Smart Plugs

Mon, 23/08/2021 - 17:19

In this era of emerging technologies, electrical and electronic appliances are increasingly becoming an indispensable part of our lives. We all depend on a host of electronic appliances to get us through our day. It is only natural that we often find ourselves looking for smart solutions to optimise the usage of our appliances. The good news is that such smart solutions can now find their way into our homes and that too, on a budget!

Ever caught yourself hoping that you didn’t have to get out of bed after a long day, just to turn the lights off? Ever wished that you could simply control your household appliances  via a single remote controller? Well, home automation is making these hopes a reality. Yes, we can now control our appliances remotely simply by using our personal device that we carry all day - the smartphone. This blog discusses an affordable and simple home automation solution - smart plugs!.

What are smart plugs?

A smart plug is a small adaptor that can be plugged into a standard electrical wall socket. These small devices turn any non-internet enabled appliance into a smart appliance that can be controlled by a mobile application or voice assistant. Smart plugs can be connected to a mobile application on your smartphone via Wi-Fi or bluetooth. This allows consumers to control the appliances connected to the plug.

How does it work?

A smart plug needs to be plugged into a socket and it needs a continuous power supply for its operation. Once an appliance is connected to the smart plug, it can be remotely controlled. The majority of smart plugs work with a Wi-Fi connection and do not need a Hub. Every smart plug will have its own mobile application for both Android and iOS devices. When a consumer gives any command through the application it will be transmitted to the smart plug using the internet or bluetooth. If a smart plug is operated using bluetooth, the range will be limited to 10 meters. However, if it is operated using Wi-Fi, then the devices can be controlled from anywhere.

  Diagram illustrating the operation of a smart plug; Source- smlease.com

At its most basic level, a smart plug will control only one appliance at a time. Here is all that you need to do to control a chosen appliance with the help of a smart plug:

  1. Plug the smart plug adaptor into a regular electrical wall outlet/power socket.
  2. Download the manufacturer’s application onto your smartphone - most smart plugs come with a companion app that can be downloaded from Google Play Store.
  3. Connect it to your Wi-Fi network.
  4. Once connected, plug any appliance of your choice into the smart plug.

 Now the appliance can be controlled through the application on your smartphone!

Let’s say that a consumer wants to switch-on an appliance that is connected to the smart plug  on his/her way back home. He/she  can give a command through his mobile application. 

Smart plug's internal components are illustrated in this diagram; Source-Microchip.com

Smart plugs receive the signal through an inbuilt Wi-Fi module. Those signals are processed by microcontrollers. Microcontrollers and zigbee are used as a communication interface between the appliance and smart plug. Based on the command, the smart plug will complete the requested action. 

Does it save power?

  • Usage of smart plugs can significantly influence consumers’ decision and practice of using less energy.  This is mostly due to the fact that the smart plug has to be connected to Wi-Fi or your phone in order to check or control things. However, the amount of energy consumed by a smart plug is  only around 1 watt. This will not have a significant impact on one’s electricity bill.
  • Common appliances such as televisions, set-top boxes, and sound programs are generally turned off only via remote control, and we may forget to unplug or switch off the appliances. This is generally called standby mode. The power used by the electrical appliances while they are in standby mode is called phantom load or vampire power and this power is responsible for 1%  of annual carbon dioxide emission globally. Vampire appliances like televisions, set-top boxes, game consoles, computers, printers, speakers, air conditioners, and kitchen appliances can use more energy while in standby mode. Smart plug will enable turning off these appliances remotely and  reduce vampire load.
  • Smart plugs can be used to schedule the shutdown or activation of any appliances. The user is constantly aware of  the status of the appliances (whether it is running or not) by using the application of the smart plug. This helps the user understand his/her electricity consumption patterns and take appropriate measures to conserve energy. 

Benefits of smart plug

  • A smart plug will convert any existing non internet enabled appliance or electrical system into a smart object capable of communicating with other smart products in your home.
  • Users can control and check on devices even after leaving their house by using the smart plug’s application. 
  • Users can also monitor the amount of energy consumed by connected appliances through the smart plug’s mobile application.
  • Smart plugs can also notify the user if a device unexpectedly begins consuming unusually large quantities of electricity.
  • Users can schedule the shut down or initiation of an appliance connected to a smart plug. 
  • Smart plugs can be used to improve home security by controlling lights and appliances even when  the user is not at home.
  • By using voice commands users can easily operate devices remotely.

How to choose a smart plug

  • Choose a smart plug that is compatible with smart application assistants that have a good voice controller, such as Google assistant/Amazon alexa for more convenience.
  • All smart plugs are not compatible with all appliances. Largely, two categories of smart plugs are available in the market:
    • 10A compatible with smaller appliances like lights, fans, mobile/laptop chargers, TV, kitchen appliances etc.
    • 16A compatible with high power appliances like air conditioners and washing machines.

Be sure to check for the amp limit of the plug and be careful not to operate appliances above the specified limit.

  • Review all the features before you make the purchase. Remember that additional features, such as energy monitoring and USB charging, can  enhance the efficiency of the smart plug . 

An average Wi-Fi smart plug can cost you anywhere between Rs.600 to Rs.2000. Nowadays, in addition to tech companies, mobile phone manufacturers also manufacture smart plugs, providing us with a wide variety of options. Smart plugs are one of the easiest and cost effective ways to automate our homes by bringing our everyday appliances online, irrespective of which smart plugs a user chooses.

Conclusion

Smart plug technology can be widely used for monitoring and controlling energy consumption of electrical devices. With the introduction of new efficient and cost-effective IoT technologies in the future, the smart plugs are expected to be in high demand in the coming years. National Renewable Energy Laboratories research  ranks the smart plug as the second best smart solution that helps users save energy and money. Smart plugs are estimated to save between 1 - 4.58 percent of energy usage, or 500 to 1000 kilowatts, by cutting phantom power. Smart plug can be envisaged as a  vital component in the expanding markets for smart energy management systems. 

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