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Chip aims to cut household energy waste

The new chip dramatically cuts the amount of electricity needed to power an appliance on standby

An intelligent computer chip designed to control electricity consumption could be the answer to a current chronic energy wastage from household appliances.

This content was published on July 21, 2007 - 10:16

The chip, designed at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology, promises to dramatically reduce the consumption of appliances on standby and warn users when malfunctioning devices use too much power.

Energy watchdogs have welcomed the innovation that cuts the amount of electricity needed to power an appliance on standby from up to 40 watts to just 0.3 watts. Devices on standby are calculated to account for some ten per cent of the total electricity consumption of a typical household.

The designer, Ludger Hovestadt, told swissinfo that the so-called dSID Chip could save up to eight per cent of standby wastage and a further 20 per cent associated with inefficient appliances such as kettles that have become chalked up.

"The chips can communicate along normal power lines so they act like a team. The system can control power consumption and acts as a meter, telling users when an appliance is using more electricity than usual," said the professor.

"The chip is able to switch off any device that is not being used and to take over standby functionality of, for instance, a remote control using a fraction of the power. If the stereo is playing and the doorbell or telephone rings, the music will automatically go down.

The interlinked system of chips can also act as a central system, switching off all the appliances and lights when people leave the house.

Mistakes made

"Nobody really wants to walk around their whole [house] checking and there are a lot of mistakes being made," Hovestadt added.

The Swiss branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed the innovation that could help save household energy wastage.

"Swiss households waste enough energy with standby appliances alone to power a large city like Zurich for a year," spokesman Fredi Luthin told swissinfo. "It is very important that this is better regulated."

Because the chips use the normal power grid system to communicate, there is no need for the cumbersome and expensive electronic paraphernalia associated with similar systems.

Hovestadt predicted that appliances installed with the chip should cost little more than traditional devices already on the market.

Cost is key

Energy consultant Thomas Bürki told swissinfo that the introduction of newer household appliances, such as energy hungry digital set-up boxes, made the need for an energy-saving system more acute.

But he warned that costs must be kept down to make the chip a feasible commercial venture.

"It can be very hard to get manufacturers on board even if it costs only a few cents more. If you can convince the manufacturers then you have won the war," he said.

With this in mind, the federal institute has joined forces with German electricity supplier Yello Strom and energy think-tank Aizo to form a collaboration called digitalSTROM aimed at producing the chips commercially.

"We need a permanent, neutral, non-profit platform to establish an international standard system with commercial partners. There are already 10,000 chips in use in a test environment, and we hope to start commercial production by the end of 2009," said Hovestadt.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

Electricity consumption rose by 0.8% in 2006 to reach a new high of 57.8 billion kilowatt hours. Domestic power plants produced 7.3% more electricity than in 2005.
The increase in consumption came despite a significantly warmer autumn and winter compared with 2005.
The reasons behind this increase have been identified as economic and population growth. Switzerland's GDP was 2.7% higher in 2006 than in 2005, while the population rose 0.7%.

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