'Inlet Outlet' Lets Users Give Power Back To Wall Sockets

Mar 02, 2009 by Lisa Zyga weblog
The "inlet outlet" allows users to give power back to the grid to counteract energy consumption. Image credit: Carla Diana and Jeff Hoefs, Smart Design.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ever wish you could you power your home's electrical appliances with the energy you generate on your exercise bike? A new concept called an "inlet outlet" could allow homeowners to put power from kinetic household activities - such as exercise equipment - back into the grid through a wall socket, helping to lower electricity bills. Basically, the inlet outlet would be the opposite of a typical wall outlet.

The concept was one of 50 finalists at this year's Greener Gadgets Design Competition, which was held last Friday, February 27, in New York City, and is sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association. Designed by Carla Diana and Jeff Hoefs of Smart Design, the inlet outlet concept includes adapter kits that convert common household products into energy-generating devices compatible with the inlet outlets.

Besides exercise equipment, sources of reusable energy could include things like a refrigerator or gas oven/range, which generate heat that could be captured by a panel and converted into electricity. In addition, motion is everywhere: a welcome mat that is constantly stepped on, an outdoor trampoline, and a flag in the wind all generate kinetic energy that could be converted into electricity and fed back into the grid through the inlet outlet. No matter how small, inlet energy could counteract some of the energy consumed.

The designers hope that, if the inlet outlet plugs and adapters are easy to use, the system could encourage further development of household devices that can be used to generate electricity.

The inlet outlet was just one of many innovative eco concepts at the competition, and didn't make the top 10. Based on audience feedback and live judging, a concept called the Tweet-a-Watt - a power meter that wirelessly publishes your power usage on your Twitter page - won first place. The Power-Hog, a piggy bank that monitors power consumption, won second place.

More information:
Inlet Outlet concept page
Top 50 Entries
Green Gadgets press release


Join PhysOrg.com on Facebook!
Follow PhysOrg.com on Twitter!
© 2009 PhysOrg.com

Explore further: Electromobility, efficient and safe: Visio.M consortium presents new electric car

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers say academia can learn from Hollywood

1 hour ago

According to a pair of University of Houston (UH) professors and their Italian colleague, while science is increasingly moving in the direction of teamwork and interdisciplinary research, changes need to be made in academia ...

Recommended for you

First-of-a-kind supercritical CO2 turbine

20 hours ago

Toshiba Corporation today announced that it will supply a first-of-a-kind supercritical CO2 turbine to a demonstration plant being built in Texas, USA. The plant will be developed by NET Power, LLC, a U.S. venture, together w ...

Drive system saves space and weight in electric cars

Oct 17, 2014

Siemens has developed a solution for integrating an electric car's motor and inverter in a single housing. Until now, the motor and the inverter, which converts the battery's direct current into alternating ...

Dispelling a misconception about Mg-ion batteries

Oct 16, 2014

Lithium (Li)-ion batteries serve us well, powering our laptops, tablets, cell phones and a host of other gadgets and devices. However, for future automotive applications, we will need rechargeable batteries ...

Turning humble seaweed into biofuel

Oct 16, 2014

The sea has long been a source of Norway's riches, whether from cod, farmed salmon or oil. Now one researcher from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) researcher hopes to add seaweed ...

User comments : 26

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Soylent
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2009
Ever wish you could you power your home's electrical appliances with the energy you generate on your exercise bike?


That's right folks. Step right up, you to can earn 1-2 cents per hour(!!!) while exercising. Amazing.
ArtyNouveau
3.5 / 5 (6) Mar 02, 2009
Considering the cost of hardware and installation, the ROI (even in new construction) would undoubtedly exceed the life expectancy of the structure (not to mention the owner)!
ryuuguu
5 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2009
I agree, this is a waste of time, energy and resources in general. You want to do some thing about your oven, get a better insulated one and save energy. For the fridge get a top opening chest style, so you don't exchange all the cold air for hot every time you open it. Need something to motivate you to get off your butt and one the exercise bike, attach a battery/portable phone charger to it. The ROI on this will be negative.
petrosdias
2 / 5 (3) Mar 02, 2009
I can see all your points, but what if this could be fed using a solar panel or wind-turbine? Would the feed back to the power grid have less losses rather than storing the energy to a battery and using it later? Or even using it at the moment...
QubitTamer
3 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2009
I have a device which will pump 1.21 gigawatts of energy back into the grid... Will this inlet-outlet work?
El_Nexus
2.4 / 5 (5) Mar 02, 2009
Well, the exercise bike might be worth it. You're not going to buy it to generate electricity but to get fit, so the ROI concern is meaningless.

I don't know how much electricity one of those things could generate but, from the fact that a normal pushbike can power the bike's headlight, I estimate that it could power a 100W light bulb. You ride that thing an hour a day for a month, and you've generated 3 kilowatt-hours, or about 1% of your monthly electricity usage.

Doesn't sound like a lot, but if it costs you nothing to do (remember you're only buying the bike for the exercise), saves you a little bit of money and motivates you to actually do the exercise, then it can only be a good thing.
TJ_alberta
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2009
a bike rider in good condition can put out ~1/4 HP for an hour. One hour of exercise x 20 days a month x 90% conversion efficiency = less than 5 KWH / month. The exercise will do you good. You will never notice this in your energy bill so take your bike outside.
petrosdias
5 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2009
How about gyms? Consider 10 bikes at 4 hours a day producing 150W (I remember my "measured" power output is around 200W when on the bike), you can get around 150KW a month. If you consider those elliptical machines and steps the figure goes up!

