US 20030225483 A1
An electronic system for power consumption management of one or more domestic appliances is routinely informed on actual energy tariff through a network control unit or through a predetermined time-table stored in the system. A user interface of the electronic system is provided where the user can set his preference concerning the switch-on time of each appliance and/or function thereof and read the related estimated energy consumption and/or energy cost of the appliance working program.
1. An electronic system for power consumption management of one or more domestic appliances, the system comprising:
a user interface configured to allow a user to set a preference concerning the switch-on time of each appliance or function thereof and to read estimated energy consumption or energy cost of operating each appliance based on actual energy information obtained through a network control unit or a predetermined time table.
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9. A process for managing the power consumption of one or more domestic appliances, in which an electronic system is routinely informed on actual energy tariff through a network control unit or through a predetermined time-table, the process comprising the steps of:
setting preferences concerning a switch-on time of each appliance; and
getting information on the related energy consumption and/or energy cost.
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 1. Field of the Invention
 The present invention relates to an electronic system for power/energy consumption management of one or more domestic appliances, which is routinely informed on actual energy tariff through a network control unit.
 2. Description of the Related Art
 JP-A-2000214186 discloses a power consumption management apparatus for enterprise with an electronic unit that measures total amount of power consumed by electrical equipment. EP-A-1136829 discloses a process for measuring the energy consumption of a plurality of appliances connected to a power network in which each switching-on or switching-off of each appliance is detected through a specific high frequency signal injected in the network. DE-A-3935102 discloses a process for varying the load on a power system by injecting signals into the system using an audio frequency signal generator.
 Daily energy demand isn't flat; peaks of energy are generated during the day which creates variable demand and increases a utility company's charge to consumers. To avoid dangerous blackouts utility companies are searching for ways to smooth energy demand by offering advantages to customers who are able to control their power consumption.
 Consequently, it would be advantageous to design a new generation of appliances that are able to manage power consumption with different tariffs on the base of signed power supply contract.
 One of the aims of the present invention is to implement a power management system to help the consumer in saving energy and money. Another object of the present invention is to make the user aware of potential energy cost savings in selecting different delayed switch-on times for each appliance. A further object of the present invention is to provide a system which comprises an user interface through which the user may also input a predetermined energy cost saving target referred to a certain fixed time (week, month), the system being able to select the proper times for switching-on the appliances in order to get the energy-savings target.
 The electronic system according to the invention is characterized by the features listed in the appended claims. Thanks to such features, the electronic system according to the invention may:
 allow a powerful and direct user interface designed for a simple and easy understanding in using energy profiles and priorities selected by the user;
 support customer energy-savings objectives (i.e. elaborate a new plan to save a certain amount in a week);
 avoid power shutoff due to energy demand peaks by setting dynamic priorities among products or product functions (i.e. delay defrost to reduce the power consumption); and
 manage the appliances in a coordinated way in order to execute the activities defined in a daily/weekly plan (i.e. start the washer to finish at 18:00 and start the dishwasher to finish before 7:00 by using the cheaper tariff)
 The electronic system according to the present invention may also be able to interact with the utility company information center (thorough power line or TLC) to routinely collect information about contract terms and restrictions like daily/weekly/monthly/seasonally tariffs, peak limit and/or penalty.
 In another embodiment the electronic system may be able to negotiate with the utility company backend for a possible reduction of energy consumption in front of unplanned lack of power.
 The electronic system according to the invention is preferably linked to so called “intelligent plugs” (i.e. plugs which can interrupt electrical supply to appliances on the basis of a specific signal on the power network) in agreement with priorities fixed by the user.
 The electronic system may comprise the following hardware subsystems:
 display and keyboard: where the user can set his preferences, power priorities, fixed objectives/targets and read the estimated power consumption or warnings of the home appliances;
 microprocessor running a power management software;
 data transmission device (appl. modem) that permits the data connection with the appliances and intelligent plugs (wireless RF, bluetooth, 812.11b/a, wired and/or power line);
 power meter which can be an external device, integral with the network, in order to make possible its installation in a different place (for instance near the main power switch);
 optional serial/usb interface to exchange data with a personal computer or telecom modem.
