Smart meters have become an important tool not only for households looking to save energy and keep the electricity bill down, but also for utility companies striving to match electricity generation with demand. But while smart meters can provide an overall picture of a household’s electricity usage over time, a team from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies is developing a system that aims to monitor the energy usage of individual appliances.

The “MyPower Energy Platform” is built around a smart plug that sits between the wall outlet and the appliance to be monitored. Upon installing the plug, the consumer would input some basic information on their particular appliance on the MyPower website. The smart plug includes an embedded GSM unit so that power usage information it collects about the appliance can then be transmitted via SMS to a cloud-based data warehouse every 30 minutes.

The consumer can then access electricity consumption data and determine the best time to use an individual appliances through the MyPower website. While the MyPower site will be free to access for households that purchase the smart plugs, it is anticipated that utility companies and public agencies would pay to access the information.

By drawing on energy usage data gathered from other consumers, people can also see how their particular appliance compares against others, and just how much money could be saved by upgrading to a new energy-efficient model. But even without investing in new appliances, the team believes the system can provide significant savings by taking advantage of off-peak electricity rates.

“Access to this data will allow users to optimize their appliance usage and take advantage of lower electricity rates by remotely scheduling or switching off the appliance via the smart plug,” says PhD student Mahboobeh Mogaddham, who developed the system along with PhD student Waiho Wong, under the supervision of Professor Joseph Davis. “We are excited because this platform can provide a technically and economically feasible solution for households to reduce their electricity consumption by up to 10 percent – a significant cost reduction over the life of their appliances.”

For those worried that the constant stream of SMS messages from however many smart plugs they decide to place around their home will eat up any potential savings made by the system, Professor Davis anticipates that the system would come bundled with a bulk SMS plan from a mobile provider if and when it becomes commercially available.

Professor Davis believes the system could be used by manufacturers and governments to help encourage the replacement of older, less energy-efficient appliances and to support education and awareness campaigns on cutting energy usage.

The MyPower Energy Platform is currently still at the development stage and is undergoing evaluation on the prospects for commercialization by the University of Sydney. However, it was recently presented the inaugural NASSCOM IT Technical Innovation Award at CeBIT Australia 2012, where judges described it as “an example of practical innovation in taking a number of proven technology components and tackling a pressing issue.”