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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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  • First hack (Score:2, Interesting)

    by barberousse (1432239) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @03:49AM (#26462995)

    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.

  • by mobynewt (1448447) * on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:14AM (#26463119)

    Lab simulations have shown the technology is capable of supporting 10,000 or more networked units, but West said a commercial partner was needed to enable the CSIRO to conduct a larger scale, real-world trial.

    Isn't 10,000 already a pretty large scale? I can't imagine very many real-world commercial entities using more than that in one location.

  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:20AM (#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 @04:49AM (#26463307)

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

  • by totally bogus dude (1040246) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:50AM (#26463313)

    Well it's not going to do anything to reduce an individual household's power usage; certainly nothing that couldn't be done with non-networked smart fridges, anyway. Most people just pay for the amount of energy they use; it doesn't matter if they consume it in large bursts or as a constant trickle.

    This is intended for whole suburbs or cities to be able to regulate the energy draw from cooling fridges so as to decrease peak levels of demand. The other main thrust seems to be regarding renewable energy sources, in particular solar. The idea is that if cloud cover decreases the amount of energy being produced, the plants can tell the fridges and they can intelligently decrease their collective power draw. When the sun's out in full blaze and there's plenty of power being produced, the fridges can cool their interiors by an extra degree or two, effectively storing that additional energy to help them weather a shortage later on.

    Air conditioning seems another obvious target for this technology, since most aircons cool for a while (using lots of power) and then just ran the fan (using little power) until the room heats up a bit, then they cool again. If you have 500,000 aircons all doing this, there's a good chance the power station is going to see big surges in energy draw. If they're all talking to each other, they could negotiate their cycles to place a more consistent draw on the power source, flattening out the peak.

    Of course, I have no idea just how much fluctuation is common in the energy draw at our power stations, and whether this is a practical thing to pursue or just a really cool, clever idea with minimal practical applications.

  • Re:First hack (Score:3, Interesting)

    by N1AK (864906) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @04:53AM (#26463327) Homepage
    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' then power companies could dynamically vary power prices within a certain range to try and shape demand to a more normal distrobution. If energy storage tech got more advanced it might even go as far as people fitting small batteries/capacitors/flywheels within their house, that way you could charge power during the night when the power companies currently have an over-supply and drain it during the peak hours.

    To give a real life example of this kind of behaviour, most labs working with plants (in the UK at least) will light their grow rooms during the very early morning. This is because they can get a large discount on energy during certain hours simply because the energy companies were going to generate and waste the energy if they didn't sell it.
  • by daveime (1253762) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @05:44AM (#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".

  • by ledow (319597) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:00AM (#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. :-)

  • Re:Scientists! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xous (1009057) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @06:09AM (#26463715) Homepage
    Why is this marked as troll? Any one with a $70 embedded PC, high amperage relay, and a temperature probe could do this in a few hours. This would only be interesting if a) all fridges used a standardized negotiation protocol b) it was extended to all high usage appliances.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:09AM (#26464041)

    Fridges are fairly low power devices .......

    no, fridges are not fairly low power devices that use quite alot of power .

    fridges are heat pumps to pump all that heat you need a large amount of electricity if you could turn off the fridge for a few minutes a day you would save on power bills.

    an example of power usage http://www.pmb.co.nz/power_usage.htm

    now if you were a business and had say a large freezer and some refrigerated display cases and these devices were "smart" enough to turn themselves on and off at certain times of the day I bet you could save a large amount of money.

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @07:26AM (#26464137) Homepage Journal

    There's little to be gained by smoothing out the energy usage of individual locations, even rather large locations.

    My first thought was this would be useful if you're forced to run on a backup generator for a while; This sort of system would allow a supermarket or a largish home to run a smaller margin by not having to worry about every compressor kicking on at once. This would allow a smaller generator, and generators run more efficiently the closer they are to their max capability.

    After the fridge protocol it shouldn't be too hard to come up with other cooperative units - pumps, even a monitor on other circuits so that when the washing machine is running the fridges try to avoid coming on.

    On power district scales, there's already off-peak systems for things like electric water heaters. 240V@23-27A beats 120V@5A anytime, you know?

  • Re:Cold beer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:20AM (#26464479) Homepage

    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 insulation all around it.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @08:43AM (#26464637) Homepage

    It's easy to fix as a homeowner if you take the effort and are not a slave to the "fashon police" or are a style freak.

    http://mtbest.net/chest_fridge.pdf [mtbest.net]

    to change a chest freezer to a incredibly high efficiency fridge.

    and simply locating the fridge with a ductwork system to use cooler basement air to circulate around the waste heat coils is not hard to do.

    It's simply the fault that most homeowners know nothing about a home or construction and cant instruct the contractor, that wants to do as little as possible, what to do.

    It's our culture of ignorance and apathy that propagates the really low efficiency appliances.. People dont shop for how efficient it is, they shop for how pretty and shiny and if it will match my paisley countertops!

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

    by necro81 (917438) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:34AM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:47AM (#26465431)

    I'm the original AC who posted above.

    3KW is enough, there's a retired person in my condo that has the table saw and he uses it without hassle.

    While I agree that's a low threshold, that encourages the makers of the devices to care about energy consumption, level the peak curve when they turn on, etc. To be honest there is a tolerance to support the demand peaks (of turning on devices), I believe it's something like 200W more for few seconds (I think for 10 seconds) before the power meter disconnects you, because old fridges and freezers have a significant peak when the motor goes on.

    I have lived in the US for one year and is clear that there is way less care to energy saving devices than in Europe (recently things are changing there too - the "green" is becoming cool). Even the houses are rarely thermally insulated - just a collection of walls and a roof tho keep your house separated from the outside, in some way - so that the cooling/heating bill is higher than it should be.
    That's also caused by way cheaper electricity rates in US than EU (I think it was something like 50-60% less in US than Italy - I pay an average of 0,2â/KWh), and that applies to gas, cooking gas (methane, CH4) and probably water as well.

    and, btw, keep the room temp to 80F and you'll save a lot on your bill. I got 101F flu because of AC running at 71 (in August!). :)

  • by mspohr (589790) on Thursday January 15, 2009 @09:51AM (#26465465)
    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.)

I have never seen anything fill up a vacuum so fast and still suck. -- Rob Pike, on X.

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