A computer-controlled home electric central heating system that responds to data from weather forecasts and could cut domestic bills by almost a half is being developed by a UK consortium called Celect. The system can be set to customers’ preferences but adapts to outside temperatures too, through data from weather forecasts which it receives via […]
A computer-controlled home electric central heating system that responds to data from weather forecasts and could cut domestic bills by almost a half is being developed by a UK consortium called Celect. The system can be set to customers’ preferences but adapts to outside temperatures too, through data from weather forecasts which it receives via Long Wave radio over BBC Radio Four’s transmission band. Celect members, which include the the BBC and 25 UK electricity companies and associated manufacturers, including Scottish Power Plc, Scottish Hydro Electric Plc, London Electricity Plc, Schlumberger Ltd’s Meters arm, BEC Meters and MK Electric Plc, (CI No 2,672) will be offering this type of metering and monitoring to bring electricity prices in line with those of consumer-friendly gas, come deregulation of the UK electricity sector in three years.
The developer of the system, EA Technology Ltd, a research and development firm specialising in energy control and based in Capenhurst, Cheshire, has adapted Echelon Corp’s LONworks Local Operating Network technology to build the system, which is designed to bring cost savings available to large industrial electricity consumers to the domestic market. The company claims Celect will cut domestic bills by up to 40% by helping to cut suppliers’ costs by calculating the precise load on the system, thus preventing cable and transmitter overload. Half hourly information from supply and metering – currently available only to large commercial customers – plus daily digitised data from the UK Meteorological Office and a digitised 24-hour clock, are transmitted over Radio Four’s 198KHz transmission band to a Celect teleswitch within the home. This then decodes the data and transmits it around the building over existing mains cabling via LONworks gateways. Embedded processors within each electric heater, in conjunction with a temperature sensor, monitor room temperature, control heat output, determine when a heater should be switched on and off, and use the meteorological data to modify room temperature in line with changes in the weather. In the unlikely circumstances of a UK heatwave, Celect will power down to maintain the pre-programmed room temperature set by the customer. The 198KHz Long Wave frequency was chosen as the best wavelength to use because it can be received by 95% of the United Kingdom, says EA Technology, which designed the system for standard panel and storage heaters so that consumers do not have wait for specialised electric heaters to come to market. Programming is carried out from a central control panel within the home that users are intended to set and forget. Initially, factors that may affect the temperature of the room, such as cavity wall insulation and double glazing, need to be set, but once this has been done for each room for a one week period, users do not need to touch the control panel again. The theory is that householders have a typical weekly routine that does not alter, so one week’s programming will suffice.
By Krishna Roy
Going on holiday isn’t a problem either, since the control panel has a setting that will switch to frost protection mode for up to 78 days and then return to the pre-programmed temperature on the night of your return. The real-time digitised 24-hour clock data guarantees that the programmed information is retained should the panel’s battery fail. The heating for a maximum of 10 rooms can be controlled, so it is probably not the ideal system for a mansion. Cost-cutting for customers is not the only motivation behind Celect. The main players in the UK electricity market are gearing up to compete with British Gas Plc. At present, a consumer can only buy from the local electricity company, which in turn buys from a generator. After deregulation, the electricit y company will be free to buy power from any supplier, rather than only from a designated one, as is the case at the moment. The Celect system will enable each electricity company to monitor domestic usage, in the same way a
s it does for its commercial customers. Today, a commercial customer buying more than One MegaWatt of electricity gets the cheapest deal by purchasing direct from the electricity pool, which is contributed to by the local generating company. By monitoring demand at half-hourly intervals, the generator can estimate the demand over 48 half-hour intervals. This means that a large company can get its electricity according to its half-hourly demands and can plan its working practices so as to take advantage of cheaper off-peak electricity. This contrasts with the fixed rate system of tariffs for domestic users and small commercial enterprises, neither of which get any discount for increased or decreased usage at a particular time of day. Electricity supply companies offer domestic users a supply according to what they assume their customers will use. For example, electricity companies know that when a major football match is televised, there will be a surge for supply during the break because people make tea. Nor is there any major allowance – except for the overnight Economy Seven tariffs – made for those that do their washing at night. Metering in half hour periods currently costs a company ú10,000 before it turns on an appliance, which is too expensive for domestic users. But the embedded processors within a domestic Celect system track a household’s electricity requirements each day in separate 48 half-hour time frames, just like the industrial system, enabling the supply to be altered every half hour according to changes in use. The system has been under development for the past four years and pilot tests have been running for two years. There are 60 pilots studies under way and are due for completion any day now.
Consortium member Scottish Power Plc is carrying out five trials within various-sized homes from apartments to detached houses to determine the system’s efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Feedback from the project is under wraps but EA Technology says the pilot studies have been encouraging with users experiencing new levels of comfort and controllability. For this system to be successful, a certain amount of intertia will need to be overcome. People that have invested in gas central heating systems are unlikely to rip them out although those with alternatives might. UK householders are notoriously lax when it comes to simple environmental precautions – such as roof-lagging and draught excluding – that can reduce electricity bills dramatically. Also a recent row in the UK involving incorrect metering and billing of customers by a number of electricity companies may mean the latter will have to be very persuasive to make customers hand over control lock, stock, and barrel – trust me, I’m your technologically-improved electricity supplier, just might not be enough to persuade…