For years, electricity and heating bills have constantly been on the rise, and 2013 is not different – prices are shooting up.
Many countries are keen to do something about this, especially Germany. A survey conducted by inspection company Dekra revealed that one in two people is turning down the central heating, while the great majority are cutting back on cooking and laundry and actively looking to reduce consumption. This is where a new software platform comes in – it makes it easier to find a smart approach to energy issues, not only for homeowners and tenants, but also for business and industry, and helps brinmg down costs.
Connecting energy users and producers with the control centres of grid companies and energy suppliers, the free Java-based framework for energy management is called Open Gateway Energy Management Alliance (Ogema). The name is shared by the Ogema 2.0 project, funded to the tune of E5-million by Germany's Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, in which the Fraunhofer Institutes for Wind Energy (IWES), in Freiburg, and Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS), in Erlangen, are taking the solution to the next level.
"Our system allows customers to track future variable electricity prices and allows them to fit their consumption to the energy on offer. This ability is becoming increasingly important with the switch to renewables," says Dr David Nestle, head of Department Energy Management at the IWES, who describes the software platform as "basically an interface between the smart grid and the smart building.
“Ogema applications receive variable electricity tarrifs and automatically calculate the optimum times to run connected devices, such as a refrigerator, freezer or washisng machine. This allows consumers to turn on, say, their dishwasher at the most economical times – especially when there is an oversupply of wind energy. Air-conditioning units, radiator thermostats, heat pumps and photovoltaic facilities can also be operated aautomatically by the applications.
"There are, for instance, applications running on Ogema that let consumers know whether they would be better off using the electricity generated by their photovoltaic facility themselves or putting it on the grid. The information is presented to customers on a display. Other applications, meanwhile, turn off the heating in office buildings when rooms are not occupied – say, at the weekend, or when employees are out on the road."
Another good use for Ogema in a business context is for flexible control of combined heat and power plants to increase their profitability. As an example, reducing heat output for a short time to below predicted demand would avoid some electricity generation; this could be offered to the market as negative balancing power, giving rise to additional revenues.
The applications cover a broad spectrum of different tasks; since Ogema is an open system, all developers and producers are free to turn their ideas for using energy more efficiently into software for the platform. "Our framework is comparable with other open-source projects, such as Android. That's what marks it out from the rest – within home and building automation , all the existing systems are proprietary," says Nestle.
The Ogema Alliance and an industry working group were formed with the aim of driving the development of software and the transfer of the reasearch results into the market. Participants in the wsorking group receive regular upgrades on the project's progress and learn how they can program applications for the platform. Ogema 1.0 can already be downloaded free (www.ogema-alliance.org). Now Fraunhofer researchers are working on Ogema 2.0, the finalised version of which is set to be made available in mid-2013. Besides other things, it will feature new security functions and improved programming interfaces, while also making it easier to install applications in future.