Summary

Climate changes, CO2 and renewable energy mark the information and news flow that constantly hit the consumers. The consumers' everyday life is far away from the politicians' visions, the aim of which is to ensure the population a joint, sustainable future. The visions imply that we, the consumers, change our behaviour and consume less energy. Currently, however, the effort of the individual consumer has only a poor impact on the overall, global energy consumption, and the consumer may feel that his contribution is a drop in the sea. "The Intelligent House Project" will change this situation by optimising the energy consumption of the home in accordance with the behaviour of the consumer. The expected outcome is a significant reduction of the home's overconsumption of energy.

Problem to be solved

Today, only the fewest are in doubt that the daily energy consumption makes up an important part of the CO2 emissions. Investigations made by the Danish Ministry of the Environment show that on average every Dane bears the blame for an emission of 10 metric tons of CO2 per year, of which 6 metric tons stem from the personal consumption of energy, transport and goods. One third is due to transport, while the remaining two thirds mainly concern our use of resources within and around our homes. Therefore, each personal effort is relevant. An example is the standby consumption, which alone corresponds to approx. 10% of the electricity bill for a typical family. It is assumed that many families will be able to reduce their electricity consumption by as much as 50%, if it were controlled in accordance with the actual needs of the consumers.

These facts and challenges have been known for years, and therefore a myriad of different technical solutions and services that may reduce consumption have been developed. Often, many of these solutions have been promoted and sold as household savings initiatives.

The necessary investment covers the entire scale from small private initiatives, such as the electricity-save-rail for home offices that turns off all equipment, to the electricity companies' desire that all consumers will install intelligent energy meters in their homes, a bill of approx. 2.5 billion DKK ("Ingeniøren" of 15 Nov. 2007). The Danish consultancy agency Rambøll has calculated that 1 billion DKK may be saved in electricity consumption per user/year, if our homes are supplied with a low-voltage grid along with the 230V grid, on the grounds that most of our electrical devices are designed for low voltage, resulting in an enormous amount of energy being lost in the voltage transformers/converters.

In addition to separate, technical installations and isolated savings functions in electronic devices, a large number of initiatives in terms of end-to-end solutions and integrated systems have been launched - in Denmark as well as abroad. In Denmark, the most well-known and widely-used commercial system in the series of so-called smart-home-solutions that can integrate almost all electrical devices and control units on top of a so-called intelligent platform, is probably still the IHC system supplied by Lauritz Knudsen. New commercial options are constantly promoted. One example is the Electronic Housekeeper that has been developed in collaboration with a number of energy companies. It is one of the latest solution proposals that can make the consumer "easily" control separate electrical devices in his home by means of a platform.

In terms of research, the list of activities is full of projects that have either explored novel technology, or have developed new infrastructures and service architectures. But whether focus is on the big American projects such as Aware-Home from Georgia-Tech, or on the large EU projects like Amigo headed by Philip Research, the starting point has always been focussed on the technological possibilities and a constructivistic influx.

Because something is technically feasible and can be rationally well-founded, it does not mean that it will win ear and become a success with the modern consumer. The existing smart-house and home-automation systems make a large number of advanced functions available, allowing Mr. and Mrs. Jensen to switch on/off automatically a series of electrical devices, but the programming of these systems is often too complex for a layman, especially, if the consumer tries to program the system in accordance with his behaviour, since our behaviour is far from being a matter of routine and fixed patterns. We break our behaviour patterns constantly, and if the so-called intelligent control system cannot adjust itself accordingly, many consumers choose a survival strategy and overrule the system's settings followed by a considerable overconsumption. Hence, it is about making the consumers confident that the system will fulfil their needs without their interference, because each time the consumer changes the settings of the system, the confidence put into the system is weakened. Generally speaking, it is not a layman's task to adjust and reprogram these systems, as it takes quite some time to become familiar with the technology.

The technical complexity is just one of many reasons why such systems are not generally widespread today. The price is another. A fully integrated system requires a considerable amount of investment, especially in existing buildings, and that is why the short-term economical calculation often wins over the long-term environmentally-friendly solution. The consumers wish to see and feel immediate results of their decisions.

In addition to user-friendliness, comfort and viability are important parameters when introducing energy-reducing methods that require change of behaviour and confidence in the system. If the consumers feel that the changes required are too radical and the compromises too big, a cognitive dissonance may be built up, provoking a survival strategy that will kill the system in the first implementation period.

The Challenge

The challenge lies in creating a system in the home that observes the behaviour and preferences of the residents and automatically adjusts the resource consumption.

Scenario example:

Traditional smart-home method:
The control of the indoor climate is preferably controlled by a preprogrammed system, starting in a typical working week of the users of the home. In that way the indoor climate can be adapted to a pattern of active resident periods and inactive resident periods, the latter being weekdays between 8-15 and all days between 23-6.

The core problem:
A wide range of new possibilities create dynamic everyday lives for modern families which makes it difficult to schedule fixed activity patterns for the residents of the homes.

Intelligent solution:
The solution to the core problem is to introduce a system that controls the indoor climate of the home based on running observations of the residents of the home. Such a system identifies the residents and learns their preferences and expected behaviour. By means of other information sources, the system will then automatically adjust to the residents' activity patterns. Such patterns may include the GPS of the family car, information from an electronic calendar, a transmission mast, a mobile phone etc. The information can support the system's estimate of a person's arrival in the home and prepare for the right room temperature. The system may also adjust the indoor climate of the bedroom e.g. based on data compiled on open doors and windows.

Controlling the indoor climate is difficult in the sense that the control cannot be momentary. We cannot e.g., and especially not in an energy-responsible way , adjust the indoor temperature based on the residents' moving in and out of outer doors; there will be a certain delay which the resident will rarely be able to accept. Therefore, the resident may overrule the system, ensuring that the rooms are sufficiently warm, when he comes home.

Contrary to other controlled energy and resource systems of the home, a momentary control system can easily be applied. For instance, a correct placement of simple movement sensors can be sufficient to ensure that the light control acts as required, and not, as is often the case, before needed. Momentary control is inter alia about avoiding the classical frustration of fooling around in half-light and not finding the switch till after the sensor has been activated.

An example: When a person gets up from the couch and walks in the direction of a door, the light is turned on in an adjacent room. This is because the system has learned, at the beginning of the observation phase, that the resident is on his way to this particular room.

Another example: The television set is turned off automatically when the resident leaves the room; or the screen only, if the system assumes that the picture is not visible from the new position of the resident. The sound of the television set may continue, but the volume adjusted. Also, if there is another screen or sound source at the place chosen next by the resident in the home, the system may automatically choose to broadcast via this device with no other involvement of the resident than his moving around in the home.

There are other possibilities for controlling the consumption of energy and other resources in the home, viz. freezers, refrigerators and dishwashers, which may be taught to use energy in periods of cheap electricity.

There is an ongoing debate in Denmark on whether it will have any impact on the consumers' energy consumption if electricity meters are installed in all private homes as experience tells that it is difficult to make consumers change behaviour if things are not happening automatically. It is therefore assumed that there is a need for intelligent systems that can automatically adjust the energy consumption of the home in accordance with the residents' behaviour and preferences.