Sometimes, your electric bill goes nuts: You get the statement, and maybe it’s double the usual. Part of the reason is probably that without knowing it, you’ve been using a little bit of extra energy at peak times, when electricity can be far more expensive. A Canadian start-up says it has solved this problem using algorithms borrowed from bees.
The EnviroGrid controllers, invented by REGEN Energy, attach wireless transmitters to appliances, which in turn connect to a central control box. The system “learns” the usage patterns of the appliances, such as when the cooling elements in a refrigerator usually switch on; once it has learned these, the system will coordinate the power cycles to minimize peak-time energy use. The intelligence for coordinating all those appliances comes from “swarm algorithms” that were originally developed for modeling how bees coordinate everyday behavior like gathering pollen. It also uses the ZigBee wireless networking protocol, which has nothing to do with honeybees (despite the urban myth you may have heard). Regen claims that the EnviroGrid will cut peak-demand charges by 30%.
One caveat though: EnviroGrid presumes that existance of smart meters that know, in real time, what the electrical rates are. These are coming on-line in several parts of the country, but are still rare in the U.S.