JULY 2011: Often we do not realise that homes and industries consume much more energy than required due to inefficient electronics, faulty devices and our own negligence. This is especially true in sectors such as hospitality, healthcare and networking devices at homes. Studies prove that we can save at least five to fifteen per cent electricity at homes and in industries by using smart meters to manage electricity demands. Imagine the difference smart meters can make in the long run.
To curb this problem, a plug-and-play energy meter named Smart Plugg has been developed by Suvana Solutions, Secunderabad. The device is a combination of a smart meter and data logger. It has a built-in wireless communication system developed for electricity-usage control. It not only records the consumption of electric energy in real time, but also communicates this information immediately in the form of an alert to the user when a device starts consuming more energy than usual.
Need for neat connections
Suvana Solutions started out with energy meters which displayed water, gas and electricity consumed at homes. Out of these, electricity was the most expensive and people felt a need to monitor its usage. Though there are many smart metering devices available in the market, Suvana Solutions felt the need for a wireless metering device.
“Normal energy meters can read the amount of energy consumed, but are not capable of notifying owners immediately about a drastic difference in power consumption. This is the sole reason that made us feel there was need for wireless energy meters. Moreover, everyone is shifting to neat connections with the help of wireless technology as it is difficult to lay out cables in already existing homes and organisations,” affirms Phani Varanasi, founder and director, Suvana Solutions. Varanasi claims this is the first plug-and-play energy meter in India which offers wireless communication technology.
Smart Plugg also allows home and building owners to monitor the amount of electricity being used by individual appliances and set thresholds on energy consumption. It sends alerts to users if the energy consumption exceeds normal limits to cut-off power remotely from the appliance.
How it works?
You can easily plug-in the Smart Plugg into a normal power socket, and run your appliance through it. Any electrical appliance or device that uses a standard Indian 16A plug can be monitored with the Smart Plugg.
The device constitutes two sets of chipsets. The metering is based on an Analog Devices’ system-on-chip single-phase metering IC, and the wireless connectivity is compliant to Freescale chipset-based 2.4GHz band IEEE802.15.4/ZigBee communication. It measures how much electricity your appliance consumes the first time and wirelessly communicates this information to a PC, mobile phone or building management system anywhere in the world through an Internet-linked Ethernet gateway, where this information gets stored.
Applications on chipsets
Since the device uses system-on-chips, it is used not only for communication; applications built by Suvana Solutions can also be loaded on it. The application-design depends on a customer’s requests and usage, and can be modified according to their needs. Different applications have been developed for domestic and industrial use, which are loaded on to the users’ devices. An application enables you to use a control device and enter instructions like the threshold of power consumption, time settings for appliances like a geyser, etc. All the information gets stored on the application’s network and the device is monitored using this information.
Smart Plugg can also disconnect the load automatically in some of the pre-defined cases, or by issuing on-demand cut-off command either from remote system or by SMS/e-mail. Varanasi elaborates, “The applications stay on the topmost layer and there are two applications running at anytime—a metering ZigBee application on the Smart Plugg device and a Linux/ Windows/Symbian-based application on the control-level, i.e., on your PC, laptop, mobile or touch panel.”
The average self-power consumption of Smart Plugg is in the range of 60mA for 100metre range model and higher for higher-range models. Since it measures energies of AC-connected loads, there is no necessity of operating it on battery.
The application areas
A Smart Plugg can be used with any electrical appliance at home—AC, refrigerator, geyser, etc,—which you feel should be monitored for energy consumption. “At present, the device costs approximately Rs 2500, but Suvana Solutions is working on a technology to bring the cost down to as low as Rs 500. This way, users will be able to use a Smart Plugg for any of the appliances that consumes power heavily. For instance, electricity bills in India are based on slabs. If you exceed one slab, you can instruct your Smart Plugg to notify you and reduce your energy consumption on appliances like ACs and geysers. In some cases, this may also mean that an appliance like a refrigerator is faulty and you can get it checked much before your hefty bill arrives at your door,” Varanasi shares.
In the hospitality industry Smart Pluggs can be attached to equipment like dishwashers and hot plates. Varanasi illustrates, “Say, Smart Pluggs are attached to five hot plates. The data stored on the network can be used to compare the difference in energy consumed by the various hot plates. If one of them is faulty, you’ll know immediately and can get it repaired or replaced. This is where you make your return on investment on Smart Pluggs.”
Suvana Solutions has also implemented the use of Smart Plugg in building management system in a skyscraper in Hyderabad. Varanasi comments, “It has been a practice among builders to provide high-power sockets to connect vacuum cleaners at respective car parking areas, for cleaning cars regularly. It’s impractical connecting these plug points to residents’ meters, so the plug point energies are separately monitored using Smart Plugg. Individual consumption details are wirelessly transferred to the building management system for appending to the corresponding resident’s monthly bill.”
What lies ahead
Suvana Solutions is also developing a Smart Plugg solution to monitor modules in solar panels. “Solar plants are being deployed in huge areas and there is a lot of distance between each module. The cables are prone to damage due to rat bites but you do not get an alert immediately about a damage. The Smart Plugg will see a difference in the energy generated and quickly notify the network,” Varanasi claims.
Besides, as mentioned earlier, Suvana Solutions also plans to introduce a low-cost Smart Plugg. The radio-frequency communication is being modified from comprehensive mesh to simple transceiver without losing key features. This will bring down the overall cost by eliminating the charge for proprietary license fee. They also plan to employ alternate low-cost communications for some applications and use fast-moving metering chips. Since the chip-level goes low, power is saved.