Taking remote control of your electricity

 

Man using tablet

Eddy gives people more control over their energy usage, helping them to save money.

By Eamonn Bermingham

Electricity prices, poles, wires, peak demand. Pick any combination of words and you’ll find a raft of news pieces, heated debates and public protests. ‘Poles and wires’ was an issue that led the NSW state election this year, and bill woes led to 58,000 properties in Victoria being disconnected in a single year.

It’s an inescapable cost for the consumer and the environment. But it’s also one that can be managed, by quite literally taking things into your own hands.

That’s why we’ve developed a new system that takes smart metering a step further, allowing consumers to monitor their electricity consumption in real-time and control high-drain devices remotely using an online interface – on a computer, smartphone or tablet.

The system, known by its friends (and the market) as “Eddy”, is being commercialised by Australian company HabiDapt. Eddy will send consumers personalised insights and recommendations about their electricity use, and take part in demand management schemes with incentivised pricing for additional savings. Think of Eddy as your own efficient energy consultant.

This is a terrific example of the Internet of Things (IoT) – where real world items are made smarter by connecting to the internet – sadly not all IoT ideas are a winner: Wi-Fi diapers anyone?

We think Eddy is one of the more grounded systems to come out of the IoT trend. Using cloud-based software and mini smart meters, Eddy allows you to control your appliances remotely. You could even automate the process using the online interface.

The technology is based on our sophisticated Energy Management System, which has also been adapted for use on King Island’s Smart Grid.

The research group behind the electricity management system was led by Brad Sparkes (nominative determinism anyone?), who points out that houses with solar PV installations stand to gain even more, as Eddy can be programmed to prioritise running high-drain devices like pool pumps when the house is generating excess power. If the sun doesn’t shine for a few days, the pool won’t go stagnant, as the system is smart enough to recognise when to use grid power instead.

HabiDapt is currently trialling the technology in homes with solar PV systems in Perth, and is also rolling the system out with Ergon Energy in Townsville, where it is being offered to customers as ‘HomeSmart’.

While Eddy isn’t available to all our readers during the trial phase, we thought we would share some of our favourite energy savings tips:

  1. Use the Green Savings calculator to make your house greener. Use the tool to identify a variety of ways to save on energy and water costs plus a whole lot more.
  2. Use the cold cycle in your washing machine. Heating water during a washing cycle accounts for 90% of the energy use of the appliance.
  3. Be smart about using your dishwasher. Run the dishwasher during off-peak times (often overnight). Ensure that it is full and the dishes are stacked efficiently.
  4. Try not to use the dryer. Opt for a clothes airer or clothesline.
  5. Ditch the beer fridge. Sacrilege I hear you scream! But it will save you a heap of money.

Let us know your favourite power-saving tips in the comments section below. If you would like to find out more about Eddy, visit Habidapt’s website. To learn more about our work in energy, head to our website.


Young Aussie scientists on the international stage

And Kevin makes six

Our five winners, and Kevin the Kangaroo

Five winners from this year’s BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards, and an inflatable kangaroo called Kevin, were among just eight Australian students competing at the prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) – the ‘world cup’ of student science and engineering competitions.

Almost 1700 high school students from 78 countries competed for around $4 million in scholarships and prizes and the Aussies did us proud!

Some of them aren’t yet old enough to drive, but they’re trying to change the world through science, engineering and maths, working on projects so advanced that global research institutes (including CSIRO) are tackling the same issues. It’s not easy to get a spot at this event – almost 7 million high school students from around the world participate in local science contests for a chance to attend the event, held in Pennsylvania this year from 10-15 May.

Dhruv Verma from Scotch College in Victoria was one of the Aussie students who made it.

Dhruv won the engineering category of the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering awards, with a smartphone app to help the elderly live independently in their own homes.

This invention earned Dhruv the opportunity to attend the international competition.

“I was happy and excited to win the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards. It has given me the opportunity to participate in Intel ISEF and validated that my app is solving a real world problem in the global community,” Dhruv said.

He was also one of 20 students honoured with the chance to ask a question to a panel of Nobel laureates at the event.

Somya Mehra from Balwyn High School in Victoria earned her place at Intel ISEF for developing a microbial fuel cell that creates both bioenergy and bioethanol from the same substrate.

She says it was exciting to meet so many other young scientists from around the globe.

“The girl next to my booth was from Saudi Arabia, opposite me was a girl from Brazil, and a couple of rows down, a team from Uruguay. We couldn’t always speak the same language, but we could still share our ideas and our passion for science, technology, engineering and maths”.

