Open Software Saves Energy

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 @ 05:08 PM gHale


A new energy management open software platform will enable customers in Germany to opt for flexible electricity rates, so they can purchase power at times when it is available at a lower price. That will also allow for better utilization of the power grid.
Faced with rising electricity and heating costs, more and more consumers are opting to save energy, and now the German government is beginning to help them.
Starting in 2011, energy suppliers must offer electricity at variable rates under the German Energy Act (EnWG § 40,3). The idea behind the new law is simple: Variable rates should encourage people to make a conscious effort to control their consumption. This is where the new open software platform will come into play. It will help electricity consumers to handle the new flexible rates and make their energy consumption more intelligent.
The Fraunhofer Institute developed the OGEMA (Open Gateway Energy Management Alliance) Framework for Wind Energy and Energy System Technologies IWES in Kassel. It is a free Java-based, open source platform for energy management that links 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,” said Dr. Philipp Strauss, engineer and division director at IWES. “When grid utilization levels are low, electricity can be offered at lower rates. This makes it lucrative, for example, for consumers to run their washing machines at night. Flexible pricing is an incentive to gradually shift power consumption to times when there is an oversupply of wind energy. After all, with the growing trend toward renewable energy sources it is becoming ever more important to adapt one’s consumption to suit the supply.”
But nobody really wants to spend time checking up on electricity prices several times a day, which is why the researchers responsible for the OGEMA Framework developed a software program called BEMI (Bidirectional Energy Management Interface) which relieves consumers of having to keep checking pricing.
The software automatically controls appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, heat pumps and air-conditioning. But OGEMA programming is not just the domain of the researchers: 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, said Dr. David Nestle, IWES group manager, underlining the special feature of the OGEMA Framework.
In order to continue developing the concept and making it better known, the IWES launched the OGEMA Alliance this summer, which a number of companies, such as Mannheim-based energy supplier MVV and solar energy wholesaler Entrason, have already joined. “Our hope is that, within a short space of time, numerous applications will arise to meet the needs of private households and small businesses,” Nestle said. 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.
Initially, the use of the system will be tested in 100 households, with a further field test involving 1500 customers planned for next year.
While testing is continuing, security plans and still under development.



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