Smart grid research by a University of Maine doctoral student is helping grade school educators learn about energy and how to conserve it in their schools and homes.
Ph.D. candidate Anna Demeo, a physics instructor at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, helped develop the prototype of the Smart Energy monitor with funds from the Maine Space Grant Consortium. She and her COA colleague David Feldman received a $95,000 grant in 2010 for smart grid research and energy education. Demeo is completing her doctorate in ocean engineering at UMaine.
A central focus of Demeo’s research is monitoring energy consumption and production on Roque Island in Washington County, Maine, where there are several year-round homes and a farm. Among other findings, the Smart Energy prototype there revealed a persistently high reading on one circuit, helping to identify a pump that was running continuously. As the island moves toward using more renewable electricity, such as solar, Demeo will use the Savant Energy system to turn on and off appliances to reduce demand when production is low and increase demand when there is a surplus. The goal is for the island to decrease reliance on an underwater cable that carries electricity from the mainland and ultimately to become energy-independent.
Another primary focus of Demeo’s doctoral work is energy literacy education. The energy data collected in real time from the monitoring system can serve as a foundation for classroom exercises. Demeo has a passion for developing energy literacy in children and adults – a working familiarity with the basic concepts of energy generation, transmission, measurement, usage and cost. Few people grasp these concepts, she says, which adds to the challenge of energy conservation and the commercialization of alternative energy sources.
It is that kind of hands-on familiarity with electricity use she hopes to foster with the Smart Energy monitor, which recently has been installed in several elementary schools. Demeo will work with teachers to develop grade-appropriate lesson plans using the energy data.
The Smart Energy monitor, now being marketed by Savant Systems of Massachusetts, attaches to a single or three-phase electrical power panel and provides a circuit-by-circuit reading of energy usage. The device can monitor up to 60 electrical circuits at the same time. A prototype, dubbed the GridEye, was tested in Maine on Roque Island, at Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden, at the Coast Guard station in Southwest Harbor, and at several other locations including the UMaine campus. Several of these sites are now upgrading to the commercialized Savant Smart Energy system.
An early version of the monitor was installed over a year ago at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Southwest Harbor. The station recently updated to the new Smart Energy device. Electrical support supervisor Robert Parker says monitoring has helped reduce energy consumption, most notably in the station’s computer infrastructure.
For example, after reviewing the energy costs associated with storing Coast Guard data on computer hardware, technicians realized they could save thousands of dollars by using Internet-based cloud technology storage instead. The device also helped identify a video monitor that suddenly began drawing significantly more electricity than it should, signaling its impending failure. And, because the energy-use readings are available remotely, Parker says, staff can determine at any time if lights or HVAC equipment inadvertently have been left on anywhere at the station and get them turned off.
Another system is installed in the Sawyer Research Center on the UMaine campus, where it monitors energy use in the large freezers that store ice cores for the university’s Climate Change Institute. UMaine students will analyze the data from the monitor to help the institute reduce its consumption of electricity.
Contact:Meg Haskell, (207) 581-3766