Students onstage at ISEF

It was a very international stage

Passionate science teacher and winner of the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Teacher Award, Philippa Miller, was also lucky enough to attend.

The BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards is one of the few  Australian competitions that gives students and teachers the opportunity  to attend Intel ISEF.

You can enter the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards by participating in a state-based science teacher association contest or CSIRO’s CREST Awards.

The BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards – a partnership between BHP Billiton, CSIRO and the Australian Science Teachers Association – are Australia’s most prestigious school science awards.

The Intel Foundation is also a supporter of the awards and gives financial assistance for some winning Australian students to attend Intel ISEF each year.

You can read more about the BHP Billiton Science and Engineering Awards, and get together your entry for 2016, over on their website.


How do your eating habits measure up?

food groups image 1500x752Do you you think you eat enough vegetables to shame a goat? Does your self-restraint when it comes to curly fries make you a smug dinner companion? Or are you an unabashed chocoholic, throwing caution to the wind when it comes to all things cocoa? We all feel varying amounts of guilt and pride about what we eat, but how often do we make an honest assessment of our diet and think about what we could do better?

Well, now’s the time with our new online assessment tool that allows you to measure the quality of your eating habits. Introducing the Healthy Diet Score (HDS).

The HDS is a simple validated scoring system that we hope will help individual Australians measure the nutritional quality of what they eat. The score has been designed to measure whether a person is achieving the food recommendations from the Australian Dietary Guidelines for healthy eating.

Your score will be based on food variety, frequency, quantity and attributes like age and gender. You will receive a Diet Score between 1 and 100 and recommendations on how you can improve your diet.

csiro-blog-full-score

The launch of the HDS follows more than three years of research by CSIRO and University of South Australia and is capable of providing a similar evaluation to other more complex diet assessment methods, such as weekly tracking of food intake

Research Director for Nutrition and Health and the co-author of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, Professor Manny Noakes,  says that often most people overestimate how healthy their food intake is or may not be aware of what amounts of different foods are necessary for good nutrition.

“The online assessment aims to provide guidance on how to improve eating habits and to serve as a reminder that there is always room for improvement when it comes to making healthy food choices.

With most methods to assess eating habits being long and time consuming, we developed the Healthy Diet Score to provide an easy quick and reliable measurement for people to better understand the quality of their diet,” said Professor Noakes.

“A nutritious diet means eating a wide range of foods associated with a healthy lifestyle. However too often people will focus on a single food component or nutrient when looking to improve their diet. We know from previous research conducted that on average people are not eating enough vegetables, wholegrains and dairy foods and are eating too much junk food” said Professor Noakes.

You can watch Professor Noakes talking about the HDS on the Sunrise website.

We will aim to use the data collected from the HDS to help develop better ways to improve national eating habits and integrate it with other research into nutrition and dietary behaviour.

It only takes 10 minutes, so perhaps now’s the time to get your score?

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A new Atlantis

Not this one. It's the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas.

Not this one. It’s the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas.

Wouldn’t it be good if there were a spare ecosystem we could try things out on before making a decision about how we use resources? Sadly, there’s no Earth II, but at least we have Atlantis.

No, not the fabled sunken city, but a marine ecosystem modelling tool that lets resource managers and coastal planners test drive their decisions before they commit to them in the real world.

We’ve developed a model that encompasses oceanography, chemistry and biology, and simulates ecological processes such as consumption, migration, predation and mortality.

The United Nations rated Atlantis as the best ecosystem model in the world for looking at alternative management strategies for fisheries, and regional versions are being used in management strategy evaluation for more than 30 ecosystems in a wide range of places.

Before models like Atlantis were available, decisions about resource use were made in isolation. We’d make our plans about things like fisheries or water quality based on what we knew about fisheries or water quality, rather than on their effects on the entire system. And decisions like these – that don’t look at the system as a whole, interdependent web – can often be on the wrong side of the law of unintended consequences.

So Beth Fulton got to work and created Atlantis.

It gathers information including ocean currents, and the way the food system works, all the way up from phytoplankton – tiny plants that exist in oceans and underpin the marine food chain. They build up through to seaweed and sea grasses, different kinds of fish, to marine mammals like dugongs, sharks and seabirds. The modelling incorporates the ways people interact with the oceans and the Earth, and includes coastal industries such as ports and fisheries, along with the social and economic pressures that drive resource use decisions.

