The University of Southampton

Smart software: How it can change our energy habits

Published: 8 November 2012

‘Energy avatars’ in our homes that could advise us on how best to use our energy, and even prompt us on changing appliances to gain better cost savings, are part of the future of energy use described by Professor Nick Jennings in a new video on the BBC website.

Professor Nick Jennings, Head of the Agents, Interaction and Complexity research group in Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and one of the world’s leading experts on agent technology, describes how his research team are devising software which enables people to cut their energy use according to different criteria which can be displayed on devices in the home.

In the video Professor Jennings demonstrates how smart information provided by agents can provide live displays of energy use, which his research team has also characterized according to equivalent use by cars or individual air passengers, for example. ‘This helps us keep track and share information which then encourages people to minimize the amount of energy that they use,’ he says. The key is to enable people to cut their energy use without spending too much time working out how to do it.

Professor Jennings believes that systems like this will be essential as we confront the depletion of non-renewable energy sources and the introduction of greener but more expensive alternatives such as wind and wave power.

The introduction of the ‘Smart Grid’ network will be an essential element in more efficient energy use, enabling utilities and the public to monitor and remotely adjust the millions of devices that use electricity. In-home displays of energy use will be essential to facilitate the efficient working of the Smart Grid, and Professor Jennings and his team are currently working on software that will give consumers more understanding of their energy use – even from individual appliances – and therefore greater control over cost and carbon emissions.

The software also learns the energy profile of the house and will monitor this and suggest ways of optimizing usage to fit pre-set parameters. "Interacting with you, it might say, for example, if your washing machine is very inefficient, if you bought a new one within a certain period of time you would have got that money back," says Professor Jennings.

"People are not interested in spending lots of time investigating their energy usage, even though it is such a big bill, so it makes sense to let machines automate some of the process,” he adds.

For further information on this research contact Professor Nick Jennings.

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