Chariot

How the ’Internet of Things’ can improve energy advice for vulnerable households

Project duration: October 2014 ongoing

CSE is working with researchers from the Universities of Nottingham and Southampton, to gather energy-use data from vulnerable households that will allow us to deliver more targeted advice on saving energy and improving living conditions.

The 'Chariot' project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will use specially designed sensors, alongside smart meters to collect data on internal temperature, external temperature, light levels, relative humidity and energy consumption. The data will be sent via broadband and the mobile phone network to a server for capture and analysis.

Devices and services already exist to monitor energy use, identify areas of possible energy wastage and to encourage behaviour change, whilst maintaining comfort. However, low income, vulnerable households are often behind in adopting these technological developments.

Delivering energy advice has been a core activity of CSE since its founding in 1979. During this time our advisors have had to assess a householder's situation based on limited information collected during brief home visits or phone calls. From this they have to infer the causes of any problems that could pose health risks (such as mould and damp) and recommend material and behavioural changes to reduce energy use and improve the home environment.

Karen Smith is an energy advisor working on the project. "We want to give advice that is specific to each householder’s needs and work with people to identify where they can best reduce their energy use whilst staying warm in their homes. Sensor and smart meter information should greatly assist that process."

This project will develop systems based on the concept of the “Internet of Things (IoT)” – an expansion of the internet to encompass everyday objects, so they can send and receive data. As well as the data on temperature, light levels and humidity, half hourly gas and electricity consumption will also be gathered via the smart meters that are being installed in each household through our project partner, Utilita. We hope that bringing together these various streams of data will tell us how well the home is performing in providing a warm, comfortable and energy efficient environment – and also identify areas of possible energy wastage.

The outputs of this analysis will:

  • suggest immediate remedies and action to improve living conditions and lower energy consumption
  • detect humidity and temperature levels associated with mould, cold and damp which can lead to health problems particularly in vulnerable households
  • explore appropriate ways to prompt changes in behaviour related to heating, airing and energy consumption in the home; such as automation, remote control and recommendation prompts through in-home displays.

Dr Nick Banks is CSE’s lead on the project. “We don’t want temperatures [in the home] to be below the comfort threshold, or relative humidity to be above the threshold that leads to condensation, damp and mould.

"The dataset will show how a house is performing so people can save energy, be more comfortable, and not compromise their health. It will show how lifestyle translates into energy consumption” he says.

The home environment (temperature and humidity) data adds an extra element to our previous research relating to data on domestic energy consumption; this includes advising Ofgem and DECC on the evaluation of the national domestic smart meter trials (EDRP) and in depth consumer research on how smart meter data can be most effectively presented to households.

It is hoped that the systems developed during the trial can be put into service on a larger scale. The user-centred design process, involving CSE advisors and their clients, should ensure the resulting technology is well suited to the beneficiaries. The ultimate aim is to create off-the-shelf sensors that can be sent to vulnerable households seeking energy advice; sensor data will then be collected, integrated with energy data derived from smart meters, analysed and displayed via apps and services.

This will show householders’ energy usage in a way that allows them to better understand their energy issues, and energy advisors to understand how to best help their client. For example, energy advisors can relate this data to the client’s routine to try to identify where they could save energy, or how they could heat their homes differently to prevent condensation, damp and mould. The information collected will also support communication with third parties (e.g. energy suppliers or landlords).

Image: Utilita

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