System Allows Home Owners to Monitor Energy Use
A team of students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has developed an award-winning monitoring system that alerts home owners when they exceed their monthly goals for utility costs, enabling them to conserve energy in time to lower their bills.
A computer-based AWARE@home tool lets home owners monitor their total consumption of electricity, gas and water in real time, and a wireless wall plug allows the electricity consumption of individual appliances to be monitored on the same system.
Energy consumption is indicated on the system in dollars or environmental emissions and delivered to the home owner automatically through a wireless network, according to Steven Skerlos, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and advisor to the student project.
The invention won one of the Environmental Protection Agency's first P3 — People, Prosperity and Planet — Awards in a design competition seeking profitable sustainable development technologies from universities.
The team from the University of Michigan was one of seven to win a top honor out of 64 student teams invited to participate in a finalist competition on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in May.
To get the energy-consumption monitoring system up and running, the utility provider first swaps out the analog meter for a digital one. Then the consumer gets a start-up kit that includes a CD and, if needed, a USB wireless antenna for the computer.
After loading software from the CD onto the computer, home owners are asked basic questions about utility rates, billing cycles and how much they want to spend on utilities each month. At any point in the month when it looks like the desired utilities expenditure will be exceeded, the AWARE@home will notify the home owner by e-mail and direct them to a site on the Web where they can find information on how to reduce consumption.
Power companies, landlords, meter providers and appliance manufacturers have already expressed interest in the system, said Skerlos. Eventually, the design team hopes to see their invention reduce residential utility consumption in the U.S. by 10%.