Purdue researchers use IoT to incentivise energy efficiency

  • December 6, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson

Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana have created an IoT software platform that incentivises people to use energy-efficiency programmes developed by government and industry.

Called MySmartE, it achieved more than 80% residential engagement and 30% energy-use reduction when deployed in more than 130 households across four Indiana cities.

State and municipal housing authorities, housing developers, HVAC vendors and utility providers can strengthen their energy-efficiency programmes in residential community service areas with a patent-pending IoT system developed by Purdue researchers that uses gaming to incentivise users.

Panagiota Karava, professor in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering, leads a multidisciplinary research team that has developed MySmartE, an eco-feedback and gaming platform for residential energy management.

“MySmartE addresses the need to effectively deploy energy-efficiency and decarbonisation programmes in residential communities that would result in measurable, transferable and sustainable outcomes,” Karava said. “This is accomplished by actively engaging and incentivising residents in understanding and reducing their home energy use.”

The cloud-based software is implemented on user-interactive smart devices. Features include smart thermostat functionality that works like a smart tablet with a voice assistant; social games that raise awareness of energy-efficient behaviour; an algorithm that delivers personalised actionable recommendations; and novel energy conservation behaviour scores.

Karava said the residential sector was responsible for more than 20% of the total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the USA. Various programmes have been implemented to improve energy efficiency and to reduce energy consumption in individual households. These include building retrofits, which she said were typically costly, and smart devices such as smart thermostats.

“A major advantage of implementing smart devices is they do not require a large investment in communication infrastructure for data collection and system control,” Karava said.

Smart thermostats have drawbacks, however. Studies report they are not often used correctly due to difficulties in usability, and there’s a decrease in resident motivation over time.

“One online survey reported that about 40% of programmable-thermostat users did not understand how to programme schedules; about 33% maintained a permanent hold mode without using scheduling features,” Karava said. “Similarly, my research team’s experiments with 94 households in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne show that the majority of households used constant set-point temperatures throughout winter and summer; they didn’t utilise any of the thermostats’ smart features.”

The MySmartE web-based software uses eco-feedback and social games to engage its users. The platform leverages advances in physics-informed machine learning and human decision-making algorithms.

“Engagement is further accelerated by an intuitive user interface for efficient thermostat control and modularised software infrastructure,” Karava said. “The infrastructure is scalable and flexible to support multiple deployments across diverse housing stock, population demographics and energy programmes.”

MySmartE achieved more than 80% residential engagement and 30% energy-use reduction when deployed in more than 130 households across four Indiana cities: Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and New Albany.

“Also, our extensive interviews with residents revealed that gamification in MySmartE turns the energy-saving process into a fun and enjoyable activity while increasing energy awareness,” Karava said.

The research team received a $400,000 supplement from the National Science Foundation to further its work; the award builds on an initial $3.5m award in 2018.

Karava has disclosed the MySmartE platform to the Purdue Innovates Office of Technology Commercialisation, which has applied for a patent with the US Patent & Trademark Office to protect the intellectual property.

Purdue University (www.purdue.edu) is a public research institution ranked among top ten public universities and with two colleges in the top four in the USA. More than 105,000 students study at Purdue across modalities and locations, with 50,000 in person on the West Lafayette campus.