MIT's stamp-sized tech will tell you exactly how much power each device in your home is using

mit energy monitoring device
CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 Bryce Vickmark / MIT

One of the issues that is discussed often when talking about smart homes is the ability to monitor energy use down each appliance and light fixture. Being able to see how much energy every device in your home is using would let people make energy efficiency upgrades with the most impact and make behavior changes to save energy and money.

So far, the technology to do such a thing has only existed on either an appliance-by-appliance basis or involves very complicated wiring and expensive installation. You can get a smart refrigerator or use a smart plug to monitor one device's energy consumption, but a complete home energy monitoring system that can accurately tell you the consumption of each power load all in the size of a stamp? That hasn't happened, yet.

Luckily, MIT is on it. Researchers at MIT, led by Professor of Electrical Engineering Steven Leeb, have created a system they say can tell you the power being used by every device in your home with pinpoint accuracy. And they also say it's inexpensive and simple to install.

The system is made up of a postage-stamp-sized sensor that is placed on the incoming power line to a person's home and software that analyzes the spikes and patterns in voltage to identify and monitor the energy use of each device. MIT News says that the software can "tell the difference between every different kind of light, motor, and other device in the home and show exactly which ones go on and off, at what times."

One of the key advantages to this system is that it retains the privacy of a user's home energy information. The information stays within a user's home and isn't shared with anyone else.

In testing, the system has proven to save energy and money and even help improve the safety of the home. In one residential test, the system detected a voltage anomaly that led to the discovery of faulty wiring that was causing some copper plumbing pipes to carry a live voltage. Yikes.

A trial of the system on a military base showed that tents used for nighttime training were being heated all day too, wasting a lot of energy and money.

The system has taken Leeb and his graduate students 10 years to research and develop, tackling problems and finding solutions bit by bit. First, coming up with a device that was simple to install and then how to interpret the data from the sensors to find each device's signature in order to monitor it.

The team spent years testing the system in homes, at the Fort Devens Army base outside Boston, and aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Spencer to develop a catalog of appliance signatures based on the specific pattern of voltage spikes each time one is turned on and as it's used. The software is now smart enough to not only show you how much energy your refrigerator used in a given time frame, but when it turned on and off or went into its defrost mode.

When the system becomes a commercial product, Leeb says it will cost only about $25 to $30 per home and the noncontact sensor can be installed by the home owner with a zip tie.

Tags: Energy Efficiency | Gadgets | Technology

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