Kiwigrid tames your household energy consumption
There’s a new technology coming into your home. But unlike many, this one should save you money.
They are calling it “smart metering” – measuring the energy consumption of devices and appliances in a household over time, and it is becoming mainstream. Smart metering has the potential to monitor and analyse the energy consumption behaviour of individual users and communities, as well as the energy consumption of different machines and appliances. That information allows for more control of one’s “energy performance”.
In Germany, where smart meters are mandatory in new buildings, Kiwigrid, a small and young team based in Dresden, is taking this idea further and extending smart metering using bidirectional communication: a device not only reports its energy consumption, but it can also be controlled and automated remotely.
This brings tremendous cost savings for households and especially for companies, along with the greater ease and convenience that comes when appliances and devices are accessible over the Internet.
Fruitful collaborators: Jörg Eichhorn, Carsten Bether and Martin Schöffel, the founders of Kiwigrid
"Imagine an intelligent energy system in your home that’s linked to a smart energy grid. With that infrastructure, your dishwasher and washing machine would know to run when electricity is cheapest. That kind of intelligence and control could really have a major impact on residential power consumption." Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft – 6 February 2009
Kiwigrid aims to connect all appliances in households and companies, and link them with the Internet to allow remote connection with the user as well as with, for example, the energy provider.
And why not use the protocol that holds the Internet together: the Internet Protocol, known as IP. It sounds like the obvious solution, though it has not yet been widely adopted. But a range of protocols are now being developed for various purposes and types of networks, such as home networks.
Kiwigrid is coping with this variety by assembling a modular microprocessor unit that it calls the MOKO chip, comprising a measurement unit, a control unit and a communication unit. The measurement unit can potentially deal with heat, water and gas.
This is the “Internet of devices” in practice: an Internet that consists not only of large servers and client PCs but also of small computing devices. As long as you are online, you can communicate with the devices from anywhere in the world.
Kiwigrid began when Carsten Bether, a computer scientist with a background in innovation management for software companies, met two electrical engineers with an interest in Internet technology, Martin Schöffel and Jörg Eichhorn, while Carsten was building his house nearly two years ago. “We know how much gas our cars need, how much our phone bill is, but who knows how much our facilities consume?” he says. And that’s without mentioning control and automation: expensive and complex add-ons.
Fresh and green
The team shared the same idea – that the Internet would be the backbone of electrical equipment, and they were convinced that this is the right time to start their project. Why call the company Kiwigrid? The centre of the kiwi fruit is the Internet, surrounded by the devices: green, healthy and fresh. “When the New Zealand ambassador visited our booth at CeBIT 2009, he felt happy as he commented that he finally found something interesting at CeBIT,” Schöffel remembers.
Kiwigrid has grown quickly, from a small team with an idea to a project that is about to be commercialised. “From March until November 2008 we developed the vision and target. In March 2009, we were already prepared to showcase the first prototype, which evolved into version two in October this year,” says Bether.
In phase one Kiwigrid is using plug-ins that sit between each device and the power socket, offering a Kiwigrid starter kit with three plug-ins and a connection to the household’s DSL telephony. The company is looking for early adopters who are interested in testing the equipment, especially power suppliers and facility managers.
The aim is to include the chips directly in the appliances. “That way, we are much closer to the device, we have more possibilities to talk to the device.” And it also expands the capabilities of a device. The company is also thinking of integrating these chips in renewable energy units such as solar panels, which will allow the solar panels to be connected to the Internet, talking to energy suppliers and customers.
“This will mark a milestone in the development of smart grids,” says Bether.
It did not take long until for industry, government agencies and others to notice the emergence of Kiwigrid. The company won prizes in the regional futureSAX competition in January and in Germany’s Gründerwettbewerb, or national start-up contest, in July. Since early this year, Kiwigrid has also been supported by Microsoft’s start-up initiative “unternimm was”.
“It was very encouraging for us when Microsoft approached us to invite us for the start-up initiative. We very much appreciate the advantage of having access to technology and expertise, which is what we need at this point in our project. The programme also offers the opportunity to expand our network rapidly, another major advantage,” says Bether.