Carbon Co-op at grid:camp – Brussels 22nd - 23rd April
A hacker's meet up on smart metering, smart home, smart grid... smart ideas? Sounds interesting, promising and the kind of place where Carbon Co-op needs to be present. After a bit of discussion we all agreed Carlos there you go. So there I went with the aim of sharing my knowledge, our work and experience, for networking, to get inspired with other people's ideas and projects, to learn and of course to have fun. And now that I am back I can say that all those expectations were greatly fulfilled.
We were around 15 people from different areas and engineering backgrounds and we met in the offices of 3E a company for energy consultancy and renewables development where some of the participants work. The event was organized by OpenGrid, they describe themselves as a collaborative project about energy and building data mining and automation. And they do it developing open source tools to analyse data and get the knowledge to understand consumption patterns, realize energy savings, build smart automation applications, enable demand response... They are a very interesting bunch of clever people.
The event itself was as a BarCamp: an ad-hoc unconference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. In practical terms: an event with no predefined agenda. It starts with a round to introduce yourself, your interests and if you have anything you want to present. Then we wrote everything in post-its and with that organized the agenda for the event. Simple but effective.
On top of what I say above, they are around 20 households that got together to do group purchases of house energy monitors. What originally started being a monitor your consumption has become a let's make knowledge from data. They all have Flukso meters (I'll talk about then later) and they upload their measurements to a centralized server where they are stored and can be displayed with different kinds of visualisations. Typical measurements they do are: electricity consumption/generation, standby power, gas consumption and water consumption. See one of their dashboards here.
This was the first time I saw a carpet plot, they couldn't believe I didn't know this way of presenting data. They couldn’t believe it because it is the best way to understand consumption patterns and also detect anomalies in the system, I loved it. Look at the gas consumption graph below: the rows are days, the y axis is the time, blue is low consumption and red high. It looks like they have a time programmer and a thermostat to control the heating, also some days they are not in the house and they switch off the heating. Very very useful.
Another inspiring project, around 13000 households input their monthly consumption of energy and they are giving visual tools to allow understand it, compare it with past years, with other users, etc. Their system is integrated with Flukso meter and they are currently working with Smappy a proprietary commercial energy monitor very extended in Belgium and France.
But the coolest of all the things they do is to calculate a prediction of gas usage (heating requirements) using data from the last year and weather predictions. This way people can check if their current performance is worse than before or, even better, they can set new consumption targets with the aim of reducing their emissions. Brilliant!!
At this point I went a bit mad thinking what are the possible applications of something like this. I was told they cannot do exact predictions from one day to another, but I allowed myself to dream with a heating system (heat pump and predictor) fully integrated in the Smart Grid, clever enough to feed in the info about how much energy will be required and then be allocated a slot of low carbon electricity that will make the house warm and cosy....
But that is not all, EnergieID is with us in the exciting NobelGrid project. They are also a test site in collaboration with Ecopower a 60000 members cooperative that generates and consumes renewable electricity and pellets. Don't you want to produce the energy that you use? Inspiring!!
An open source hardware and web based community metering application. And I have to say a very powerful device, great discovery for me so used to the OpenEnergyMonitor. Now I want to try this one too.
If there was excitement about any of the presentations, this was the one. Many of the people in the room were active users of Flukso and they couldn't wait to hear from Bart, its developer, who introduced us to the new Flukso v3E and Kubefest that will be commercially soon available.
Markus, a very active user and developer in the community showed us his demo of MQTT-Arduino set up fully integrated with Flukso. Also we could see some nice visualisations he has been working on. He knows what he is doing.
An extreme low power positioning and sensor communication system. Gupsy is based on LoRaWAN that allows long range wireless communications at a low bit rate. Uses of this system are: pest detection, parking/traffic sensors, bed bug monitor (yes believe it or not) and the one that I found more interesting: they are monitoring Brussels air quality installing Gupsy in public bikes, such a good idea.
The only think I didn’t like very much is that LoRa is a proprietary system and you need to become member of the LoRa Alliance in order to develop/use it. Such a long distance wireless communication can have so many applications, pity it's not openly available.
Volkszaehler and a home made smart pellet tank
I put these two topics together as they were both presented by Justin but they are different things.
Volkszaehler is an open source DIY energy monitor with a strong emphasis in user privacy. Data is sent to the server but only the Unique User ID (UUID) is known, no other information about the user is requested or needed. Later on there was a very interesting discussion about why in the Smart Grid energy consumption needs to be monitored at the user level in very short spaces of time instead of using aggregated data from specific points in the distribution network. Apart of time fragmented energy prices (which pros can also be argued) there was a clear concern about data protection and we could imagine our consumption profiles being sold to third parties for commercial purposes, arggghhh. Why a solution cannot be perfect?
Changing the topic but still good enough, Justin showed us how he has managed to get email notifications when he is running out of pellets. Not going through the whole procedure about how he got to it, what he basically does is monitor when the conveyor is working. First he found out how long the conveyor needs to be working to empty the storage, then he measures when it is on and calculates how many pellets are left (well he doesn't really work with time, there is calculation in between to translate time into weight of pellets). And again we dreamed, imagine a pellet production company (like Ecopower) that offers as a service to ensure you never run out of pellets. The pellet storage level monitoring would allow them plan for efficient distribution and match production with predicted demand. Not a bad idea.
Of course I didn't go there just to listen, I had prepared a presentation about our Green Shift project and wanted to show the recent work that OpenEnergyMonitor and a member of Carbon Co-op have been doing aggregating data for a virtual microgrid.
I enjoyed talking about our Manchester demo site of Nobel Grid (aka Green Shift) and in fact felt quite proud of our approach. The presentation was a synthesis of our Engagement Strategy emphasizing that we are not only testing innovative technology: users and carbon reductions are the key elements of the project. We are putting technology in the hands of householders to find out how it needs to be developed, understand the difficulties they may find, observe the evolution of the project, be ready to change our expectations about its outcome and contribute to household's journeys to a low carbon life. It sounds obvious but it needs to be said that the Smart Grid we create must reduce carbon and work for the people, this is Carbon Co-op's approach and the message I wanted to share.
And because we are geeks and we like numbers, graphs and things that make us think, I was also very keen on showing the experimental dashboard that Trystan Lea and Dominic McCann are developing. In the same line of thought than OpenGrid, this dashboard is an attempt to build knowledge from data. The key idea is to look at how aggregated data from several households (virtual microgrid) about consumption, onsite generation and carbon intensity of the grid are interrelated. Understanding all this information will allow us find ways to reduce carbon via energy use shifting and reduction of consumption. These are also very clever chaps.
This was it but there was more
These were the presentations we had but as you can imagine there was plenty more. Discussions when we arrived, between talks, while we were eating... learning about Belgium itself, how it was created, Flemish, French.... how good it would be to learn python... how is OpenEnergyMonitor doing... meeting a Nobel Grid partner.... carbon neutral Leuven... one day carbon savings on the virtual microgrid was equivalent to 1 km of car use... having kids changes your life so much... profit making vs. carbon saving Smart Grid vs social justice... I should put back in place my energy monitor... it's a difficult task to keep an OpenSource project open and active and keep customers happy... Carbon Co-op is very cool... OpenGrid too... also EnergieID... and Flukso...
… What a great time I had in Brussels and I haven't said anything yet about Friday evening. Ohhh Belgium beer is nice and strong!!! As you could tell on Saturday when we started at 9am, after the second glass you forget that all of them have more than 7%... hahaha it took me a while to get up to speed.
And now to finish, here I am, a happy one in Brussels.