Using a mobile display, researchers program the system to start a washing machine at a certain time. (Fraunhofer IWES)

Starting in 2011, energy suppliers in Germany will be required to offer electricity at variable rates under the German Energy Act. A new energy management software platform will enable customers to opt for flexible electricity rates, so that they can purchase power at times when it is available more cheaply. Another advantage is better utilization of the power grid.

The idea behind the new law is simple: variable rates should encourage people to make a conscious effort to control their consumption. The OGEMA (Open Gateway Energy Management Alliance) Framework was developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technologies IWES in Kassel, Germany. It is a freely available Java-based, open-source platform for energy management that links both consumers and producers of energy to the control centers of the grid operators and power suppliers.

Via a display, customers will be able to monitor a variable electricity price and wait for times when rates are lower - in order to start their dishwashers, for instance. Variable rates allow demand for electricity to be steered. When grid utilization levels are low, electricity can be offered at lower rates. Flexible pricing is an incentive to gradually shift power consumption to times when there is an oversupply of wind energy. With the growing trend towards to renewable energy sources, it is becoming ever more important to adapt one's consumption to suit the supply. That is how Dr. Philipp Straub, engineer and division director at IWES, explains the concept behind the software.

The researchers responsible for the OGEMA Framework also developed a software program called BEMI (Bidirectional Energy Management Interface) that automatically controls appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, heat pumps, and air-conditioning. True to the principle of other open-source projects such as Linux, all developers are free to design software for the platform, thus implementing their ideas for the automated and more efficient use of energy. Currently, there is no open system for the home automation field that enables different manufacturers to develop dedicated apps, according to Dr. David Nestle, IWES group manager.

"Our hope is that, within a short space of time, numerous applications will arise to meet the needs of private households and small businesses," says Nestle. One conceivable innovation is an app that adapts the operation of electrical appliances to the power generation pattern of a household's own photovoltaic system or that coordinates individual room heating to suit the consumer's daily routine.

At the moment, researchers are working on the first version of the OGEMA-software, which will be available later this year as a free download.

(Fraunhofer IWES)