By Andy Stanford-Clark
About four years ago, I set out on a personal mission to significantly reduce the energy use in my home. Today, I’m pleased to say that I have made some big steps towards that goal, but more importantly – my home turf – the Isle of Wight, is embarking on a journey for the whole island to become energy self-sufficient, in a project called “Ecoisland.” My efforts at home were my own personal hobby: the Ecoisland project is a much larger, collaborative effort!
Why am I writing about this now? Well, this week IBM took part in the Ecoislands Global Summit. Ecoisland is an ambitious transformation program which aims to turn the Isle of Wight (home to 140,000 citizens) into the ultimate eco-region, with a dramatically reduced carbon footprint by 2020. IBM and other companies are working with the Ecoisland project to develop innovative ways to save energy and reduce emissions and waste, while also cutting the islanders’ fuel bills – potentially by up to 50 percent.
Energy is certainly a hot topic at the moment: climate change, rising energy prices and technology advances are all forces that have been reshaping the collective mindset of consumers, turning many of us from “passive bill-payers” to highly informed, environmentally-conscious customers who want a role in deciding how the energy for our homes is provided.
Representing that demographic, and with fully paid-up “geek” credentials, I took energy monitoring in the home into my own hands and turned my house into a living laboratory using various home automation technologies to help me better understand our energy consumption.
I have sensors monitoring many of the appliances to track how energy is being used around the home. The sensors wirelessly transmit data to a “message broker” on a low-powered (just 10 Watts!) computer server, which sends data to various display devices, and also sends updates to my phone via Twitter, notifying me when an appliance is using too much power at an unusual time of the day. You might think that this information isn’t very useful if I receive it on my phone when I’m miles away from home, but from a cool application on my phone, using a technology called MQTT (Message Queue Telemetry Transport), I can control home appliances via the internet – so if a light has been left on, I can switch it off from wherever I am in the world.
I also use a “traffic light” LED colour-changing orb as a means to encouraging my family and I to save energy – when it turns red we know that something has been left on by mistake or we are consuming an excessive amount of energy. Since monitoring our electricity usage and making some changes to our behavior patterns, our quarterly electricity bills have reduced by approximately a third.
So how does this relate to the Ecoisland initiative? Well, my home is acting as the trial lab for some of the monitoring, automation and messaging technologies being used for the project. Next week, I will be blogging about a community project here on the Isle of Wight – The Chale Project – which is helping other people on the island save energy in their homes. If you are interested in how communities can reduce energy and save money, then check back here next week to find out more about how this can be done.