Thursday, 13 November 2014

There's a wind brewing - literally - at Lancaster Uni

The perfect time for a cuppa… when the wind blows.
From left: Dr Pete Newman, Dr Maria Angela Ferrario and Dr Will Simm

Researchers at Lancaster University have just designed a new piece of kit which determines the optimum time to brew up a cuppa in terms of impact on the environment. Windy Brew, as it is affectionately known, does what it says on the tin. It only allows the kettle to boil when the University’s own wind turbine is producing electricity.

Simple but very effective, the Windy Brew uses a cost effective, credit card sized, single board computer (a Raspberry Pi) and an off-the-shelf, radio controlled plug socket. It is the brainchild of Dr Will Simm, Dr Peter Newman, Dr Maria Angela Ferrario and Dr Stephen Forshaw.

Windy Brew has been inspired by a possible vision of the future where we can’t just use energy whenever and wherever we like, but have to synchronise our consumption to the availability of renewable energy sources rather than burning fossil fuels,” explains Senior Research Associate Dr Will Simm, from the University’s School of Computing and Communications.

“We thought about the tasks that we do here in the office and we do like our brews. What if were able to sync the times we make our brew with our renewable energy sources? Would it allow us to develop a sensitivity for renewable energy, which is not always available?"

The University’s Information Systems Services unit provided a live feed of data from the turbine direct to the research team giving a second by second report of energy outputs.

When the University turbine is generating power, the Raspberry Pi activates the radio controlled plug socket which, in turn, switches on the kettle and sends a tweet when it boils – the perfect ‘green’ brew.

This equipment, unlike others, is not about sourcing a cost effective energy supply,” said Dr Peter Newman. “It’s not about reducing energy consumption but it is about using energy more intelligently when it is more renewable. Reduced costs are a by-product benefit.”

The team have also worked on producing a night-time mobile phone charger using the same technology but which, if the turbine has also been dormant, kicks in to power-up the phone an hour before rise and shine time.

What we want to do now is look at more things on campus and see what we can add,” said Dr Newman. Future plans may well include a similar test drive project at the University’s laundry.

Windy Brew is one of a series of prototypes developed as part of the OnSupply project, which focuses on the remote island of Tiree, the outermost of the Scottish Inner Hebrides. The team work with the community  there to uncover the role of renewables and to support a community in making the best use of their renewable energy when it is available.

On Supply is part of the Catalyst Project, a community-led research initiative aimed at next generation digital technologies for social innovation and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

You can find out more about the University's wind turbine here.  The turbine is designed to stop automatically when it is sunny, in order to prevent or minimise 'shadow flicker' at properties within 700m.

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