A piece of hardware developed by Ecocentric in collaboration with the CSIRO may by the catalyst that brings a wave of investment in energy efficiency. 

The missing piece in the puzzle – that will allow consumers of electricity to identify where it is being ill-used – has been found. In a world where investment in energy efficiency is made foggy by the harsh difficulty in identifying waste, the air is about to clear.

The solution comes in Numen, a piece of hardware about the size of a sandwich developed by Perth-based company Ecocentric in collaboration with the CSIRO.

With a global licence agreed to in February the technology is ready to be commercialised, and CEO Tim Bray (pictured) expects there to be plenty of demand.

“The reason why investment energy efficiency can often underwhelm is because they’re done blind, without the level of data and information that allows people to not just see the consumption of their building but to see individual devices within it,” Bray told EcoGeneration. “And that is the missing link.”

Detective skills

The Numen has the detective skills to identify individual devices drawing electricity in a business or home. “Each device emits a different pattern in terms of how it uses electricity,” Bray says. “We sample at 256,000 times a second, and when you look at the electrical data in that high fidelity you’re able to see patterns.”

The CSIRO has “cracked the code” of what those patterns mean, he says, and constructed a library of data that identify thousands of devices and operational modes.

“We can identify those devices from a switchboard,” he says. “They might be hundreds of metres away in a building somewhere, yet the electrical signature we read will identify that device. We’re effectively the shazam of electrical devices.”

Under the cloud

Multiple devices on a circuit can be individually identified and ranked by the amount of power they are using. The Numen hardware is fitted to a switchboard and accesses the dataset from the cloud.

“With the CSIRO we have built the library of devices so that when Numen is deployed it can recognise them,” Bray says. The software then shows the user what devices are drawing power and whether they are operating efficiently.

He gives the example of a hairdryer, where the various combinations of temperature and draft strength can each be assigned a unique mode identity code. “The signatures can be quite dynamic,” he says. “We can then go a step further and identify a non-standard mode of operation.”

In an industrial setting this means someone managing critical infrastructure can be alerted by the software when a piece of equipment starts operating in a non-standard way. “That has massive application in an industrial context,” he says, suggesting gains from minimising maintenance costs and reducing downtime, as well as using less energy.

Consumer solutions

Because Numen is “technology agnostic” it will reveal the best solution for each scenario it’s set to work in, “and we don’t have a vested interest in whatever that solution is,” Bray says.

“Our only vested interest is making sure the consumer knows what the best solution is.”

The library of devices is flexible enough to be updated by users if it comes across something it has limited knowledge of, so that the dataset will expand as the technology penetrates the market. Bray calls this an ability to engage the users in a “citizen science kind of way”.

Part of the licence with the CSIRO includes a research services agreement that will see at least one dedicated member of CSIRO working full-time on the technology. “So as we enter the market with something that’s already amazing and world-leading we have the weight and might and intelligence of the CSIRO working on it every day to continually improve it,” Bray says.

The Numen hardware can integrate via the cloud with other control systems, he says. “We make existing technologies more powerful.”

Ecocentric is a private company and is currently working on commercial agreements with distribution partners in Australia and the UK. Bray can’t comment on how much Numen will cost until agreement is reached on distribution.