PowerContest - Use less, Gain more
Testing the SDR and making sure the antenna was properly connected
Hooking things up to an embedded platform, the Pi Zero
Screenshot of the parsed data before it's sent by the node to the central server
Checking the meter readings and meter number to figure out which one it is in the database
When it's on, the power consumption goes up!
Electricity was responsible for twenty-eight percent of greenhouse gas emissions two years ago. We pretend that corporate greed is the only thing to blame for this emission and consequent climate change. Yet, thirty-one percent of this electricity is used directly by us, the consumers, in communities of residential and commercial buildings. We, the consumers, incentivize corporations to continue releasing greenhouse gasses by wasting resources that we take for granted. Resources like natural gas, water, and electricity. While it may be convenient to just wait for power companies to replace their infrastructure with renewable energy, we can't continue our unfettered consumption expecting a silver bullet that may be too little, too late. We, the individual consumers, must take responsibility for our consumption.
Through data transparency, our work will shine a light on this waste in the community and create friendly competition involving usage levels between different communities. We will foster responsible consumption by creating a platform for friendly inter- and intra-neighborhood competitions that also cut utility bills.
What it does
With software defined radio, we can receive smart utility meter broadcasts in our community. Power companies openly broadcast your meter's reading in order to bill you. This technique is faster, more private and safer than traditional power meter readings that require an employee to effectively trespass on customer's properties.
By cataloging the data in an online leaderboard, neighbors will feel motivated to lower their power bill. Neighbors will go head to head to run the most efficient home or business. Why would they feel motivated?
- Bragging rights! Neighbors want to be better than each other. Everyone has an anecdote involving competitive neighbors
- By categorizing the data by community, town and state (we didn’t have enough hardware to span multiple communities, but our database can support it), people will work to improve their subdivision’s standing. This concept capitalizes on Us vs. Them, the same reason why people feel so attached to their local sports teams. A healthy dose of competitive peer-pressure will help grow the system once it takes root in a community.
- It helps save the environment! Anyone who cares about their carbon footprint will appreciate this system
- It saves people money and helps them decrease their bills!
- It gives relatively instant and relevant feedback, allowing users to fine-tune and optimize their lifestyle to be sustainable
- We provide context and reasonable targets. People who live near each other tend to have similar home sizes and power consumption needs and requirements, meaning that neighbors can understand their consumption in the context of each other. We also provide equivalent pollution figures to help people visualize their consumption.
- And if all other motivations fail, we plan to offer prizes to the most environmentally friendly homes and businesses based on the leaderboard results. These prizes could be funded by small individual donations, local community groups or governments, or a philanthropist.
Even if the meter isn’t claimed, people will still feel the pressure of contributing to their community’s reputation.
A radio module with an optimized & tuned antenna will be available for community leaders, HOAs, governments, building managers and environmentalists to install in their community. Each radio should receive power meters within an approximately 1 mile radius or more. Our is written to support low-power embedded platforms like Raspberry Pi and is tested on a laptop.
Each radio module reports readings to the central server which interfaces with the flutter-based cross-platform application over GCP.
How we built it
Using RTL-SDR, nodeJS/express, MongoDB, Google Cloud Platform, and nodes which will run on Raspberry-Pi style embedded platforms. Flutter is used in the making of the UI.
Challenges we ran into
Transitioning between team members and coordinating schedules given different time zones/commitment levels. We struggled a little bit with reception. The radio was temporarily installed in a basement. We fixed this problem by moving the radio up.
After we moved the radio up, we received far more broadcasts than we did in the basement. This created a new problem: we didn’t scale the database or have mechanisms in place to discard irrelevant data. Overnight, the database grew quite quickly to the point where queries would take several seconds. This was fixed by having old information be dropped from the database and with caching.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
The app's functionalities are all working and the UI/UX design turned out really nice. We’re able to get real data from real meters and display that data in a convenient application. The interface is simple to use, simple to maintain and extend.
What we learned
- Developed UI using Google's Flutter toolkit
- Integrated MongoDB backend to provide real-time visualization of data
- Learned how to incorporate Google’s compute engine
What's next for Power Contest
- Implement multiple communities and levels of federation, find a philanthropist or other mechanism for funding prizes and additional incentives for people that cut their power consumption.
- More ideal radio that has more power, find most cost effective solution per sq mile
- Include water and natural gas meters, minor addition, shouldn't be very difficult to include. Deploy to more towns and states (like in California where there's a water shortage already)
- Longer running averages. For the hackathon, we display a running average of 30 minutes of data, adjusted to the nearest readings. We have to do this because our system only collected data during a part of the hackathon. In the future, the competition would happen on a weekly basis.
- Show the cumulative/lifetime meter reading to make it slightly easier to identify your meter (can already look at meter ID on the meter or power bill)
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