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.


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.


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.


Another kind of Southern Lights

Noctiluca scintillans bllom with Hobart in the background

Noctiluca scintillans bloom with Hobart in the background

So there you are, trying to take some pictures of the Aurora Australis, and there’s too much light. When there shouldn’t be. Blue light.

If you jumped to the conclusion that this was an alien invasion, you probably like science fiction. You’d also be right. But the aliens are from Earth, appearing in a place they don’t belong. However, they’re happily making it their home. Jellyfish expert Lisa-Anne Gershwin was in the right place at the right time to identify what was happening.

Microscopic image of Noctiluca scintillans

Up close and personal with Noctiluca scintillans, commonly known as ‘sea sparkle’.

It’s a dinoflagellate called Noctiluca scintillans (which actually means ‘sparkling night’ in Latin). They’re phytoplankton – single-celled creatures, not strictly an animal, not exactly a plant. Seen separately, they look like tiny colourless lily-pads. But when the conditions are right, they look like something else altogether. Sometimes they bloom – countless tiny creatures, all massed together.

This was what the Aurora Australis photographers saw. All it takes is a good rain, which washes nutrients into the coastal water, combined with a gentle wind to concentrate these tiny creatures into a mass.

These blooms are almost certainly more common than we know, but most go unnoticed because they occur away from places where humans are likely to see them.

They make their own light, using a chemical reaction. Bioluminescence is found in almost every phylum, with different sorts of creatures having different colours of light, and using it for different purposes. It can be a startling effect to would-be predators, a warning to others, a call for help, or a way to recognise a potential mate. In this particular case it’s probably a startling effect, simply because the other explanations indicate greater cognitive function than is likely in single-celled creatures.

A kick gives a lightshow

A kick gives a lightshow

At South Arm in Tasmania, where a recent bloom occurred, the beach was blue for kilometres in both directions, glowing and flashing for most of the night. A band 1-2m wide along the beach was glowing quite brightly, and with each lapping wavelet it flashed a brilliant blue. The wave wash on the sand left behind a bed of twinkles.

Dipping your hand in it gave the skin an eerie Avatar-like appearance. A handful of sand thrown into the water elicited a brilliant flash of dots. And a piece of seaweed dipped into the water then flicked produced an amazing arc of light followed by an explosion of light when they hit the water. A kick of the water gave a similar arc and explosion, but even more brightly.

Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? And it was, except here comes the ‘but’.

They’re an introduced species, penetrating the Southern Ocean, and they’re notorious for fish kills.

The majority of dinoflagellates are more plant-like than animal-like: they photosynthesise. Noctiluca doesn’t. Because it has no chloroplasts, it has to get food the old fashioned way, by eating something else. Mainly the ‘something else’ is other phytoplankton, but has been known to eat copepods (small crustaceans) and even occasionally tiny fish fry. Adjusted for scale, this is the equivalent of a human being eaten by a clam.

It’s been implicated in the decline of fisheries in other areas. Although it does not appear to be toxic itself, it accumulates and excretes high levels of ammonia into the surrounding area while it’s gorging itself on phytoplankton.

So, not all good. But it’s so beautiful, all we can say is…
WOW written in sand DSC_0148


Would you look at that, we’re on Instagram

Just a taste of the delightful images we have to share. View over the Murtho floodplain adjacent to the River Murray near Renmark, South Australia

Just a taste of the delightful images we have to share. View over the Murtho floodplain adjacent to the River Murray near Renmark, South Australia

When we got started way back in 1926, the telegram was one of the primary methods of communication. Almost a century on we’re still ‘graming’ but this time the medium is a little more… visual.

Yep, you guessed it: CSIRO got an Instagram account. If you are part of the Instagram community follow us @CSIROgram for a glimpse into our world of world-leading science.

We’ve already got a few pics up ready for you to like, and we’re even going to run a competition to celebrate (but more on that later).

Why Instagram?

