Hildebrand received EU funding for a 30-month research project to enable stakeholders from local authorities, private businesses and universities to study energy monitoring and its effect on human behaviour. The idea is that through real-time analysis of electricity usage, even down to individual appliances, people will be able to make better decisions about energy efficiency in the home and minimize their environmental impact.
As part of the project the company has installed energy monitoring devices at groups of homes in five European cities: Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester in the UK, and Plovdiv and Ivanovo in Bulgaria. Homeowners have online access to electricity usage and can perform analytics, such as calculating costs against the users' electricity tariff or comparing their usage to the average for their group, which enables them to make more informed decisions about energy management. The test sites will provide real-world energy data and enable the study of behaviour and attitudes towards energy management.
The project involves gathering massive amounts of data, which is where IBM comes in. In the first proof-of-concept the company was able to capture nearly 50,000 readings per second using only a quad-core, dual-processor Intel server, which means that energy monitoring for millions of homes or more can now be a practical proposition. The data is stored on an IBM Informix database.
To be really effective in changing user behaviour around energy use, smart meters alone won’t be enough. It’s the analysis of that energy use, including comparisons with other users and indications of the impact of a change of behaviour, that will make the difference. But it’s clearly a massive IT challenge to gather the data and feed it back to consumers in a useful format, hence this collaboration.
Perhaps more interesting will be the analysis of the user behaviour. There is a general assumption that more information will lead to energy savings, but that may only really happen when smart grids provide differential energy rates that directly reward changed usage.