A conceptual diagram of Atlantis

A conceptual diagram of Atlantis

Atlantis has its longest usage history in south-eastern Australia. This is a marine area of about 4 million square kilometres, and home to Australia’s largest fishery. It’s also – literally – a hot spot for ocean warming. There the ocean temperature is rising faster than anywhere else, and the Australian current that extends down the eastern seaboard to Victoria is pushing further south to Tasmania.

The carbon dioxide that’s sucked up into the ocean is making the water more acidic. The balance of marine species, and their range, is likely to alter as the climate warms. We’ll still have fish and still be eating them, but there will need to be some major decisions made about how best to manage fisheries.

One of the beauties of the Atlantis model is that it can be re-calibrated with new data as the effects of warming oceans begin to be felt. This will be vital to making far-reaching decisions that can no longer be based on the old certainties.

For more on our work in oceans, head to our website.


Business beams with new solar cells

The CSIRO research team

The sun provides a huge amount of energy for us and our work on solar cells is helping to capture it.

By Emily Lehmann

Blessed with beautiful beaches and plenty of sunshine, it’s easy to argue that Australia is the lucky country.

Of all our major cities, Perth takes the cake as the sunniest with an average 3200 hours of sunshine annually. Even well-seasoned Melbournians, who live in our least sunny city, get to enjoy an average of 2200 hours of sunshine a year.

So it might not be so hard to believe that Australia is home to the highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent. Not only does this reinforce why ‘slip, slop, slap’ should be every local’s mantra, this high degree of sunshine means that we have some of the best solar energy resources in the world.

Right now, only 1.1 per cent of our electrical energy comes from solar, but this could soon change as new technologies come to market.

Solar cells – like the flexible kind we’re printing – are fast becoming an important player in the renewable energy mix. Thin and lightweight, solar cells can be plastered to almost any surface to harness the sun’s energy and bring you sustainable power.

Solar energy is a business opportunity for Australian industry that’s projected to be worth about US$160 billion internationally by 2023.

Solar cell

A new skin for solar energy. Dyesol’s perovskite based cell is highly efficient.

We’ve been working with Dyesol, a local small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME) to tap into this growing market and help them become the first to commercialise a new kind of solar cell based on perovskite material.

Dyesol develops cutting edge, clean energy generation solutions for consumers and hopes to be able to offer perovskite solar cells as a competitive alternative to the more widely-used thin-film photovoltaic (PV) cells.

Perovskite solar cells are an attractive option as the material cost is low and they are highly efficient to manufacture. Yet, at this stage it’s uncertain whether the product would have stability and durability over the long-term compared to other solar cells currently on the market.

Together, we’re working to investigate this limitation and improve the process for making perovskite solar cells so that Dyesol can produce a high-quality, sought after product.

We’ve undertaken two Department of Industry projects together, where our flexible electronics experts were brought into Dyesol’s business to help them identify the best way to take the technology forward.

Now, through a longer term partnership, we hope to help Dyesol capture the opportunities that this technology – and our great solar potential – offers Australia and turn their idea into a profitable and globally competitive business.

Want  to find the right expertise and tools to overcome technical challenges and grow your business? Connect with our SME Engagement Centre now.


This scanner has a few bugs, and we’re glad about it

How many insect specimens do you think are in the Australian National Insect Collection? A few hundred thousand? A million?

Actually, at the moment, it has about 12 million specimens, and it’s growing by about 100,000 a year. Like many natural history collections around the globe, the ANIC holds thousands of holotypes – each the single specimen of a species that is used to define its characteristic features.

There are all sorts of uses for these specimens, and a lot of people outside the world of entomology have very good reasons for looking at them very closely. But they’re fragile things, and many of them are tiny, so they can’t really leave their cases. And photographs don’t capture all the detail that’s sometimes needed.

So how to make the necessary information available to the people who can use it, while keeping the precious specimens safe and available for research work? Digital 3D colour modelling is ideal, but there have been some major barriers to doing that effectively. The system most used at present – Micro Computed Tomography (Micro CT) can create amazingly accurate models. But it doesn’t capture the object’s natural colour, which is vital information for species identification. It can take many hours. It’s X-ray based, so it needs special safety equipment. The machines also cost around $100,000, and they’re not portable.

Well, there had to be a better way, didn’t there?

