High-tech sensors and web apps for more engaging energy advice
The Chariot project, funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), used specially designed sensors, alongside smart meters to collect data on internal temperature, external temperature, light levels, relative humidity and electricity consumption. This combination of data can help to identify areas of possible energy wastage and to encourage behaviour change.
Chariot enabled energy advisors to see whether a home was providing a comfortable and healthy environment for its occupants and to deliver tailored energy advice.
At the heart of Chariot was some high-tech kit, developed by researchers from the universities of Southampton and Nottingham.
The Chariot package included:
- A number of small wireless sensors (e.g. 2-5, depending on the size of the house) that are placed in key areas of the home and outside, and measure temperature and humidity. The four items at the back of the photo above are examples of the sensors we use.
- A wireless consumption-monitoring device (not shown in photo) that attached to the home’s electricity meter
- A data collection hub received data from the sensors and monitoring devices and in turn sends this to a cloud-based hosting service where it is stored anonymously and securely. The hub is the black box with the thick aerial at the front of the photo.
- A web application to analyse, interpret and visualise the data.
It’s the last of these – the interpretation software – that made Chariot special.
The Chariot interface was web-based and viewable on tablet or computer screen. It showed temperature and humidity levels in real-time plotted along a horizontal axis (see below). In this example, data from sensors in the living room is being shown: the green line is CO2 (scale in parts per million on the right), the purple line is temperature and the brown one humidity. The blue line is gas use.
The data from each sensor in the home could be looked at in isolation or in combination with others. There were range of functions and presentation options with which to visualise and analyse the data.
Chariot can help with the provision of effective energy advice through diagnostics of the home’s energy performance, identification of anomalies and opportunities for wiser energy use.
People CSE worked with could see the impact of their actions – for example how turning the heating on affected humidity in their home. Advisors found that using interactive graphs and visualisations, when used in conjunction with a home visit, made the advice more meaningful and more likely to be acted on. Advisors were able to use Chariot to:
- Spot heating turning on unnecessarily in the middle of the night due to incorrect setting of a timer.
- Note that an immersion tank was being heated during the day on expensive Economy 7 peak rate.
- Establish the impact of different electric heaters (night storage heaters, panel heaters, oil-filled radiator) on temperature in a flat, to learn which was the most cost effective.
- Diagnose whether a room had humidity issues, to help prevent damp and mould.
The information collected supported one tenant to make insulation improvements to their home, with their landlord’s permission. Sensor data could also support people with communication with other third parties (e.g. energy suppliers, energy efficiency measure installers).