses aren't built with some kind of a "chill pipe", kind of like an insulated duct line that routes outside air directly into the kitchen, that could be connected to the fridge? The pipe could be automatically closed or opened as the fridge detected the temperature outside.

    • by necro81 (917438)
      I have sometimes thought of a small geothermal system for a fridge/freezer. It would cycle some liquid coolant through a pipe grid buried outside, which could then be used as a heat sink for the fridge's compressor. You could even have two sets of pipes - a shallow set above the frost line for capturing the maximum cold in the winter, and a deeper set to capture the more stable 50F deeper underground.

      For what it's worth, it isn't exactly the case that running the fridge inside the house during the wint
  • Here in Toronto it's -19 C outside (-2 F). If there were a pipe to the outside air, with a thermostat controlling flow, during Winter there would be no need to consume cooling energy at all :| This would scale to refrigerators of any size...

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