 The present invention will be described in details with reference to the appended drawings in which:
FIG. 1 is a schematic view which shows how the electronic system according to the invention interacts with the user, the appliance and other elements linked by a data transmission network;
FIG. 2 is a schematic view of a hardware subsystem of the electronic system according to the invention;
FIG. 3 is a schematic diagram showing a power management model according to the invention;
FIG. 4 is a schematic flow-chart showing the data flow of the power management system according to the invention; and
FIG. 5 is an example of user interface used with the electronic system according to the invention.
 With reference to FIG. 1, the power management algorithm which drives the electronic system according to the invention can have two main functionalities identified by the user, an “on line” functionality and a “run time” functionality.
 The “on line” functionality supports the customer through the display associated to the electronic system, in defining the initial settings of the system like:
 daily/weekly plan for appliances management. The power management algorithm analyses the requests and checks the feasibility taking into account the utility company contract limitations and the appliances energy consumption;
 objectives, appliances and function priorities inside appliance. Starting from the user's input the algorithm is able to elaborate and propose a new daily/weekly plan taking into account energy tariffs, utility company contract restrictions and number of appliances present in the network and their energy consumption. In front of any modification, requested by the user, of the proposed plan the algorithm elaborates the impact on the original objectives (for instance an increase of the energy cost);
 energy consumption and priority for appliances connected through intelligent plugs.
 The “run time” functionality of the power management algorithm may perform at least the following activities:
 continuously process the customer settings and the utility tariffs to re-planning the daily activities at any time it detects a change;
 send commands to the appliances in order to complete the daily/weekly plan;
 continuously check the energy consumption by means of a meter device belonging to the electronic system to avoid critical situations due to energy consumption peaks that can generate dangerous shutoff. When information on energy consumption is not provided by the network, a device can be used which is formed by an instantaneous energy meter and by an appl. modem (FIG. 2). This latter allows an integration in the electronic system and a possible installation of the device nearby the main power switch. Two critical scenarios are considered:
 1) Start of appliance. Each appliance before starting a program cycle asks for the authorization to the power management algorithm. The algorithm checks the actual energy consumption and verifies if the requested energy is available. When the requested energy is not available, the power management algorithm is able to negotiate with the appliance the possibility to run an energy cost saving function or to force the start of an alternative energy cost saving function. An alternative scenario can be that the power management algorithm stops (or pauses) low priority appliances in order to have enough energy to fulfil the request of higher priority device.
 2) The energy consumption is higher than the security threshold. When the power management algorithm detects a high level of energy consumption, (over the security threshold), the algorithm may stop or pause the appliances or functions inside appliance with lower priority level. After a defined time and a complete disconnection of the appliances with priority 1, if the energy consumption is not yet below the security threshold the algorithm starts the procedure to start or pause the appliances with priority 2.
FIG. 3 shows the area of intervention and the methodology adopted by the power management algorithm to avoid shutoff. The security treshold 1, 2, . . . n are defined by the electronic control system on the basis of the input/targets selected by the user. The time threshold 2 is reached after a predetermined amount of time in which the energy consumption of home appliances is above the security threshold 1. This is due to a normal practice in shutting off if high power consumption level is maintained longer than a predetermined time. This is the reason why of the “L” shape of the zone of security threshold 2 and n.
 As highlighted in FIG. 4 the interaction between the electronic system and the appliances is more or less sophisticated in relation of the “intelligence” of the appliance.
 A “smart” appliance with power management (PM) features is able to provide the PM functionality also in a stand-alone mode. In fact in this case the appliance is able to collect the actual energy consumption and manage the transaction to the status (i.e. normal function, energy cost saving function, pause and delayed start) as required by the energy availability. In addition the smart appliances with PM features is able to coordinate its interventions with the global management led by the electronic system opening a negotiation cycle to maximize the appliances performances relatively to the available energy.
 On the contrary, an “intelligent” appliance without PM features is able to provide the PM functionality only interacting with the electronic system hosted by a “smart” appliance or by a specific stand-alone device. The PM algorithm running in the electronic system is able to drive the appliances not only providing the start, stop and pause command but also running energy cost saving functions.
 The electronic system can be used with traditional (or non-intelligent) appliances since these can be controlled by intelligent plugs and can participate actively to the PM process. Each intelligent plug is able to provide on/off functionality and if possible to drive the energy consumption with continuous power regulation.
 The electronic system can host a set of software algorithms that can run on different devices placed in house network or outside but “on line” connected. Examples of “in house” devices are:
 An ad hoc intelligent device connected in the home network
 A smart appliance hosting the PM algorithms.
