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'Smart house' demonstrated at British Science Festival

house-on-display

The model house being used in a demonstration

iesd-British-Science-Festival200 Smart grid technology was demonstrated at the British Science Festival in Birmingham this month by staff and PhD students from the Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development.

Richard Snape and Linda Toledo designed and built a 1:14 scale house with real electric room heaters and lights controlled from a Raspberry Pi computer. The house was designed to show how smart technology fitted to existing houses could help to maximise potential use of renewable electricity generation as part of a smart grid, reducing UK carbon emissions.  Linda, who led on the house design, provided a computer CAD model of the house geometry to technicians in the Faculty of Art and Design. They used computer controlled laser machines to cut the MDF and acrylic panels which made up the structure. Richard used his research into smart grids and his engineering and computing expertise to design and build the electronics and software. Dr Andrew Wright arranged the stand through his previous links with the British Science Association, which organises the festival. He said “this was a demanding but rewarding project. Linda and Richard worked very hard to get it all working using their many skills. There is no substitute for something real to demonstrate rather abstract ideas”.

Electricity usage in the house is modified according to signals from a simulated ‘smart grid’. This means, for example, that the water cylinder heats up at times of low system demand, or heating may be turned off for short periods, without affecting comfort, to reduce the size of peaks in demand. On a large scale, this sort of approach could save billions of pounds in electricity infrastructure costs. A computer program running on a laptop simulates 1000 houses, just one of which - the model house - existed physically, connected to the simulation by Wi-Fi. A research project in IESD is investigating smart grids and work based on a previous project has recently won an award and EPSRC / TSB joint funding to facilitate further development of smart house technology.

A large number of students from schools across the West Midlands saw the house and talked to the researchers. Many of the older students had good knowledge of climate change and renewable energy, and asked some challenging questions.

It is intended to continue to use the house for teaching and demonstration purposes, as the IESD builds up laboratory activities.

For further information about the festival see the British Science Association website this is an annual event in September held at different universities.

Posted on Tuesday 16th September 2014

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