Plugging in new ways to save power

New prototypes developed during Singapore’s first climate-focused hackathon, held recently at the JTC LaunchPad @ one-north, could help people to reduce their electricity use at work and at home.

Saving electricity at home and at work could soon be a cinch thanks to two prototypes recently created by Singaporean youths. One is a power monitoring system that could enable users to track their energy use, while the other is an extension multi-plug that switches off all devices connected to it with a push of a button.

The two innovations were brainstormed and developed over just three days from 12 to 14 August 2016, at the Climate Innovation Challenge jointly organised by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA); JTC; and National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS), Strategy Group, Prime Minister’s Office.

The three-day event was Singapore’s first climate-focused hackathon, which aimed to crowdsource and nurture new ideas to improve the sustainability of non-residential buildings and outdoor spaces.

Singapore plans to green 80 per cent of its buildings by 2030 as part of its Climate Action Plan. The plan, among other things, seeks to reduce the country’s emissions intensity – that is, the volume of greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of Gross Domestic Product – by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Working in teams of three to five people, about 140 participants, with the youngest at 13 years old and the oldest at 63, took up one of four challenges at the hackathon, which included developing solutions that encourage building tenants to reduce their energy consumption, using big data to improve buildings’ operations and maintenance, managing outdoor spaces, and creating a zero-carbon district.

If more people create new projects and products that can help in energy saving, that would help Singapore to reduce its carbon emissions and save money.

Tan Teng Hong, winner, climate-focused hackathon 2016

Team-mates Pang Li Yuan, Tan Yuan Xia, Justin Soh and Muhammad Danial Israwi, all 21-year-olds, created a power monitoring system that uses custom-built power sockets with built-in radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology and RFID tap cards to track each user’s electricity use.

Under their system, the user, for example, an office employee, could use his staff pass (embedded with an RFID tag) to activate the power socket. Reminders in the form of text messages can be sent to the user if any of the power sockets switched on earlier by the user is not turned off such as after office hours. This way, each individual’s electricity use can be tracked accurately and energy managers may develop more targeted methods to reduce the office’s electricity consumption. Providing users with personalised statistics about their energy use could also motivate them to adopt greener habits, said the group.

“A lot of people don’t see the need to switch off their power points or unplug their devices even when the items are fully charged,” said Mr Soh, who is a full-time national serviceman. “In libraries, for instance, people often waste electricity by leaving their laptops and personal devices plugged in even when there’s no need.”

The team won the challenge’s top prize of $5,000 cash. Ms Pang, who is an undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University, said they were grateful for the accolade. “The hackathon was quite meaningful because it raised awareness of climate change issues, and we got to see different solutions contributed by people from all walks of life,” she added.

The third-prize winners, students Tan Teng Hong, David Bryan Deguit, Yong Yuan Feng and Anthony Reuben Carreon Diaz, who are between 17 and 19 years old, also targeted people’s plug-in habits. Their extension multi-plug can be controlled by a mobile app, and it has one socket designated for a master device, such as a television.

When this master device is switched off through the app, all other secondary appliances connected to the plug – such as a DVD player and speakers – are turned off as well.

Their invention can help to reduce the standby power usage of devices and save energy costs. The multi-plug also uploads energy consumption data from the plugged-in products onto the cloud so that people can keep track of their electricity usage.

“We wanted to create something that would lead to permanent, recurring energy savings for people,” said Mr Tan.

“Because you can switch the master device off through the app, it’s also convenient for people, including the elderly,” he noted. He and his team-mates had been nervous about competing against professionals and university students, and were thrilled to come in third in the challenge. The prize is worth $3,000 in cash.

He added: “I think we should have more competitions that are related to climate change. If more people create new projects and products that can help in energy saving, that would help Singapore to reduce its carbon emissions and save money.”

The winning teams received their prizes from Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee on 7 September 2016, during the International Green Building Conference’s welcome reception at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

The conference is part of the annual Singapore Green Building Week. The teams’ ideas will also be exhibited at Marina Bay Sands on Level 3 from 7 to 9 September 2016 and the Green Living Expo at the same venue from 9 to 11 September 2016.

Funding and test-bed opportunities are available for teams with promising solutions to further develop their ideas. These include the BCA 2-stage Innovation Grant, which aims to help the building and construction industry to conduct smaller scale research and development projects with near-term commercialisation potential.

JTC also makes its buildings and estates available for the test-bedding of innovative ideas and technologies, helping creators of these solutions to reduce the time required to commercialise their products.

During his address to the participants at the hackathon’s closing ceremony, Mr David Tan, JTC’s Assistant Chief Executive Officer, said: “We are confident that we will have more of such hackathons in the future as we continue to push the boundaries of innovation for a more sustainable Singapore.”

While Dr John Keung, BCA’s Chief Executive Officer, highlighted that: “The hackathon is a useful platform for us to crowd-source sustainability ideas from people who are concerned about climate change and have decided to take action. We want to reach out to as many people as possible to gather innovative green building solutions.”

One of the judges of the hackathon and NCCS’ Lead Technologist Mr Ho Hiang Kwee said: “We hope that the hackathon has spurred the community’s interest in creating innovative solutions that will not only benefit Singapore but also help address the global challenge of climate change.”

“I am heartened to see our young people combine their passion for technology and climate change action to develop solutions to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

This story was originally published by the National Climate Change Secretariat and was republished with permission. Subscribe here or like the NCCS Facebook page to receive regular updates on new articles.

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