Lucee: The Green Energy Monitor – a Hackday Experiment


Working at SI Labs is about thinking big, acting smart and making it real. Like during our green power hackday.


 
 

The challenge

We wanted to see a project from inception to a working prototype in 8 hours, including a little scenario video you can see below. So naturally we got the whole team busy.

Our vision was to enable consumers to make smart decisions about their power consumption. A lot of people care about the origin of the electricity they use every day, and sign up with “green” energy providers. But renewable sources still only provide a small portion of the overall energy mix. So, even if you’re paying for it, the electricity coming out of your wall plugs might not be so “green” after all.

 

The idea

Wouldn’t it be great, to be able to always know where your energy comes from at any given moment? Well, that information is already available – at least in part. The power grid providers are legally obligated to make the actual energy mix public. There’s a website and also an app – "Vattenfall Stromwetter" (Link to App Store) – where you can check how much of your power is currently coming from wind, or sun, or from conventional sources like coal or nuclear power plants.

But who checks a website before switching on the dishwasher? It’s too much of a hassle, and not a practical solution for making informed everyday decisions. So we thought about how we could make that information more usable. What we came up with was: light. Colored light, more specifically. With Hue, Philips provides a smart lighting system that can change color and is controlled through Wi-Fi. So we quickly got our hands on a Hue lamp and all we had to do now was to connect the dots.

 
 
 
 

The prototype

Of course, this proved to be more difficult than we had hoped. But after a few hours, we were able to get access to the source data via a little proxy that intercepts the communication between the app and the database server (you could call it a “man-in-the-middle” attack). Via an Arduino board we connected the power grid data with the Philips Hue Bridge. As of now, the lamp shines green if more than 10% of the energy comes from renewable sources (from looking at the data, 10 percent apparently is already more than average.) Below it shines yellow or even red.

Next, the product team of the day gave the lamp a pretty box and a catchy name: Lucee – named after Lucy, the saint of light. Finally, we grabbed a camera and made a short video explaining what Lucee does and what it is useful for. The video was shot in and around our offices, starring our colleagues Nihan in front of the camera and Caspar as narrator.

 
 
 
 

And while putting final touches on the video, Lucee had already evolved to the next level: it is now able to directly control WiFi “smart” plugs to turn the power on or off, depending on the current energy mix.

In the end, our hack day turned out to be much more than a fun distraction from our everyday work. We also learned a few new skills, and actually ended up with a product to make life at the office more colorful. And we might just make a couple more of these prototypes and put them in people’s homes to see how they use them. To think of all the possibilities of where Lucee could go from here is really exciting.

 
 
 

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