Tring app measures hi-tech house power use

University-developed application gauges domestic energy consumption

An application developed at Victoria University and promoted by Vic Link, the university’s commercial arm, gives a home-owner reliable oversight of domestic energy consumption, presented digitally in a quickly-appreciable visual format. It forms part of VicLink’s entry in an international energy conservation competition.

The Tring application is a feature of an energy-efficient home designed by University’s school of architecture for entry into the Solar Decathlon competition, sponsored by the US government’s department of Energy. Victoria’s entry, the First Light House, developed in collaboration with power company Meridian was fired up earlier this month. An energy-efficient version of the Kiwi bach, the house can be viewed at Wellington’s Frank Kitts Park.

The Tring application presents household power consumption as a series of concentric circles, like tree rings; each ring represents a time period and its thickness signals the amount of power consumed in that period. This focuses the user’s attention on peaks of consumption and the pattern of usage, rather than simply the amount used.

The data can be displayed “at different levels of detail, from how much energy your whole house is using to exactly how much your electric toothbrush uses,” says the project website.

Apps have been built giving access to the data from a smartphone or iPad.

Tring’s developers had a challenge in finding a power monitoring system that was reliable enough; most household-scale systems are unstable and inaccurate, a spokesman claims.

The project has had to find ways of scaling down a system created by US company Schneider Electric for commercial premises.

Tring and the First Light House were part of an exhibition on May 10 in Wellington to showcase university and polytechnic research projects in collaboration with industry.

The tenth of a series of 14 such events nationwide, it was built around the theme “energy, infrastructure and water”.

Several exhibits were on the theme of power saving and monitoring. Exhibitors agree that such monitoring is of limited use unless suppliers introduce differential tariffs that will allow the householder to make direct savings by deferring heavy unattended power use such as clothes washing and drying to a more economical time. Peaks of use are a problem for power companies, says Stewart Hardie of the University of Canterbury and some companies plan to offer incentives – or disincentives – to deter customers from turning on several large appliances at once.

The University of Canterbury Electric Power Engineering Centre is researching ways of minimising distortion of the AC waveform by equipment that uses power inefficiently.

Such distortion reduces the efficiency of the whole grid in transmitting power. Hence its effective management reduces the cost of power distribution and maintenance and those long-term savings may eventually flow through in reduced charges.

Pumps for milking machines in the dairy industry have been considered as one possible culprit in introducing undesirable harmonics onto the waveform, Hardie says. Fortunately suppression devices can be fitted and the distribution of loads over the farm’s circuits appropriately organised to minimise the effect.

BuisnessNZ CEO Phil O’Reilly and Science and Innovation Minister Wayne Mapp spoke at the event, expressing optimism at increased connection between science and business, and a change of focus in the ministry and the research community from “research, science and technology” to “science and innovation”.

The past two years have seen a 13 percent rise in R&D, said Mapp, though it is still only 1.35 percent of GDP, low when compared to many other OECD countries.

New Zealand has an advantage in science-business contact because of its small size and lack of bureaucracy, O’Reilly suggested. “You can get all the people who matter together in one room.”

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