We’re fortunate enough to see the marvels of science on a daily basis, we see the beauty of the Australian landscape – from the desert to the beach, the forest to the bush and all points in between. We see creatures great and infinitesimally small. We see incredible technology come to life, like advanced robotics, energy harvesting technologies and incredible ocean-faring vessels. Now we want to share this visual feast with you.

And to get things started, we’re running a competition.

Well, hello sailor

If you’re in the Sydney area this week, we want to see your best selfies with the Marine National Facility’s RV Investigator as it visits Sydney for the first time.

Which side is her good side? The RV Investigator will be our selfie celeb when the vessel arrives in Sydney

Which side is her good side? The RV Investigator will be our selfie celeb when the vessel arrives in Sydney

It’ll be coming through the Heads around 3pm to berth at Garden Island. Send us your best shots by using #CSIROgram for a chance to win a guided tour of the most impressive marine research vessel we’ve ever seen.

Why would you set yourself up for ridicule, as you whip out the selfie stick and bunch together with friends and family awkwardly in public? Prizes of course.

The selfie we decide is  the most interesting/special/amusing will win a tour on the RV Investigator when it’s back in Sydney on the 19th June, 2015. This is a rare opportunity, the ship isn’t open to the public and you would be one of the few  people (who aren’t marine biologists) to set foot on these hallowed decks.

We also have merchandise galore to giveaway for honorable mentions and runners up – over 100 items in fact.

The crew of the RV Investigator have laid down the challenge. This selfie was taken while en route to Sydney - can you do better? Image: L-R

The crew of the RV Investigator have laid down the challenge. This selfie was taken while off the Victorian coast en route to Sydney. Can you do better? Image: L-R Ben Rae, Tegan Sime and Alan Martin.

How do I win?

Step 1: Follow us on Instagram: @CSIROgram

Step 2: Find the RV Investigator in Sydney

Step 3: Take a picture of the vessel and upload it to Instagram using #CSIROgram. You will need to have a public profile so we can see your pictures. (If you aren’t on Instagram share your image on Facebook and Twitter– with the hashtag)

Step 4: Win prizes. Which prizes? These prizes.


T&C’s

  • Did I Win?: Winners will be chosen by CSIRO based on images uploaded to our social channels (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) which include the hashtag: #CSIROgram. The image adjudged to be the most interesting, unique or humourous will be declared the winner.
  • When and Where: The RV Investigator makes its way into Sydney passing the heads at approx. 3pm on Wednesday 13th May, 2015. The ship will be at Garden Island till 1800 Friday 15th May. That doesn’t give you a lot of time, but we are confident of some amazing images
  • Be a Follower: You must be following one of our accounts to be considered (whether it be submitted via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter)
  • Selfie sour-puss?: We want to see lots of selfies, but if you don’t feel comfortable being in the shot, we’re accepting any and all images of the Investigator – but you need to make it interesting
  • Not on Instagram?: Shame on you! But we don’t mind, share your pics with us on Facebook and Twitter and we will include those in the competition, if you include #CSIROgram
  • Be safe: The vessel will be docked at Garden Island won’t be accessible to the public. With this in mind we need to state that any image that is clearly taken from an unsafe or illegal location will not be permitted. We reserve the right to disallow any unsafe or dangerous images; be clever not reckless
  • The Tour: The winner of the tour must be available to attend the tour on Friday 19th June, 2015 at 9 AM – you will have to make your own arrangements to get to the ship which will be berthed in Sydney Harbour
    • Max. 4 people allowed to attend. All tour participants must be aged 13 or older
    • Participants must wear closed-toe shoes and trousers are recommended
    • No smoking, eating or drinking on board
    • Tour participants won’t be able to carry anything in their arms – no bags, dogs, walking sticks, etc
    • The tour is not recommended for people who suffer from claustrophobia
    • Tours span 6 of the ship’s 11 levels, and may prove challenging for people with mobility issues. Please consider whether this tour is right for you, before entering the competition
    • The tours are not transferable and must be taken on Friday 19th May, 2015 at 9AM
  • Runner up and honorable mention prizes: There are 100 prizes to be given away –  the exact combination given of prizes sent to the winners, will be determined after the competition has ended.

 


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