Monday, April 29

Big Brother fridges

Most newspaper reporters get their facts wrong, some are obviously better than others, but it appears that the Daily Mail has gone into absolute fantasy mode with their latest story about 'big brother' fridges, the journalists claim the fridges will turn off from time to time, without your permission!

Oh, my god! An electrical appliance with a mind of its own, these fridges must be unique, no other popular appliance does that! Or do they? There must be a massive conspiracy between government, fridge manufacturers and energy companies, they are all scheming to ruin your food and control your fridge.

The headline goes:

"Big brother to switch off your fridge: Power giants to make millions - but you must pay for 'sinister' technology"

 So what exactly is this evil technology and how does it compare to other household technology?

Well, I have known about this tech for about 5 years or so, it is a British invention that is a world leader (yep, the Mail in the rush to blame the EU, is attacking a Brit engineering company and invention).

The Technology

Lets get something straight from the start, the technology DOES NOT send information about you or your energy use to the government or power companies and they CAN NOT control your fridge remotely.

So how the journalists come to the conclusion that it is 'Big Brother' technology is a mystery. The only reason for doing that is to spread propaganda against renewable energy and climate change measures.

The technology has been developed by a company called RLtec (now called Open Energi) and they teamed up with Indesit and and Npower in 2009 to trial the system in fridges and freezers. It ties in with the idea of a future smart grid technology that will enable energy to be used intelligently. Sainsburys already use the technology in their stores, so logically Sainsburys are a part of this big brother conspiracy that The Daily Mail has invented.

The technology is an automated version of what national grid managers do every day. Like the technicians managing supply and demand of electricity, the fridge technology will monitor the frequency of the mains supply, which is 50hz (actually old digital clocks monitored it to keep time - badly!), any deviation from this frequency means that either there is to much demand for electricity or there is to little demand (to many generators producing energy).

In the case when there is to much demand (to many kettles on at the same time), the circuit will switch off the fridge or freezer for a few seconds (or less). If you have tens of thousands of fridges all switching off for a few seconds, it will have no impact on the fridge perfomance but will reduce the load on the generators. Thus the frequency will return to 50hz again when balance is achieved!

The idea of course is to help integrate renewable energy into our grid system. It's actually a brilliant and non-intrusive idea (completely the opposite to the impression the Mail gives).

Other 'big brother' technology you use everyday:

  1. Car - most vehicles today take control away from you at many levels. For example you don't control how much fuel goes into the engine, the car decides that based on what you desire it to do.
  2. Lighting - many organisations install lighting that automatically turn off when someone isn't in the room, and of course lighting can turn on when someone is present.
  3. TVs - some new TVs turn off when no one is watching them!
  4. Thermostat - heaters, fridges, kettles all have thermostats that switch on and off electricity without your permission! I mean what right does a fridge have to turn it self off automatically? Must be the government trying to control our lives.

The reality is many appliances turn off internally or reduce the active circuitry without you knowing it, so the question is, why the fuss about a fridge?
The answer is of course extreme politics and the 'no evidence needed' political ideology of modern times. Rumour, black propaganda, misrepresentation and lies, count for more than actual reality.

Big Brother

In the book 1984, Winston Smith had a job in a government organisation where he was required to lie about reality and in particular about the past. The government 'snooped' on individiuals and lied about it's enemies.
Of course no one could accuse Daily Mail journalists of lying or snooping on individuals could they?


It appears that the Telegraph are running the same story with the same people interviewed. My suspicion is that a lobby group (that is against renewable energy) has made a press release in an attempt to undermine renewable energy policy.

29/04/13: found a Daily Mail article about the same technology published in 2009. The tone is completely different and the article received no comments. I think the article is still technically incorrect in that it refers to a signal from the energy company, which probably refers to the detection in frequency change, it also incorrectly implies that lose control of your electricity.

Update: 17/06/14
It appears Open Energi are now focusing on commercial refridgeration and that does include monitoring of the companies energy use, the participating company obviously being a willing participant. From the latest info available it appears the technology is not available in domestic fridges, although the initial trial did use domestic fridges. If the technology were installed in domestic fridges, then the monitoring part of the technology probably wouldn't be included because of the enormous cost of monitoring individual appliances. Open Energi's web site shows technology that is designed to monitor numerous devices owned by a specific organisation - such as Tescos and Sainsburys - that sort of scale would justify the expense of monitoring.

No comments: