Wattwatchers 2018

So it has been a while since I posted … 5 years!
During that time, as CTO of Wattwtachers, we have built a profitable company with 20k shipped device, 50k (min) for next 12 months
Check out wattwatchers.com.au for details, but as a short summary:

* The Auditor6M is a 3G / LTE energy meter with 6 channels of Class 1 measurement
* The Auditor6W is the WiFi version, with diversity antennas and excellent range
* Both can report to multiple hosting sites and include a device management system
* Both have highly configurable metrology and reporting content and duration

So what? Well,
* both of these products are built entirely within a 2U DIN enclosure … 35mm wide.
* install even in crowded switchboards in less than 20 minutes
* they are Level III UL listed to UL61010; PTCRB; CE; CISPR etc.

(Other “behind the meter” products consist of many parts wired together in an IP65 box outside the meter box, require lots of wiring and hours of time.)

Additionally, “option” boards inside the Auditor 2U package can do things like
* switch up to three loads via mains-powered contactors
* connect to inverters via ModbusRTU (battery and solar feed-in control etc.)
* provide multiple up links (3G/LTE AND WiFi … 2Q18)
* provide Modnet connections

So what now? Applications!
The Wattwatcher “data layer” for the grid enables all “new energy” applications.
Move over, “Smart Meters”.

In Australia, AEMO (the market operator) wants 5-minute data.
* Auditors can supply 5-second and 5-minute data in real time
* Expensive Smart Meters provide 15 or 30-minute data … tomorrow.

Contact info@wattwatchers.com.au for an API to start developing real-time energy apps.

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Smart Meters

The peak problem that drives infrastructure expense exists for a very few hours each year.

Smart Meters:
• would make energy cost more on 100% of days to address a <1% problem
• Do not contribute to increased penetration of renewables
• Data is unsuitable for automation or positive behaviour change
• Are of little use unless they communicate, which is expensive the Utilities way
• Are rightly seen by the public as another gouging
• Would seriously raise stress levels generally, without enabling any positive measures
• Cost a lot of money, have installation issues, and achieve very little
• Preserve the status quo: basic power relationships will remain untouched
• Would reduce peak marginally, but not contribute to reduced use or carbon
• Meet the Industry requirement of not delivering less electricity
• Storms cause more outages than distribution constraints.
• Smart meters do not support multi-retailing, so retailers add no value and no competition
• Renewables and all other trends drive in the direction of reduced peak, and carbon
• The inevitable reduction in grid delivered energy makes Smart Meters even more expensive
• Get me out of here! get 90% off the grid with PV and (stationary and vehicular) batteries

Plenty of electricity, a few distribution issues

The Energy Market has no resemblance to a “commodity” or “stock” market: it is not mediated by volume. The idea that “a scarce resource should cost more” simply does not apply to electricity. It is not scarce at all, until that moment that it is. There is currently an overabundance of generation capacity all the time, and some distribution issues in some areas for a few hours.

No realtime measurement or control

The existing industry is utterly without new ideas .. there is an enormous silence. Domestic energy management that reflects into grid efficiencies is the elephant that is NOT in the room.

Off the Grid

Prices are now at a level that it feasible (at scale) to take a medium size house off the grid except for a connection that would be used to “precharge” batteries based on weather forecast.
This will happen in niches at first, on SWER lines and more remote locations. These solutions are already being commercially offered.

Consumer Energy Management

The nature of this technology
• Requires no legislation
• Much lower cost that Smart Meters
• Does everything a Smart meter does except disconnect the client
• No communication costs (uses the householders internet connection)
• Co-exists with existing metering systems
• Easier and cheaper to install that smart meters (asbestos)
• Makes the entire grid more efficient (public benefit)
• Enables the centrally coordinated “demand side” at domestic and commercial scale
• Start to manage hot water systems pool pumps: GWs of power
• even small amounts of demand side response will have a huge effect on peak prices
• Acts to limit market “gaming”
• Better management the business “critical half hour” dramatically lowers costs
• Can detect imminent grid instability and act within seconds to shed load
• Enables new forms of contracts e.g. between renewables and pool pumps, electric vehicles
• Acts to reduce carbon and prices
• Enables “smart hot water” (weather predictions limit unnecessary boost)
• Optimise cost benefit of electric solar panels
• Minimise the “voltage push” problem (too many solar panels in one area)
• Enable larger solar panel installs for business (currently limited to “Sunday morning use”)
• Information and control is delibered to browsers and smart phone apps
• Will drive down the requirement for additional poles and wires
• Meets the consumer requirement to be not threatened, and in control
• Can provide significant improvements in energy management in remote locations
• Provides for a a high degree of adaptability
• A large scale rollout costs very little
• Enterprise class systems that handle the data and provide applications already in use
• Several hundred devices built and running
• Consistent with emerging international “demand management” standards
• Provides “smart hot water” technology to local industry to help compete with cheap imports

Why hasn’t some else done it.

Other “home monitoring” systems were not designed with the intent outlined in this document. For that reason they are all inadequate in one way or other.
This is an exercise in distributed computing, executed by very experienced product and systems development engineers.

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My My

This is a direct copy from a letter to the SMH from Sue Martin. Brilliant!!

I used to think that Australians lived in communities. After all there was Your ABC.

However, things seem to have changed. Now there is My School, My Hospital, My RTA, My University, and so on.

According to Tony Abbott we should also have My Money and My Taxes.

Presumably My Environment is not My Problem because it is not entitled to My Money and My Taxes

The next generation can deal with Your Carbon Pollution.

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Gnomes, Sustainability.

Gardening Naturally Over Mother Earth

What don’t we get about “Sustainable”?
If it is “Unsustainable”, then you can’t keep doing it!
Some force of nature will rise up an smite you!
Your top soil will blow away, you will run out of minerals and oil (that WILL HAPPEN one day), your fish stocks will vanish, the temperature will rise, and your civilisation will turn to dust.

So do WE want to deal with it, or do we want to leave a more difficult problem to our children? Frankly, I can’t imagine either of my kids ever being as competant at everything as I am, so we are faced with declining problem solving ability in the face of more difficult issues.

By the way, have you ever noticed that WA never stops complaining about two things: the rest of Australia is taking money from them, and there’s a labour and skills shortage. Maybe if they spent some money on training people, housing people, providing public transport i.e. community building then maybe we in the East wouldn’t have to do it for them. Anyway, what is it they want – a business or a community?

Why not deal with it now? For naturally replenished resources, the famous U curve shows that there is an optimum number of fish to be caught (equal to the natural replacement rate): if you fish too many then more and more effort and cost goes to catching fewer fish.

The atmosphere is a member of the replenished class of resources, but that too is being over fished. I’m planning on moving south.

Coal and Iron in Australia will also run out, but we’ve got a few hundred years there. If we can’t sell the deniers on fish and CO2 problems, we can give up on this one. The side effect of too much money in minerals is that the rest of the economy goes to hell in a handbasket. The deskilling issue is dealt with elsewhere; this is where engineering and other creative decisions are made by people like lawyers and economists. Like the energy problem.

BTW, to you nuclear lovers (any left?) just remember we only have a few tens of years of known uranium reserves before we have to turn to breeder reactors. That’ll increase our security forces by ten timesand the cost of electricity by a factor of four.

Oil is probably the thing most likely to bring our sushi-less life style to a close. When that happens (NOBODY doubts this will happen in our children’s life time) the world will be a different place. Or maybe not, if the CSIRO could be pursueded to get back to doing research on energy instead of employing a bunch of half wits using the same financial models, and aspirations, as Gerry Harvey.

If CSIRO could put the molecules together to make an organism that transmutes solar energy+CO2+crappy plant matter to alcohol, then maybe I’ll still buy that Ferrari when I’m 70 and the gummint can keep building roads.

BTW, where’s Barry going to put those extra 2m people he wants in Sydney? What’s the plan, Baz?