So Matt Adcock and his colleagues did some lateral thinking, and came up with InsectScan 3D. This re-imagines 3D image-gathering in a way that doesn’t need custom-made or high-cost equipment (some of it actually came from the local hardware megastore), and the image is in full colour. The entire system uses standard components, and costs less than $8000 for the hardware and software. The digital 3D models come out in a file size small enough to be sent by email and used in web pages. And to make it even better, we can 3D print them.

3D scanned images, printed in 3D. Image by Eleanor Gates-Stuart

3D scanned images, printed in 3D. Image by Eleanor Gates-Stuart

The process uses multiple photographs of the subject, mounted on a disc marked with a pattern of dots. Using a standard DSLR camera and a 2-axis turntable, the insect is photographed at different angles and focus depths. These are then plotted by a computer, using the dot pattern to gauge the angle from which the picture was taken.

In some cases the 3D image is more useful than conventional microscopy. Obviously, the actual specimen provides all the information, but it has to be examined under a microscope for features like the mouth area and hair surface on the head. Out-of-focus effect and other physical restrictions makes using a microscope to view the actual specimen more difficult than viewing the 3D model.

The possibilities for this system are varied. Entomologists and taxonomists already have a massive backlog of insect types which have not yet been digitised in any form, and this system can provide what they’ve been asking for: a network of automated instruments that can clear the backlog by quickly and accurately creating 3D images of type specimens.

Schools and universities can use 3D models of insects as rich education materials, so students can interact with insects without endangering the fragile specimens.

But the most interesting use could be in quarantine and biosecurity. Invasive insects and the diseases they carry are an ever-present threat to Australia‘s environment, its agricultural industries and the health of the population. With this affordable, portable and accurate scanning technology, quarantine officers could carry a 3D gallery of invasive insects with them on inspections to help identify pests. Suspect specimens could be scanned in 3D and sent straight to an expert entomologist for examination. High resolution image libraries will mean we can quickly extract, analyse and share rich information, supporting biodiversity discovery, species identification, quarantine control, and unlocking the value of our biological collections.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? This technology is a finalist in the Smart 100 innovation awards, and there’s a people’s choice category. If you like it as much as we do, we’d really like you to vote for it. All you need to do is click the ‘Share on Facebook’ (or Twitter, or any of the others) button and that’s a vote.


Cracking good science on egg allergens

scientists with egg

Pathum Dhanapala (Deakin) and Tim Doran (CSIRO) have made a breakthrough in their bid to create allergy-free eggs. Image: Mitch Bear

This article was written by Lucie Van den Berg and first appeared in the Herald Sun

What came first – the chicken with the switched off allergen gene, or the allergy-free egg? Our scientists have been working with Deakin University to develop an egg that doesn’t cause allergic reactions, and it’s all about changing the chicken.

In a world first, the team has also created synthetic versions of all four egg white proteins in the lab.

Our own Dr Tim Doran, and Deakin University’s Associate Professor Cenk Suphioglu, said it was one of the first critical steps towards developing allergy-free eggs to make life easier for people with allergies and improve the safety of medications made with eggs, such as flu vaccines.

There are 40 proteins in egg white, but four major ­allergens that cause the ­majority of reactions.

Almost 9 per cent of Victorian infants have an egg ­allergy at 12 months of age, which can lead to dermatitis, asthma, vomiting or gut irritation.

Dr Doran, who has a daughter with such an allergy, said they were used in such a wide range of foods and products, including cosmetics and medication.

Associate Professor Suphioglu said they created all four versions of egg white proteins in the lab and switched off the allergenic ­response in one protein, which is responsible for the majority of allergies.

“We have developed the synthetic versions of the allergens, which are more pure and standardised than the natural extract, which would be useful for both skin-prick testing and immunotherapy,” he said.

Immunotherapy aims to give people tiny amounts of the allergen in a controlled medical setting to induce ­desensitisation or tolerance.

The advantage of switching off the allergenic part of the egg white protein would be that the patient would be less likely to have a dangerous allergic reaction during treatment.

Together with PhD candidate Pathum Dhanapala, the scientist’s ultimate aim is to modify the proteins in egg whites to produce chickens that lay allergy-free eggs.

Professor Mimi Tang, from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Royal Children’s Hospital, said the synthetic protein could one day be useful in immunotherapy trials for allergies, but it was very early to be talking about clinical applications of the research.

“I think the major barriers to overcome with this product for it to be useful is to determine if it can be used to modulate immune responses and induce desensitisation or tolerance,” Prof Tang said.

The research is published in the journal Molecular ­Immunology.


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