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Solar Power Continues to Provide Electricity to Rural Residents in Africa

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Devergy Logo 300pxIn a previous blog post, we shared Devergy and the work they’re doing to connect underserved areas to reliable and affordable electricity. The company was founded in 2012 and has quickly grown a customer base that loves their affordable and clean energy solution.

In short, Devergy is installing solar grids to power remote villages in Tanzania. The solution involves XBee to connect the entire grid to measure energy consumption, enable remote monitoring, and through an XBee gateway, connect to the global cellular network. Access to solar energy allows residents to stop spending significant amounts of money on kerosene for lighting, phone charging and dry-cell batteries for radios. And, saving money isn’t the only benefit, the solar electricity improves air quality and provides businesses the opportunity to operate for longer hours.

We last checked in with Devergy two years ago and since then, they’ve continued to find success and grow a sustainable business. They acquired funding from Acumen, OPES Impact Fund and HERi Africa which is crucial to fund their expanding operations. And, their customer base is growing with new villages in Tanzania. Currently, the Devergy solar solution is operating in 12 villages: six in the region of Mbeya (with expansion happening daily), five villages in the Morogoro region, and Matipwili (the first village).

The team is growing too! The full-time staff has quadrupled since 2012, and they are constantly hiring in the villages to help with sales, installations, and maintain a close relationship with the communities they serve. By the end of 2016, the plan is to have 7,000 households connected!

To get more technical details on how wireless technology like XBee is helping Devergy provide energy across Tanzania, read their customer story here. To learn more about the Devergy mission, click here and visit their website!

Australian Researchers Improve IEQ with Zigbee Based Sensor System

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As the cost of energy rises and environmental concerns move us toward new sources of energy, how do we ensure we make the most out of every watt? There are a number of companies and organizations emerging to address this truly global issue.

University of Sydney Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) researchers Tom and Alex Parkinson, built SAMBA to help solve the balancing act between comfort and reducing energy consumption. SAMBA is a platform comprised of remote sensors deployed throughout commercial office environments and a web interface for data visualization. The system collects data points — enabling building managers to improve IEQ and save costs.

The platform is made possible by wireless technologies like Zigbee mesh networking and cellular data communications. Additionally, recent advancements in sensor technology have made it possible to create sensor nodes capable of measuring a variety of parameters, while maintaining a small form factor and remaining affordable.

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How SAMBA Works
Within each node you’ll find sensors to monitor thermal comfort, acoustics, lighting, and indoor air quality. Processing at each node is handled by an ATmega328 chip running an Arduino sketch. A cool feature of the node is a flash memory chip. This helps prevent any data loss in case there’s a network failure by allowing data to be stored locally. Once the data is collected it hops from XBee to XBee until it reaches the central hub. Data is sent from each node at an interval of once every 5 minutes.

The central hub/cellular gateway is currently a Raspberry Pi with a cellular module. The gateway does some minor processing before sending data over the cellular network to SAMBA’s server. Due to the mesh networking capabilities of the sensor nodes, it is possible to just have one central hub per building. This makes the solution extremely cost efficient. As the team works to take this to production and scale their operation, they’re evaluating replacing the Raspberry Pi with the XBee Gateway.


Click to Watch Video 

Why Zigbee
The development team chose to use Zigbee for a multiple reasons. For one, the mesh networking capability makes the deployment of nodes more flexible and, in many cases, only one central hub is needed per building. Another factor was the development tools at their disposal like the open source Arduino library for the XBee Zigbee Radios. You can access that library here. This library helped them to cut down development time significantly.

The SAMBA crew is already getting some nice recognition throughout Australia. Just last week, Green Cities included them on their list of Weapons of Mass Creation! To learn more about the University of Sydney’s Indoor Air Quality Lab, click here visit their site.

BigBelly Solar: Smarter Waste Collection in Philadelphia

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Trash collection and recycling is a resource intensive process that costs U.S. cities roughly $55 billion annually. To help solve this problem, our Wireless Design Services team worked with BigBelly Solar, dubbed as the smart grid of waste and recycling, to develop a wireless solution that reduces the amount of resources needed to collect trash and recyclables. With the help of a cellular connection, each BigBelly trash can is connected to the Internet. When a bin is full, it sends out a signal to notify waste removal teams that it’s time for a pick-up.

BigBelly is working with the city of Philadelphia, which is adopting this new waste collection strategy and quickly realizing a return on investment. BigBelly’s trash cans compact its contents- increasing the capacity of each bin by 5. Eliminating the need to constantly check the amount of trash in each bin is saving the city millions. The reduction in resources and labor dedicated to keeping the streets of Philadelphia clean has enabled the city to devote more time to improving the recycling program.

