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SHEL: Towards Smart Household Appliances

shel household automated management systemElectrical appliances capable of starting up when energy is available and cheaper? Within the framework of SHEL (Smart Home Energy Lab) Laborelec is working on integrating this type of automated management system for all households.

Companies today are used to the implementation of sophisticated energy efficiency processes. Still, in households, the means of optimizing energy consumption and cost remain inconsequential. In the best of cases, they are limited to starting up electrical appliances when the tariff changes to night rates, a solution that does not adapt well to any evolution towards renewable energies in the energy mix. How can you make electrical appliances work, for example, when the wind and the sun are generating abundant and cheaper electricity – or vice-versa, how do you limit the use of household appliances during peak demand?

Choosing the best energy slot

To respond to this challenge, Laborelec’s SHEL (Smart Home Energy Lab) reflects on the integration of smart appliances in all households. "The first imperative is to identify the potential for making our consumption more flexible. The use of certain appliances cannot be changed: ovens only function before meals. Other appliances offer a greater range of maneuver, such as washing machines, dishwashers, or hot water tanks, not to mention heating or cooling equipment,” explain Laurent De Vroey and Cathy Crunelle, Project Engineers at Laborelec in charge of the SHEL project.

So as to better assess this potential for flexibility, Laborelec is a stakeholder in the LINEAR (Local Intelligent Networks and Energy Active Regions) project being conducted in Flanders for five years (from 2009 to 2014). The behavior of the residents in 250 houses equipped with smart energy management systems is monitored for a year and a half. “We are studying several scenarios, from the multiplication of tariff periods to the automated management of appliances depending on sunlight or wind forecasts,” Cathy Crunelle explains. “If the consumer is leaving, for example, he could leave the choice of best slot to the washing machine within a range of 6 hours or more.” In any case, the user retains the possibility of taking over at any time.

Energy Management Services

It would then be necessary to design systems capable of easily fitting into every household, like smart TVs today. Electrabel’s Smart energy box already offers domestic energy management services: it communicates with smart outlets located between the wall socket and the appliances to order them to start or stop. An application makes it possible to modify program of use, establish consumption curves over time, generate alerts (for example, in case of freezer overconsumption that can be accounted for by a badly-closed door, etc.).

“To advance any further, the appliances themselves must become smart and able to communicate externally through an energy management system, so as to profit best from the least expensive rates or to prioritize the consumption of self-generated power, from solar photovoltaic panels, for example. It is necessary to define not only a business model but also common interfaces enabling appliances from different manufacturers to operate together,” Laurent De Vroey explains. Roll-out has already begun through pilot cases, but several years will be needed for this to actually expand. In the end, these solutions will allow to consume differently. Depending on the proposed tariff offer, this could lead to important savings for users who play the flexibility game while providing more options to to energy producers and distributors. To be continued.

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