 An home gateway or a customer PC
 Alternatively the PM algorithm can be also distributed on separated devices (for example the “on line” functionality can be on a PC to make easier the user interaction while the “run time” functionality can be hosted inside an appliance).
 Warnings and alarms are foreseen every time that the PM algorithm detects a critical event, interacts with the appliances to avoid dangerous situation or finds problems to complete the forecasted daily/weekly energy-saving plan. These messages can be displayed in different ways on different devices for example:
 Graphic, alphanumerical and/or sound message for PC, appliance with high level display, gateway or stand alone display connected to the home network;
 Warning/alarm code and buzz for appliance equipped with more simple user interface.
 When the electronic system is hosted in a “smart” appliance, the related software is essentially composed by:
 a NMT (Network Management Tool) program which is able to establish a reliable connection with other devices and find the sources of information that needs, and
 a “smart application” software that manages the power demand of the appliance by interpreting the energy tariffs and shows the available alternatives to customer on the user interface or by network/remote interrogations.
 The NMT program starts at first time the user uses the appliance. This shell announces the appliance to the other smart appliances already working in the house (community) and integrates itself on the home network environment. The main goal of this software is to maintain the list of smart appliances that are working in the house, built the priority list and share the real time data to other software layers. The main goal of the “smart application” software shell is to avoid power shutdown reducing the instant power consumption before to reach the power peak limit or critical situations.
 This application, before starting a working cycle of the appliance, checks if there is enough energy to avoid shutoff and eventually asks to other smart appliances, with lower priority, to reduce their power consumption.
 The “smart application” software can support innovative services to increase the customer satisfaction likes:
 PxU (Pay for Use) functionality
 Remote maintenance of the appliance.
 In the preferred embodiment of the present invention (FIG. 5), the electronic system has a user interface preferably placed in an appliance. Such user interface has been designed to be extremely simple and easy to use. The idea is to add minimal modifications to standard user interface, since two keys are enough: the ‘selector’ key S and ‘remote’ key K.
 Pressing the ‘selector’ key on the appliance, the display scrolls through a variety of opportunities showing the corresponding charges (Euro, $/cent or other currency). The user accepts a selection by pressing the usual ‘start’ key. The appliance will start its working based on the time (the input can be a delay time or the time on which the appliance has to start actually its program) and corresponding charge that was displayed.
 The user interface may show the delay or the time when will start the service.
 The optional ‘remote’ key is preferably added to permit the remote control feature and check the status of the appliance from cellular phone or browsing by Internet connection.
 To explain more in detail the user interface, reference is made to its implementation in a washer (FIG. 5).
 The customer sets the washing cycle by turning the program knob of the washer (not shown). Next, the selector key S is pressed and the user interface (UI) shows the charge C if the washing program is started immediately (delay=00−upper part of FIG. 5).
 By pressing the selector key S again the application program evaluates and shows the first alternative to save money.
 Middle portion of FIG. 5 suggests to wait 2hours and 20 min (display T) and to pay 60 eurocents (about $0.70) for the washing cycle. Now, the customer can accept the suggestion by pressing the ‘start’ key (not shown) or look for a new alternative by pressing the selector key S again.
 The new alternative suggests to wait 8 hours and 20 min and to pay only 20 eurocents (about $0.23) for the washing cycle. Again, the customer can accept by pressing ‘start’ or select the first option by pressing the ‘Selector’ key again.
 If the user presses more times the selector key the display scrolls between the alternatives.
 The user accepts a selection by pressing the ‘start’ key. Then appliance will start running based on the time and corresponding charge that was displayed.
 The introduction of the home electronic system for power consumption management provides benefits to both the utility company and customer.
 The utility company takes advantages mainly from the possibility to interact “on line” with the house controlling actively the energy consumption in order to avoid the peaks and balance the energy demand during the day. This can be done by utility company in two different interaction levels:
 I. By sharing the home energy consumption value and the contract limits forcing the electronic system to maintain the energy demand under the upper limit.
 II. By disconnecting more appliances in more houses. The electronic system represents the device to interface the home and negotiate switch off or energy cost saving functions for the connected appliances.
 The main customer benefits are:
 Avoid shutoff or penalty due to peaks on home energy demand.
 Save money planning the use of appliances when energy tariffs are cheaper to exploit all opportunities of energy market deregulation.
 The PM system is able to find the best planning taking into account the user needs and the energy cost tariffs imposed by the utility company.