At the LX Group we say that smart energy is an exciting and important growth technology area, and that it encompasses and enhances a wide variety of existing and new technologies. Although many people consider energy to be a resource only limited by one’s capacity to pay the supplier invoice every three months – the ability to reduce energy consumption in an increasingly complex world is a communal goal.
Smart energy technology can be applied to a wide variety of devices used in the domestic, commercial and industrial areas – and benefits can of course be found in not only reduced energy consumption, but also in some cases by a reduction in the costs of installation and maintenance of smart energy hardware. In saying that let’s examine a variety of smart energy applications and their benefits.
Smart street lighting
Since their first installation, the use of electric street lighting has been a prime candidate for the smart energy devices due to the sheer volume of lamps and their combined energy use. Recenlt the ability to determine the ambient light level and illuminate accordingly provides light when necessary as well as saving energy. Further enhancements include replacement of lamps with lower-power LED equivalents that allow for a wider range of display levels. Finally by taking advantage of Zigbee wireless networking – lamps can not only be controlled remotely, they can also report lighting status data as well as error situations to a central computer. This removes the need for public response to broken lights and regular patrols – saving the utility time and money.
As more industrial and commercial applications rely on sensors, wireless transceivers and small microcontrollers for monitoring and data transmission, one of the design challenges has been powering and connecting these items to their required host. With regards to data transmission itself – the challenges have been overcome with the proliferation of low-power wireless mesh and point-to-point networking. And microcontroller manufacturers have reduced consumption by great lengths – in some cases down to micro amps by reducing CPU speed and smart sleep modes. These sleep functions can help when the power harvesting is sporadic, or takes time to generate enough energy for operation – for example when enough is available, the microcontroller can “wake up”, perform an operation such as transmit sensor data, then resume sleep until the energy levels resume at which point the process repeats itself.
Energy to run these devices can be harvested in many ways, however the three prevalent methods are:
- Solar energy – a simple solution when the device is outdoors or can be wired to an external panel. A proven technology that can be used to charge various battery types and allows for 24/7 operation when the power drain is matched with an appropriate storage cell.
- Mechanical energy – it is possible to transfer the energy from vibration and deformations into electrical currents suitable for low-power devices. An idea solution for constantly moving situations such as line-haul freight trains, mining system conveyor belts, and wave/tidal energy generators. These would also include a rechargebale battery to avoid power loss during short periods of down-time.
- Thermal energy – Using sensors that consist of hundreds of tiny thermocouples, energy can be harvested from the difference between the ambient temperature and an external source of heat. These can include waste heat from industrial processes, climate-control systems and engine block heat. For example – with a sensor mounted on an area of 90 degrees Celsius, and an ambient temperature of 25 degrees – 10 mW of energy can be harvested – the equivalent according to sensor producer Micropelt of thirty AA cells per annum.
The Smart Energy Home
Domestic energy consumption is an issue for every householder, apart from rising energy bills the debate over climate change due to fossil-fuel energy sources and global warming has increasingly educated the population to reduce the energy consumption. The requirements to monitor consumption can be detailed due to the time of use and requriements for various appliances. Although utilities are installing smart meters which can offer various tariffs depending on the time of day – more can be done to assist the consumer.
The greatest advantage can be found by replacing appliances with new, energy-efficient units such as heat-pump electric hot water systems, however the cost can be substantial. A cheaper way is to offer real-time monitoring of each appliances’ energy use. This can be provided by a smart meter which can wirelessly transmit data to a receiver linked to a consumers’ PC or device – showing real-time consumption data. An option of increasing popularity is to sense the consumption of each major device in real-time – and in conjunction with time-of-use tariffs a true running cost can be shown – the greatest incentive to reduce energy use. These sensors can be fitted externall between the device and power outlet, or over time hopefully included within the device and working on a common Zigbee wireless standard.
As you can see there are many methods of smart energy use, including generation, intelligent consumption and better devices. All of these methods and more can be harnessed and modified for your individual requirements. Here at the LX Group our team has a range of experience in smart energy key technologies, including:
Displays and various user interfaces
Logging and data management
Remote monitoring and control
Ultra-low power wireless systems including mesh networking topologies
ZigBee-based networking, using Ember, TI, Jennic and Microchip platforms
Low unit cost design and BOM cost optimisation
And the team at LX has won national and international awards for past ZigBee-based systems.
For more information or a confidential discussion about your ideas and how we can help bring them to life – click here to contact us, or telephone 1800 810 124.
LX is an award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia. LX services include full turnkey design, electronics, hardware, software and firmware design. LX specialises in embedded systems and wireless technologies design. www.lx–group.com.au
Published by LX Pty Ltd for itself and the LX Group of companies, including LX Design House, LX Solutions and LX Consulting, LX Innovations.