When a computing giant like Intel decides to get into the energy management space, it's safe to assume that big things are coming. We've seen hints of it before--Intel announced in 2009 that it was working on energy management systems for buildings--and at this week's Research@Intel event, Fast Company had the chance to see some of the company's freshest research-stage projects that could soon be changing the way the world uses and generates electricity.
Emerging Market Microgrids
Indian schools are required to offer computer instruction, but many of them lack power. Solar power is one solution, but Intel Labs India has been working on another: a low-cost, simple add-on to a bike (pictured above) that generates enough power to charge a cell phone, LED light, or even a classroom PC. After pedaling for five minutes, a user can juice up a cell phone for five hours of use. Thirty minutes of peddling yields enough energy to power a computer for three hours. The device currently costs $80, but Intel is working to get the price down to just $25, which is what an average cell phone costs in India.
Wireless Energy Sensing Technology
So you don't have a smart meter, but you don't want to deal with a home energy monitoring system that has a complicated installation process (see the Ted 5000). It's a quandary that many energy-conscious consumers have to deal with, and one that Intel thinks it can solve with the Intel Labs Wireless Energy Sensing Technology (WEST), a simple plug-in device that keeps track of the energy use of all the devices in your home. WEST works by observing the unique power line signatures of different gadgets (i.e. a fridge or a dishwater) and matching those signatures to a database so it can tell when devices have been turned on or off. Once set up, WEST establishes a wireless link to a home network so that users can keep track of energy data on their smartphones, laptops, and TVs. WEST is currently undergoing in-home trials.
Between 30 and 60% of all power in an average commercial building is used by gadgets that are plugged into outlets (i.e. laptops, phones, lamps, etc.), but most building management systems only keep track of power consumed by HVAC systems. Intel's Eco-Sense Buildings project "breaks down the wall between IT and building management," according to Milan Milenkovic, a researcher at Intel Labs. The project uses sensors to collect data about the power use of pluggable loads in a building, and sends that information to the IT backbone and building management system for analysis. Ultimately, Intel imagines that this information could be used to create personal energy use dashboards (pictured), so that users can see exactly how much energy their work computer, printer, and other plugged-in devices are using--and how they might cut down on power consumption.
[Images: Ariel Schwartz]
Read More: Most Innovative Companies: Intel