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Outages, Voltage, and the Utility Support Desk

ETSA, the Electricity Trust of South Australia, receives 600,000 telephone contacts per year. Multiply by 15 for the rest of Australia, at say $10/call, and ignoring the lost productivity, that adds up to $100m per year.

There is no breakdown of these (bill queries, service issues etc) on the site, so we can only guess at what is really going on in terms of customer relations. The only stats I could find is that service issues (no power!) amount to 150 minutes per year per customer.

But given that no utility has visibility below the substation, and all rely on customer complaints to identify outages, it is likely that a good many of these calls relate to “the power is off”. In many cases, it takes hours to identify the cause.

WattWatcher devices deal with the “Information Asymmetery problem” and will provide automated outage data. Unfortunately, they will also provide power quality data and identify when the voltage is out of range. Which will probably INCREASE the number of complaints. It is generally thought that the voltage is regularly out of range for 10% of consumers. Too close to the substation and you can see 270V plus. Too far, and the voltage is too low. And of course high voltage means higher power. And of course the higher voltage is required at times of high demand, exacerbating the peak problem.

And nothing is being said about the transition from 240VAC to 230VAC. More on this later.

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Why ISM?

Why on earth is the Energy Industry choosing 2.4GHz to run the new AMI infrastructure? It is already cluttered (WiFi, Bluetooth, legacy systems), is sub optimal for long life battery powered devices, and the multipath effects are stronger

Anywhere would be much better: at 433MHz batteries last 6 times longer. And it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, an ISM band. Why not allocate (that’s a technical term that means dedicate) say 8 MHz from the space left by analog TV? This would reduce interference and improve noise floors. It would make a meaningful difference to say water meters: a battery could last a couple of decades. This “choice” in fact has not been a choice at all; the amateurs that “advise” and “consult” on these issues are simply unaware of the options, or indeed the consequences of the path they have recommended (Zigbee is wonderfull for everything). There has never been a discussion paper canvassing the various options and I have never heard the “allocated” option even verbally explored.

Maybe it’s because the energy companies and government don’t employ any real developers? Telstra traditionally would have played a behind-the-scenes role, in the interest of common decency. But it probably no longer gives a damn – doesn’t affect their bottom line, right?

It’s not as if a miserable 8 MHz is going to make the slightest difference to the one-off revenue bonanza available to government in the spectrum auction.

The only coherent technological voice is zigbee.org and their technology is committed to 2.4GHz regardless. Driven by the same kind of community-defeating short-termism in other parts of the US which allows the propagation of femto cells to “improve” a lousy mobile phone system. These things are driving up the noise floor and ruining the whole GSM environment for everybody.

Thank goodness that at least Telstra’s self-interest is at work here in Australia and femto cells are outlawed.

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The Ideal Energy Market

What would the most efficient energy market look like?

It doesn’t require retailers to function. The NEM rules allow for Retailers but does not require them to exist. Getting rid of the retailers is good economics, although most economists couldn’t conceive how this could be possible (they aren’t engineers!), or allow it to happen (hey, who’s running things here?). For the last ten years it has been an economist who has stood between Energy Australia management and the shareholders (represented by the Finance Minister and Treasurer of NSW).

It needs a lot of regulatory trimming. Many efficiencies are simply not possible under the existing NEM regulations. Unlike the UK for instance, Australia has had no substantive regulatory movement in a decade.

The political process is flawed. For example, a policy change that required better network statistics (less outage) is responsible for substantial cost increases (about 25% of each of the recent and future changes). This requirement was opportunistic, and gleefully accepted by the networks (there’s another wad of capital and with guaranteed return of 8.5%).

The AER is supposed to review and contain energy infrastructure costs. In reality it is close to being a rubber stamp. It is an organisation full of economists with no in dependant engineering input. All it does is compare proposals to the basket of Australian network companies; no international benchmarks are used. They are unable to evaluate the alternatives (efficiency, demand side, load shifting etc) because they are no equipped technically, and of course the network companies just want to spend the money.

