La Trobe launches smart energy company

06 Mar 2009

La Trobe University’s Centre for Technology Infusion and Melbourne-based semiconductor developer Semitech Innovations Pty Ltd today joined forces to deliver a cost-effective solution to soaring energy demands.

EcoLaunchMarch09standard Through Joint Venture R&D Company EcoEnergy Innovations Pty Ltd, launched by La Trobe University Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson this morning, the partners are commercialising an integrated energy management system designed to tackle climate change at the community level.

Their new smart technology empowers householders, business and industry to monitor and manage their own power consumption from intelligent touch screens that deliver real-time meter readings, updated every half-hour.

The technology offers immediate cost and energy savings- at minimal cost to consumers – deploying powerline communication technologies that allow communication between appliances and electrical meters over existing powerlines, and the seamless integration of other technologies (wired and wireless) to facilitate remote control options from computers, mobile phones and other handheld devices.

Based on networked and bi-directional communication technologies, the centrepiece of the system is a home or business-based intelligent touch-screen that keeps consumers constantly in the picture about their energy consumption - offering alternative options for reducing it.

With each screen invisibly networked to smart meters that read energy usage in real time, and ‘system-on-a-chip’ technology which will eventually be embedded in most household and business-based electrical appliances, the system delivers remote control options to switch appliances off, or re-program them to turn on at different times.

The Director of the Centre for Technology Infusion, Professor Jack Singh, says the principal incentive for consumers is cost savings. Appliances like dishwashers or washing machines can be programmed from the touchscreens to switch themselves on at times of low demand and low tariffs – revealing to consumers instantly as they do their savings in energy, costs and greenhouse emissions.

The bonus for governments and the community at large is that this user-friendly, plug-and-play system will enable better load management by flattening out peaks in consumer demand and redistributing these across lower demand periods.

“The major impact of this will be cost and greenhouse gas reduction through redistribution of demand and better load management,” says Professor Singh. “In an optimum scenario – that is if all consumers in Victoria had one – we could expect significant reduction in total greenhouse emissions.”  

Developed and successfully piloted in a commercial precinct of the University’s Research and Development Park in Bundoora, the technology has already demonstrated its capacity to consistently deliver usage, cost and emission data in real-time.

The pilot involves complete automation of energy measurements and load management of the University’s Technology Enterprise Centre in real time using 30 smart meters and a data concentrator powered by SiMAC (System-on-a-chip) technology. The smart meters and the data management concentrator measure and record power consumption in real time for each suite in the building as well as the energy consumption history of the entire building at 30 minute intervals.

Privacy constraints prevent the University revealing individual tenants’ energy usage, but the system offered 30 on-site users during the first five months of the pilot options for reducing their collective energy consumption by a minimum 25 per cent - simply by switching off all electrical appliances overnight - with commensurate cost and emissions savings.  Users had the option of substantial further savings by switching off or reprogramming air conditioning and other electrical appliances during business hours.

This pilot is ongoing, not only as an experiment in reducing energy demand but also as a prototype for the development of a next-generation smart living environment.

“This is the most exciting aspect of this technology,” says Professor Singh. “It is not the technology per se, although it IS smart technology, it is the application that is exciting – the persuasive power of the technology to change people’s behaviour, and to make an impact.”

The system’s “persuasive power” is incorporated into “context-aware software” that couriers two-way messages between appliances, suppliers and consumers.  Consumers get the message in simple graphs on their touchscreens - red for high-cost, high-energy use, green for low-cost, low usage -  representing the usage and real-time per unit cost of all electrical appliances fitted with intelligent chips.

“Anything that plugs into a power point is controllable, and you can control it from anywhere – at work, from your desktop computer, or anywhere else, from your mobile phone. It’s easy, the technology is invisible, and the consumer is always in full control,” Professor Singh said.

The partners have filed patent applications for two key components of the technology - Semitech’s  smart ‘system-on-a-chip’ embedded in the meters (which drives the monitoring process), and the Centre for Technology Infusion’s persuasive integrated software (the intelligence embedded in the touchscreen that targets consumer behavioural change).

Now a single entity, EcoEnergy Innovations is actively seeking commercial partners to deliver the technology.  The company is also discussing options for consortia-based offshore delivery with global energy and data management enterprises, including IBM, which is trialling the system in its data management centre in Germany.

La Trobe University’s Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson said the University would become the new company’s first client, extending the current pilot at R&D Park to the University’s main administration building (David Myer Building West) in the near future.

“Universities have a responsibility to lead in finding a fast and effective response to climate change,” Professor Johnson said. “This project offers individuals and businesses at every level just that kind of response. It is absolutely path-finding innovation with the potential to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions across the board.”

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) and Eco Energy Innovation Director Professor Tim Brown said:  “We are delighted to be the first enterprise to benefit from this – and to demonstrate how technology and motivation can deliver real-world solutions in real time to one of the most urgent challenges of our time.

“I’m told that if this technology is managed effectively we could expect a very significant reduction in greenhouse emissions very quickly. If we could manage a 20 per cent reduction in our carbon footprint in each household and business in two years in Victoria alone it would have a huge impact on energy efficiency.”

PICTURE OPPORTUNITY:

La Trobe University Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson will launch Eco Energy Innovations at 9.00 a.m. on Friday, March 6, at the Conference Centre, Research and Development Park, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

DEMONSTRATION:
Professor Singh will demonstrate the technology to media and industry at 9.30 a.m. at the Home Automation Innovation Centre, Centre for Technology Infusion, R&D Park.

Weblinks:
Smart Energy Management Pilot
Home Automation Innovation Centre
Centre for Technology Infusion
Semitech Innovations Pty Ltd

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Professor Jugdutt (Jack) Singh
Director, Centre for Technology Infusion
R& D Park, La Trobe University
Bundoora
T: 61 3 9479 5628 E:CTI@latrobe.edu.au

Stephen Kim
Director Eco Energy Innovations
(Chairman/CEO Semitech Innovations)
T: 61 3 9349 4522  E: stephen@semitech.com.au

Related links

Semitech Innovations media release (PDF 203KB)

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