makes it a big idea?
Futureproofed PM is a device to change
energy consumption. This energy neutral instrument closes the
loop in energy consumption providing realtime power consumption
information and energy audit to each household or node on the
powergrid. Changing the feedback structure of this system can
and will change the system dynamics and self organization. Enabling
and information enduser actions is a critical step in general
effort to reduce and improve energy usage immediately.
While alternative energy sources come
on-line slowly, endusers can create a responsive system, greatly
reducing the environmental costs NOW. End-user effect is particularly
strategic. Each unit savings at
home, results in larger savings
upstream as conversion losses add up-summarized in diagram
1.1. Power generation plants are operating near the thermo
dynamic limit at 75% efficient, achieved through regulation
and cost incentives for the large centralized power plants
and refineries. Distribution of electricity is 94% efficient.
The final conversion (the energy lost while converting electricity
to light, heat or mechanical energy at the home (motors and
pumps, or washing machines and refrigerators etc) is the least
efficient at 51%. The overall efficiency of the network is
37%, that is, each kilowatthr generated creates .37kilowatthr
of useful energy. The FPM addresses this inefficiency, to
provide people an immediate way to change patterns of the
consumption of energy at the household, community and regional
level, specifically easy information on.
Adding this feedback loop, and effectively coupling the intelligence
and agency of the humans on these node, transforms this distribution
network into a smart complex system.
l top l
is your business plan for producing your big idea?
Initial partnerships have been made with (soon to be finalized.)
This diagram indicates how much energy is lost
over the various stages (eg conversion from primary energy
to secondary energy (petroleum->gasoline), distribution,
and final end use conversion from final energy to useful energy
(eg. Burning gasoline-> kinetic energy for transportation).
The same can be said for electricity generation.
Coal-> electricity. Transmission losses due to resistance
occur. Final conversion losses Electricity-> light bulb.
From the diagram, you can see that the current
efficiency for conversion from primary to secondary is pretty
good (6.8/9.0 = 75%). The is quite good and rapidly approaching
the thermodynamic limit. (This is due to regulation and cost
incentives for the large centralized power plants and refineries).
Distribution doesn't account for very much
of the losses (6.4/6.8 = 94% efficient)
The final conversion suffers the most losses
(3.3/6.4 = 52% efficient) These conversions include
- electricity -> light
- crude oil -> transportation
- electricity -> motors and pumps (mechanical energy)
Over all efficiency is only 3.3/9.0 = 37% efficient
(1st law efficiency)
As a result, there is much room for improvement
on the end use side, and the savings "trickle up".
Also, one unit of savings at the end use side result in larger
savings upstream because the conversion losses add up.
Gigatons of oil equivalent.
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One unfortunate vision
of our technological future is the "innovation imperative,"
which strongly implies that our things and appliances must
always get "smarter." I am working together with
Serge de Gheldere of the European design firm FutureProofed,
to create a new domestic power meter that breaks that old
cliché. Our proposed power meter is accurate, high-tech,
and digital, yet as dumb as a brick.
You, the user, are the ultimate source of intelligence
and value judgements here. This appliance responds to human
language, yet is not itself "smart." Although it
can talk to you and also listen and take action, it fails
the Turing Test spectacularly. There's no pretense that you're
addressing some Artificial Intelligence inside our power meter.
You give the meter your words, and it reacts by a predesigned
script. Its interaction is limited to data that you, the user,
might actually want to know, practically and immediately,
from a power meter.
The display of this device is entirely blank.
Unlike most flashy, pushy, information appliances, it is anonymous
and discreet. It doesn't explain itself or promote itself;
it doesn't even offer a logo or a brand name. That's because
you already know what it is for: it's your power meter. You
got it, and you put it there. You don't need it to flash some
display all the time, aimed at no one.
Being the human, you're the clever one in this
relationship. You are the one with genuine awareness, who
is making smart decisions about your energy consumption. The
power meter merely does useful, dumb things that are inhumanly
accurate, such as measuring your electricity consumption accurately
in real time, storing the history of your energy consumption
with an embedded microprocessor, and coordinating with your
appliances to run them off-peak, thus saving you money.
This meter's most important relationship is
not its tie-in to other household devices, but its core relationship
with you, the human. When you speak up with an idea about
power or meters, then it listens to you. Only then does it
show a display.
In order to see the meter's display you have
to speak to it-or rather, to the software speech-recognition
function in its embedded chip. Even then, the meter doesn't
merely blurt out a stream of data. Instead, it tests you to
see if you yourself, the decision-maker, really know what
is going on power-wise.
Let's say you are consuming ten kilowatts.
If you say "Nine" or "Eleven," the meter
will stay impassively blank. But if you get the first digit
of the current rate right, the exact electricity consumption
will then display. The meter will show you your exact current
consumption rate at that moment: say, 10,768 watts. It can
also show you the recent history of your usage, plotted against
time, so that you can recognize your consumption patterns
over a period of time and make some intelligent comparisons.
It doesn't take long to get this mechanical
reward for demonstrating your intelligent human knowledge.
You can get the first digit right within a few seconds, even
if you are utterly ignorant of the power flowing through your
home. But by first demanding your best guess, this product
shifts the moral and intellectual responsibility from mere
electrical hardware to you, a moral actor. This, of course,
is where the responsibility belongs. Only you can really know;
your meter just measures and displays. And if you don't know,
then the meter displays this, too.
Because people are good at learning, this device
ultimately makes itself obsolete. Soon you've been trained
to recognize the patterns of your power consumption, and you
can set up some optimal situation (say, buying green power).
Then you can pass the meter on to your benighted neighbor.
However, this simple and dumb little device
could easily be elaborated, so as to draw you deeper and deeper
into the hidden realities of electrical networks. Learning
about your own household power consumption is just the first
game. Next you can learn about power in the context of your
neighborhood, and learn how your own neighborhood compares
to others. You might even learn about the hidden environmental
impact of every wasted kilowatt-hour. For instance: how many
living trees would it take to sequester the carbon dioxide
that your fossil-fueled house spews into the atmosphere?
Why not extend the meter's time scale drastically?
This would show the consequences of today's consumption on
your grandchildren. A humble power meter then becomes an experimental
feedback system for today's industrial metabolism. A meter
becomes our visual monitor into the future, displaying the
by-products of our actions and choices today.
With every purchasing decision, with
every time we turn a light switch or a car key, we make unconscious
(and possibly unwanted) choices that shape our lives. This
direct relationship only seems abstract and distant because
our meters are so badly designed. With a properly designed
feedback loop, people can bring this abstraction into the
realm of immediate awareness and action.
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1999 Rockefeller fellow, is a design engineer and technoartist
(see Whole Earth, Summer 2000). Her striking work has featured
in the Rotterdam Film Festival, the Guggenheim Museum, the
Museum Moderne Kunst, the LUX Gallery, the Whitney Biennial,
and Ars Electronica. Lately, Prof. Jeremijenko has been designing
power meters, along with her associate Serge de Gheldere and
student John Ferri.
current projects viewable via xDESIGN LABS
Serge de Gheldere and Francis Vanhoonacker
are the co-founders and owners of Futureproof/ed. Serge de
Gheldere has a degree of Industrial Engineering of Groep T,
Leuven, Belgium; and a Masters degree in Polymer and Composites
Engineering from KULeuven, Belgium, while Francis Vanhoonacker
has a law degree of KULeuven and tax law degree of EHSAL (Brussels,
c/o xDesign Labs
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