It would join consumers directly to the market without the retailer interfering with pricing and trying to remove cash from the system. This requires meters that support 5 minute intervals and a suite of applications to support supply and demand at each point.

There is an interesting precedent for this kind of system. Hi-end GPS systems provide real time road conditions so that decisions can be made by each vehicle on the optimum route (based on time, cost, fuel, or whatever). The intelligence is gathered in real time by monitoring taxi transit time all over the city; this data is provided to a central point (the RTA) and then broadcast over an FM-SCA channel.

In the case of WattWatchers WAN-connected AUDITORs, real time information is gathered at each consumer and processed at WAN-connected server where any kind of global statistic can be generated and any kind of application be executed. This enables optimisations that can slow energy price increases, create better conditions for renewables, reduce costs, and (the economists will like this bit) redistribute resources.

About half the increases in energy costs is from increasing gas and coal prices, driven by exports. Maybe the miners should be subsidising national energy costs. Maybe Julia could mention this when she meets the miners next time.

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Economics, Business and Education

The School of Economics at UNSW (Uni of New South Wales) was renamed The Australian School of Business. This sums up the prevailing attitude that degrees are about personal advancement and the peculiar interests of corporations.

Economics used to be about more than this. The 1828 edition of Webster’s dictionary contains a definition for political economy that seems to longer apply:

“Political economy, the administration of the revenues of a nation; or the management and regulation of its resources and productive property and labor. Political economy comprehends all the measures by which the property and labor of citizens are directed in the best manner to the success of individual industry and enterprise, and to the public prosperity.”

While this doesn’t say much about technology or the environment, it tries harder than modern definitions:

(1) The social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services
(2) The study of how the forces of supply and demand allocate scarce resources

Nice and short – leave out all that messy stuff about “public prosperity” and focus on the market: the KPIs are simpler to understand, and it is so damned hard to measure girly things like “livability”, “standard of living”, “happiness”, “social capital”, “environment degradation”.

Not only has the teaching of economics been dumbed down but the same people (it all started with Hilmer) have been dumbing down everything else as well. It has been going on so long that we have pretty much lost the ability to manage our technological selves.

Engineering de-skilling at the corporate level is so severe that very large organisations have less ability no than in the past (they need more!). For instance Energex with 2.5 million customers don’t employ a single Electronics Engineer.

The word “research” is now applied to the process of Googling. It no longer requires a creative component, and PhDs are awarded to people who simply collate.

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Getting the message across

Our mothers tell us that “asking nicely” is a good way to get what you want. There are better ways!

Making the message personal is a good way, using the approval of others is better, and a bit of emotional blackmail is best.

A hotel recently tested this by using several different notices about the re-use of towels.

The first notice just asked guests (nicely) to place unused towels on the bed from where they could be replaced in the bathroom.
The second notice pointed out that in general 75% of guests actually did this: this gave better results than the first notice.
The third notice pointed out that 75% of the guests “in this room” had joined in: this impoved results again.
The fourth and most successful notice claimed that a contribution had already been made “on your behalf” to a charity and thanked the occupant for their participation.

Climate change is not nice, is not personal, and is displaced sometime in the future. Nothing viceral about it. Not even energy bills are very immediate (you have to wonder why the energy companies aren’t billing monthly like everyone else).

WattWatcher products help make energy and climate change a lot more personal.

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Storm Water

Rain in forests enters the ground and is stored; about 15% is gradually released and finds its way into natural streams. As it moves throught the soil it is filtered; this is why mountain streams are so clear.

Rain in cities falls on hard surfaces that carry dust and pollution from the atmosphere and animals. The water is not retained or filtered by the soil, and carries much of the pollution into the streams.

City folk can improve their streams and cities by slowing the release of storm water. By storing water in tanks, and using it to make lush green gardens and grow food, we can reduce “food miles”, improve our health, reduce the temperature of cities, reduce the requirement for airconditioning, reduce our energy bills, and reduce carbon.

Public policy has been to recommend the establishment of “drought resistant” gardens to reduce use of reticulated water. Rain water is the one natural resource we should use more.

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