Smart-phones become smart-meters
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. This is the basis on which Oxford spin-out Pilio helps businesses reduce their energy bills. Their innovative ideas ease the cost and effort involved in measuring and understanding energy use.
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Reducing energy consumption is important for both businesses and households which seek to reduce their bills. A key problem is knowing where to start: where is energy being wasted? What energy-saving measures can and should be implemented? In a bid to address these questions, Dr Russell Layberry at the Environmental Change Institute in the School of Geography and the Environment, developed new solutions to help individuals and businesses to monitor and understand their energy usage. Through his spin out company Pilio, bolstered with a period of support from Isis Software Incubation, his work has led to a number of software tools and monitoring solutions.
The focus is on making the process simple for users. Clients input their own gas and electricity meter readings. The software automatically calibrates energy use with local weather data. These indicators can be compared with buildings of a similar size to give a sense of one’s performance. It takes about five minutes per week to input the energy readings. No extra meters or devices are required, and companies do not need to spend time designing their own spreadsheets to analyse data. Several hundred small and medium-sized businesses currently use the software.
Dr Layberry is now investigating the potential of smart-phones to monitor energy usage in real time, both at building and appliance level. Instead of expensive real-time monitoring systems, he uses Android phones, which are mass manufactured and offer a wealth of sensing and communication functionally at a fraction of the cost. The microphone socket, for example, can be used as a sensitive volt-meter. Combined with the right low cost ancillaries it can measure temperature, gas or electricity consumption. Even if no electrical signal is easily accessible, the phone’s accelerometer can tell whether a boiler pump is running, and image recognition software helps to ‘read’ meters and transmit the information. In addition, smart phones come with in-built communication. Once data has been collected it can be transferred using mobile or wi-fi networks. This portability further helps in gathering data from as many locations as possible and building up a detailed picture over time without the need for multiple sensors.
With this information to hand it becomes easier to identify waste and engage people in reducing consumption. Pilio’s clients include the Royal Albert Hall, several theatres and even churches. With the additional information users are able to reduce consumption by between 10% and 40%.