CNN recently featured the BigBelly and Philadelphia collaboration as part of their ‘City Tomorrow’ series. Click the image below to watch the feature.

Click to watch video

Interested in learning more about how Digi helped connect BigBelly’s trash cans to the Internet of Things? Check out their customer story to get more details.

Devergy Expands Solar Power Possibilities in Africa

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Did you know that roughly 1.7 billion people are not connected to a power grid? In Sub-Sahara Africa, the number is around 500 million. For many, the infrastructure simply doesn’t exist. The modern day conveniences we take for granted such as being able to read at night, cooking on the stove top and refrigeration can be a hassle, or close to impossible, with no access to a reliable source of electricity.

The challenges of installing a power grid in remote and undeveloped areas can be numerous, so how do we reimagine how to deliver reliable electricity and move past the traditional power grid system? Thankfully, Devergy is solving this tricky problem. Using solar power and wireless technology, Devergy has built a sustainable business that’s helping villages in Tanzania and Ghana meet their energy needs.download

Who is Devergy?
Founded in 2010 by Fabio De Pascale, Gianluca Cescon and Daniel Ponz, Devergy is a social enterprise committed to providing an affordable and reliable source of energy to low-income people throughout Tanzania.

Their customers live in rural areas of the country where a power grid is nonexistent and residents do not have the money necessary to purchase a personal solar home system.

Residents in Tanzania typically spend between 6 and 25 USD per month on kerosene, phone charging, and dry-cell batteries for radios. After the installation of Devergy’s solar grids, residents spend as much as 20% less than what they were spending on kerosene for lighting and 50% less for phone charging. Not only does Devergy provide a clean, renewable and reliable source of energy, but it’s also substantially more affordable.

The service is based on village-sized energy micro-grids, which provide solar power to households and small businesses; it allows the users to connect lights and appliances such as radios, TVs and refrigerators. With the smart micro-grids, the usage of installed power is up to 70% more efficient than with equivalent solar home systems.

The key feature of the system is an energy meter that powers the household or business with a pre-paid pay-per-use approach, where customers top up their credit by using a mobile commerce platform, such as Vodacom M-Pesa. This is just like the system you would use to top-up a pre-paid mobile phone.

How it Works
Devergy uses Digi XBee technology for the communication network in its grids. Hundreds of nodes are connected with XBee–making the solar micro-grids smart, cost effective, and manageable. Devergy relies on XBee modules for its smart meters and is using Digi’s ConnectPort X4 for its Zigbee to GPRS gateways. Fabio, co-founder of Devergy says, “The plug and play, flexible nature of the Digi product was fundamental to get our services to the market faster.”

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Devergy’s customers receive an unprecedented service thanks to a system that is designed to require no user maintenance and is remotely monitored for faults, so that the reliability and availability of the service is unmatched. Local representation of the company is ensured by the appointment of a village agent, selected based on recommendation by the village committee and trained by Devergy to perform technical support and sales. This ensures the customers always have a well-known and trusted counterpart to deal with.

Devergy has successfully connected more than 800 customers since 2012 to reliable, clean and safe electricity with a service sufficient to satisfy their needs for many years to come.  Currently, they are active in two regions and quickly growing their customer base. In addition to Tanzanaia, the Devergy grids are also licensed to third parties in Ghana, where they power 3 villages.

Visit Devergy.com to learn more about what they do!

Home is Where the Heat is: Heat Seek is Helping NYC Keep Warm

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heatseekDecember is here, and with it, so are the single-digit temperatures. Many of us know how unbearable the cold can be during the dead of winter. Whether you’re dealing with it on your daily commute, outside taking the dog for a walk, or trying to get some groceries, the cold has a way of making you just want to get back to the warmth and comfort of your home. But, for many, this problem persists even when they’re home. Digi’s customer, Heat Seek NYC, wants to make this a problem of the past.

For those at the mercy of a landlord, resolving heating issues can be a lengthy and bureaucratic process. Did you know NYC handles over 200,000 heating complaints every year? In order to provide proof of poor heating, tenants are tasked with manually recording the temperatures of their apartments.

A group of New York City residents recognized this as a major public issue and founded Heat Seek NYC to efficiently address this overwhelming number of complaints and ensure no New York City resident has to spend winter in a cold home.

HeatSeekPartsTheir wireless sensor system automatically records apartment temperatures– streamlining the way NYC handles heating complaints and solves disputes between tenants and landlords.

