Using his mobile phone as a display and control mechanism, the resident can control the energy consumption of his appliances. (Fraunhofer FIT)

Smart meters – intelligent devices to measure consumption – make it possible to read and control power consumption, even of private households, while away from the property. New software shadows the electricity meter and that ensures energy consumption is adjusted accordingly.

Today's battery technology is unable to sufficiently buffer the fluctuations in the energy supply.

Professor Frank Bomarius, deputy director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE in Germany, and his team are developing the new software. "Data on the anticipated price trend over the next few minutes or hours come from the outside – which means from the power supplier – or utility company," says Bomarius. These must be adapted to the needs and preferences of the consumer. "Our system makes sure that there is optimal control over household appliances based on these conditions."

This entails more than simply shutting off the air conditioner or laundry machine for the interim, should electricity prices go up. Instead, a much more intelligent approach would be, for instance, using the refrigerator or freezer for energy storage. "If the utility company reports that electricity is getting scarce and will become more expensive in the next two hours, then these appliances can begin to pre-cool their contents right away, so that afterwards, they won't need any power for an extended period of time." The same principle applies correspondingly to water and heating systems.

The system can be controlled via PC, where the consumer simply enters his preferences: setting the temperature for cooling or heating, setting a maximum price that he's willing to pay per kilowatt hour, and setting a limit on maximum consumption. The software uses this input to assess when and which devices in the household are switched on and off.

The computer is directly connected to the laundry machine or heater through electrical conduits or wirelessly. In actual use, the intelligent energy management system will run on the same computer that also controls other household functions such as lighting and heating, window shades, locking systems, and arranging help for residents at home who require assistance.

Researchers for the project and the local utility company are still negotiating exactly how the system will communicate with the supplier. "We want to keep the interface within a narrow margin," says Bomarius. "There is no reason why my power supplier should know or influence when I use my heating or cooling, watch television, or do the cooking."

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT have created an application that displays the energy consumption of individual appliances within the home. This means that consumers can figure out what device guzzles energy, and get a feeling for which appliances consume how much energy – and that will clearly help them save money. The application is based on the "Hydra" middleware developed by the institute, which was upgraded with a specialized energy protocol.

"Using his mobile phone as a display and control mechanism, the resident can control the energy consumption of his appliances," says Dr. Markus Eisenhauer, who developed the system.