Making energy conservation easy.

Ian Rowlands shows a student, whose back is turned, a small blue computer-like device.

School of Environment, Resource and Sustainability professor Ian Rowlands shows a student the small computer at the heart of his Energy Hub Management System project.

School of Environment, Resource and Sustainability (SERS) professor Ian Rowlands would like you to imagine a summer’s day in the near future that might go something like this.

You wake up, make breakfast, and flick on the weather forecast. It’s going to be a scorcher. You go to work and your house powers down. Outlets connected to appliances drawing phantom power shut off. Then, just before you’re due to arrive home, the air conditioner starts itself up. When you walk in the door, it’s a reasonable 25 degrees.

However, the energy grid is now facing peak demand. So your air conditioner resets itself to 27. As you make dinner, all your kitchen appliances are fully available. After dinner, their outlets turn off while your entertainment system’s outlets turn on.

After your favourite show, you check your online energy management portal and learn it would be best if you waited until later at night to run your dishwasher. You turn it on before bed, knowing you have minimized your utility bills and carbon footprint, and helped secure power system reliability across the province, with little inconvenience.

This is the type of scenario Rowlands is working toward in the Energy Hub Management System project, which has received $2.45 million in funding, including in-kind contributions, from public and private sector partners, including the Ontario Centres of Excellence, Ontario Power Authority, Hydro One, Energent, and Milton Hydro.

A small computer sits under a smart electrical panel and other equipment in a private home.25 Milton homes are currently participating in a pilot project, and plans are in place to expand to workplaces as well. The pilot homes have been outfitted with small computers integrated with either a smart electrical panel or an energy monitoring system, smart plugs, and a router that allows these elements to communicate, says Rowlands, who leads the project, working with colleagues from faculties of Environment and Engineering.

There is a web portal, which allows users to monitor electricity consumption and costs in real time, with such specific information they can tell how much energy they consumed by playing Wii or by using their dishwasher.

Users can use the portal to input constraints such as an acceptable temperature range, or choose how much control to give the system. This data is combined with information such as energy prices and weather forecasts.

After monitoring a site’s energy use patterns, the system develops an optimal schedule that allows users to achieve cost savings and/or environmental goals. Some actions, such as changing the temperature at night, can be set automatically, while in other cases the system merely suggests, for instance, the best times to run the dishwasher.

In the future, the system could also be used to co-ordinate energy production and storage, for instance if a home has solar panels.

Currently, our electricity system is built to handle peak demand times. This means some infrastructure is “idle or underutilized” most of the time, says Rowlands.

"If through information communications technology, we can shift load from this peak period, perhaps five per cent of our energy capital stock would no longer be needed."