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Making energy distribution more sustainable

Ras Al Khaimah - Seeing electricity consumption of a home or office in real time and managing it in an intelligent manner with a touch-screen is now possible thanks to research at EPFL.  The Laboratory of Electronics, a mirror lab for EPFL Middle East, has developed technology that you can plug into your wall sockets and allows both users and providers valuable information about energy use and how to curb it.

Getting a better understanding of your electricity consumption, and managing it more efficiently, is now possible thanks to the insertion of devices in your wall sockets. This ecological step is available to everyone, and provides a simple way to become an “active consumer”. Developed by Laurent Fabre and Fabrizio Lo Conte, doctoral students at the Laboratory of Electronics, these intelligent units communicate with one another via the electricity network, which enables an easy and rapid installation.

Easily adaptable, this system can be added to ceiling lights or directly into the wall sockets of new buildings. For this invention, the two doctoral students have won the first prize of the PERL trophy, awarded for the 8th year by the town of Lausanne. The prize of 50,000 Swiss francs that accompanies the award will enable them to create a start-up company to commercialize the solution.

The information is transmitted in real-time to a software program. Through an interface, which can be a computer, a touch-screen , an iPad or a mobile telephone, anyone can obtain a detailed list of their electricity consumption, remotely switch on or off lights and appliances, and even decide to have softened lighting in some rooms. The system can also include a gauge which turns red when the electricity consumption becomes abnormally high.

Let’s imagine that all the sockets are equipped with such devices: we can then know in real-time – or almost – the consumption of a building, district, town or even a country. “The technology developed by Laurent Fabre and Fabrizio Lo Conte is the first link of a vast network of responsible management of energy”, emphasizes Maher Kayal, director of the laboratory. The electricity grid will thereby become intelligent: the goal is to optimize the relation between supply and demand by using electronic technologies.

Many research projects are being conducted in this area, also known as “smartgrid”. However, the Laboratory of Electronics has set its sights even higher. It is working on putting this network on a tiny chip which will enable the management of this information practically in real-time for a cost lower than that of the current installations. “This technology will encourage the use of sustainable energies”, envisages the professor, “because they can adapt easily to demand – unlike nuclear plants, for which advance forecasting and planning is necessary to adapt the production.”