Yesterday was HomeCamp:

…an unconference about using technology to monitor and automate the home for greener resource use and to save costs. This is about low energy devices and servers, reducing your electricity bills, monitoring your mouse traps, home automation, monitoring your water usage, using solar power…

Fifty or so people came together at Imperial College to talk about how we can reduce our energy usage.

The format was different to other barcamps and unconferences I’ve been to – rather than separate rooms, most of the time was spent with everyone together in a single room. And the talks flowed on from each other – it felt more like a single day-long conversation than a series of separate presentations.

In hindsight, I probably spent too much time talking and not enough time listening. Which also means my notes from the day are a little scrappy. But I jotted down some of the main themes…


  • “£1 per watt per year” – if you’re wasting 10W on something, that is costing you £10 a year
  • CurrentCost – how to do something with the data:
  • CurrentCost-alternatives
    • A variety of alternative approaches to CurrentCost for measuring electricity usage were discussed – I missed the names of most of these, apart from wattson and products from Onzo
  • How else to help besides reducing your usage: shifting your usage to times when the energy is cheaper and more efficient to produce.
    • Fascinating to hear that the frequency of the electricity you receive from the National Grid is proportional to the ratio of supply vs demand for electricity usage on a national level – more on this at dynamicdemand.co.uk which is worth a look. (The site also includes a flash meter which shows the current value.)
    • Lots of discussion around how this information could be used to help, such as fridges that automatically power down to reduce their own demand when the voltage frequence indicates that demand is high nationally, compensating later when demand is reduced – thereby helping to reduce the severity of the national peaks, and the economic and environmental costs they bring.
      • Would be fascinating to see this value plotted against personal usage – I think a few of us are planning to try this


  • Variety of alternative approaches to graphs as a way of visualising energy usage – such as a variety of ambient devices like Nick’s orb, alerts sent to mobile phones like Java midlet’s on Andy S-C’s phone to receive alerts via MQTT, and 3D visualisations in Sketch Up and Second Life.

Changing behaviour

  • Very interesting discussion around different influences – going beyond economic to the social and psychological – and how these influences will impact people’s short and long-term behaviour in different ways. I hope some of this was captured by someone, because there were some fascinating insights here.
  • We shared some of the effects we noticed when we started sharing the graphs of our power usage with each other, and I showed some of the slides from Mashed where we tried turning energy monitoring into a competitive group activity to encourage and motivate people to use less electricity.
  • Some talk around how to balance the benefits of context and social effects from sharing energy usage, against potential privacy concerns.


  • Ben Hardill showed off the start of a new flow meter, and Andy S-C showed how he taped a magnet to a water meter which gives a pulse output every time the needle goes past


Arduino, X10, ZigBee…

  • A lot of talk around the potential of stuff like Arduino both for measuring and home automation control, some of which Nick has shared

Lots of it was recorded on Ustream.tv – the live feed from which seemed to keep my little girl endlessly entertained through the day, as she apparently kept shouting at the screen and wondering why I couldn’t hear her. 🙂

Big thanks to Chris for making it all happen – it was a great day. Hopefully we’ll see more come out of this momentum between now and Home Camp 09 – it’s certainly fired me up to try out more stuff in the CurrentCost space.

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7 Responses to “HomeCamp”

  1. […] a CurrentCost meter. As well as all kinds of other cool home monitoring and automation stuff. Dale Lane wrote more, as did […]

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  3. 2020Vision says:


    Sorry I missed Homecamp.

    I have been following Dynamic Demand for a few months, but recognise that would need to get support from power generators to make a beneficial service from it.

    I breadboarded a PIC based mains frequency meter circuit that monitors the mains frequency and sends it out regularly as 5 digit BCD through a serial port. i.e 50.XXX Hz. Powered from, and derives 50Hz signal from a dirt cheap ac mains adaptor.

    Would easily port to other micros/arduino etc.

    Regarding gas consumption monitoring – strictly speaking the pulse counter needs to be intrinsically safe and certified. This may act as a deterrent to home experimenters.

    However I did make up a pulse counter circuit that detects the reflective zero pass by, thus counting gas in 10 litre units.

    The meter is an Actaris G4 , and is equipped with a special moulding to where the optical pulse counting detector is clipped. Schlumberger domestic meters often have a voltsfree switch contacts on pins 3&4 of the RJ11 connector – often under a bit of sticky tape.

    Does anyone know about the wireless protocol used by the Currentcost? Is it similar to the Efergy and Electrisave meters?


  4. dale says:

    hi – thanks for the comment. I don’t know how the CurrentCost transmitters work, but there is a comment on the wetpaint CurrentCost wiki that says it’s a 433MHz radio http://currentcost.wetpaint.com/

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