Let’s take a look and see how Heat Seek built this wireless sensor network.

The sensor network is built entirely with off-the-shelf components. The low-cost temperature sensors connect via XBee using DigiMesh technology to create a reliable network that can easily connect throughout a building. Then, the team turned a Raspberry Pi into a cellular gateway enabling it to transmit temp. data, which is sent to a server to be accessed by residents, advocates, and lawyers. Additionally, Heat Seek is working to give the housing department (HPD) access to data to assist building inspectors. As the team transitions from prototype to a production version of their system they’re evaluating the ConnectPort X4 and Device Cloud for their connectivity and remote management needs.

This public record of heating complaints is used to generate The Cold Map.


After winning the NYC BigApps Challenge and a successfully funded Kickstarter, Heat Seek has had a busy 2014 getting the business off the ground. The goal is to install 1,000 sensors throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx this year!

Not only does Heat Seek provide a system of accountability, but they also enable landlords to heat their buildings more effectively. Want to learn more about Heat Seek? Check out a demo and see how a landlord can use it to reduce heating violations and keep tenants warm.

Energy Gets Smart with the Internet of Things

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As the weather gets warmer, you might be thinking about your energy bills. So are innovators, technologists and environmentalists who are working to use the latest technology to decrease energy consumption and lower costs for individuals and businesses alike. Energy is one of the sectors that can be impacted the most by the Internet of Things- another great area where connected products can improve business effeciencies, our lives and our planet. Here’s how.

“A smart thermostat can reduce a home’s heating and cooling costs by 10% a year…”-US Department of Energy

You’ve probably heard the terms smart grid, smart meter and smart thermostat. But, what are their roles in helping us conserve energy? Internet enabled products such as a thermostat or smart meter connected to a cloud platform can be used to gather large amounts of data for analysis. They can manage our home’s devices from anywhere. After analyzing data, we can modify, or have our machines modify, energy usage to ensure our household is running as energy efficient as possible- saving money without sacrificing comfort. The data provided can also eliminate the frustrating guessing game of what the coming month’s energy bill will be. Tracking usage allows us to know the amount of our bill down to the nearest penny before it arrives in the mail.

An ounce of prevention…

Smart Energy

Another benefit of monitoring energy use is the ability to proactively resolve issues if an appliance begins to run poorly. Imagine if your utility company could notify you of a water leak or issue with your furnace and dispatch a service worker to fix it- all before it turns into a severe issue and costly repair.

Connected products are changing what it means to be energy efficient.

According to the US Department of Energy, 54% of your utility bill is made up of heating and cooling. Many businesses are taking this idea and delivering a simple, yet valuable, service to homeowners giving us greater control of our thermostats.

For example, EcoFactor is using the Internet of Things to make customers’ homes smart. The company’s internet enabled thermostat responds to personal preferences, seasonal changes and even weather forecasts. EcoFactor’s utilizes Device Cloud to offer their own cloud based software which is fully automated, so customers never have to worry about adjusting their thermostat.

Demand response (DR) programs also help to save money and prevent outages on the energy grid. EcoFactor’s thermostat uses energy in the most efficient way possible by responding to current demand along the power grid. We can also optimize our own behavior if we know when peak hours fall, so maybe you wait to do the laundry once peak hours have past to save money.

Several smart grid pilots have been springing up in the past few years due to funding from the federal government. It is also proving to have a large impact on the recovering economy. Recent numbers from SmartGrid.gov show that $2.96 billion has been invested to support new Smart Grid projects, which has resulted in economic output totaling $6.8 billion. The Smart Grid is an enormous opportunity both economically and environmentally.

Earlier this year, Ecofactor announced its participation in a 15,000 home National Grid smart grid pilot in Worchester, Massachusetts. The smart grid technology will be fully deployed by 2014. EcoFactor’s data analytics and demand response events will maximize the energy usage of the pilot’s participants.

Led by Batelle Memorial Institute, currently the largest smart energy pilot in the US is the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project with over 60,000 participants. This $178 million project aims to quantify the costs and benefits of smart grid technology, advance cyber security, and bring to light smart grid business models. The pilot will run for 5 years in 5 Northwest states including Idaho, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, and Oregon. Technologies used in the pilot include smart meters, programmable thermostats, and load control devices.

The Internet of Things is making homes smarter, energy bills smaller and customers happier. Connected products have simplified the process of managing business and home energy consumption and have made it more affordable. Conserving energy no longer means just turning the lights off when we leave home- it means using data and smart devices to inform us on how to save energy. Saving the planet also means saving money, so what will you do this summer to reduce your energy use?

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