Proof of Concept Prototype Created by the ME 589: Ecological Sustainability in Design and Manufacturing Design Team (K. Boukouris, B. Lamiman, A. Vittorini) Fall 2004.
A functioning prototype of the AWARE@home concept was developed that meets these specifications. For natural gas, electricity, and water meters, existing designs were re-designed to include AWARE@home compatible technology. We proved that this could be done with minimal impact on existing designs. In all cases, hall-effect sensors were utilized to convert existing analog read-outs to digital pulses that could be interpreted by a custom-programmed microprocessor with wireless-communication capability. The system time stamps the data, stores it, and relays it on wirelessly to a computer. The computer runs AWARE@home software developed during this project, and alerts users via email or pop-up window that cost targets for the month are likely to be exceeded unless the average consumption rate is reduced.
Background & Objectives
In addressing the EPA P3 program challenge to “address the technical challenge to sustainability”, we have focused in this project on the over-consumption of water, gas, and electricity utilities by US households. Emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria air pollutants, in addition to the depletion of energy resources, are among the greatest challenges that exist today. In fact, reducing energy consumption of all US refrigerators by just 1% would save approximately $140 million dollars in energy costs and 1.5 million tons of carbon released to the atmosphere each year. According to the US DOE Energy Information Administration, this amount is on the same order as the total energy-related carbon emissions of East Africa..
Much of this pollution and waste is avoidable, without significant technological change, just by affecting the behavior of individual citizens and consumers. This project, called AWARE@home, has successfully developed technology that will serve to provide individual citizens and consumers the information that they need to modify their own behavior with respect to utility usage, saving money and protecting the planet at the same time.
Choices regarding utility consumption at the household level are a major contributor to the world’s energy use, water scarcity, and the production of waste. The United States contains less than 5% of the world’s population but consumes approximately 25% of the available energy (Bishop, 1999). While there is a direct relationship between per capita energy consumption and Gross National Product (GNP) of a country (World Resources Institute, 1990), countries such as Denmark and Switzerland that have very effective conservation programs have shown that it is possible to have a high GNP and relatively low per capita energy consumption (Bishop 1999). The comparison between countries such as Denmark and Switzerland and the United States with respect to energy intensity and GNP indicates that a major component of the U.S. environmental footprint is cultural rather than technological.
The enormous demand placed by U.S. households on the environment is compounded by the fact that most U.S. utilities are extremely inefficient in transmission. For example, a gallon of water from a leaky faucet could translate into as much as two or three gallons treated at the water utility, all for water that is never used. Our built infrastructure is designed so that people are highly unaware of the resource demands they are placing on society and the planet. The heads of U.S. households are unlikely to become more efficient users of public utilities because the cost feedback loops are so large (e.g., the time it takes to get an energy bill). If a homeowner has kept the thermostat setting a few degrees warmer than it needs to be in February, during hours when he or she is not home, he or she may not look at the bill until late March when winter is over and nothing can be done to reverse the bill or the environmental impact.
The U.S. EPA reports that Americans spend $1 billion each year to power their TVs and VCRs when they are switched off. In the U.S. alone, the electricity consumed by consumer electronics while they are off equals the annual output of 12 power plants. Further, the average American household spends $1,300 per year on energy bills. In a survey conducted for the EPA’s Energy Star program, 93% of respondents in a survey conducted by the EPA believe in saving energy for the environment and their pocketbooks, but don’t know where to start. We believe they should start with an AWARE@home system.