On the other hand, the news machines I keep seeing (with huge LCD screens with video and all) probably consume around 100W on their own...
Treetops
4.7 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2009
That is another of these american gimmics to demonstrate they do something about the environment. What about improving the insulation of the house and get som edecent windows and doors (Buffalo in January at -15°C: Hotel main door with about a 2cm gap and eauch receptionist with an electric heater in front of them while the Hotel has these fun notes in the bathroom that they are for the environment and one should put only those towels on the floor that need to be cleaned. What a joke). Conservation has the largest potential to lower the the electric bill and you even improve your comfort.
fleem
1 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2009
Besides all the good points made in these comments, this device is also 100% gimmick for another even more basic reason: You don't need any special hardware in your wiring or connections in order to pump power back into the grid. In fact, there's really nothing that can be done to the wiring and connections that would help the process! To understand this, first imagine a DC (not AC) grid: Positive current draws power, but current in the other direction returns energy to the system just as one reverses the current in order to charge a battery, for example. The AC equivalent of this process simply reverses the current with each cycle of grid voltage (50 or 60Hz) such that power is returned to the system. A treadmill could be pretty easily designed to efficiently pump power back into the grid by simply adjusting the phase of current with the line voltage. Electromechanical power meters (the vast majority of meters in use) will properly measure such returned power--they will run backwards.
-fleem
ealex
5 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2009
heh interesting as a concept, and I definitely think it should have beaten the piggy bank and the friggin twitter twatter crapola, but probably would only be worth it in certain situations and it depends what the production and energy costs of modifying the existing installation would be.

I agree thought that energy conservation such as using energy-efficient bulbs, insulation and the like are a much better approach.
Disciple
5 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2009
Everyone keeps calculating energy generated from human exercise, but you cannot assume 90% is converted.

For starters where does the energy go? Lets imagine an exercise bike - most is lost due to friction on the bearings. Additional resistance is applied to make it harder to pedal.

This resistance could be a generator, but extracting more energy would make it more difficult to pedal
mindtrix
not rated yet Mar 03, 2009
@petrosdias - I don't think that using a battery to store the energy would be a very eco-friendly idea. Batteries, as useful as they are, are hard to recycle/dispose of so I can't see the savings there...

And I agree with ealex about this 'concept' loosing to simple gimmicky power 'Monitoring' devices (which themselves USE POWER TO MONITOR THE POWER, kind of counter productive don't you think?) to a concept that atleast suggests giving something back. The idea itself is sound, the method of making it happen may not be as easy as it seems, but atleast they made an effort to try and give something back to the grid.

@Treetops - You are right in your own way.. improving insulation, upgrading to energy efficient appliances is a step in the right direction, and while it DOES save you money.. Its the IDEA of giving something back that I like about this concept.
nilbud
3 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2009
I don't know why they got a midget to hold the plug.
Wha_wha_what
not rated yet Mar 03, 2009
lol nilbud, you're right! Look at how tiny that hand is compared to the standard electrical outlet.

Honey, tell our 3 year old to plug in the exercise bike, I'm gonna make me some powah!
david_42
3 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2009
fleem - Connecting a power source to the grid is not a simple task. You have to maintain phase, frequency and voltage at all times. Doing this with a highly-variable power source is difficult, as home wind-power advocates are finding out.
DGBEACH
5 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2009
Funny, I had this very idea 3-days ago! But David is right in that staying synchronized with the line is quite a task.
Eldin
not rated yet Mar 03, 2009
One thought I haven't seen anyone else mention is the idea of connecting these inlet plugs to a single power converting device, which synchronizes it's various inputs to the grid, rather than connecting them directly to the grid. Sure, it adds to the initial cost of the system, but it eliminates the need for each generating device to have circuitry to output in-phase AC current at grid voltage. With the only requirement for input being DC voltage in the proper polarity, it would significantly lower the barrier of entry for nearly any sort of home power. Have a solar cell? or a wind generator? just plug it into the inlet and it automagically puts the power it generates into the grid.

This would also significantly lower the cost of modifying something like an exercise bike to use the system, since you would just need a simple DC generator and the 'inlet system' would handle the rest. And without having to connect such devices directly to mains power in order to synchronize to the grid, many of the safety concerns for such a device simply vanish.

Obviously, there's a minimum threshold for power output of a device, below which generating power for such a system becomes a losing proposition. But I suspect that exercise equipment is a common household item that lies above that threshold, whereas it would most likely take years for energy collected from a flag to recoup the energy cost of building and installing the device to collect it.

Can anyone see a reason why these ideas wouldn't work?

james42519
not rated yet Mar 04, 2009
didn't see anyone mention anything about solar power or other forums of generating power at home. i heard that the people doing solar power are actually making more power then they can use so they can have that plugged in and give power like that too. imagine how much that can help if a lot of people are doing the same thing now.
DGBEACH
not rated yet Mar 04, 2009
One thought I haven't seen anyone else mention is the idea of connecting these inlet plugs to a single power converting device, which synchronizes it's various inputs to the grid, rather than connecting them directly to the grid.

One would assume that these plugs would be connected to a device doing exactly that...otherwise there would be no point.
Eldin
not rated yet Mar 05, 2009
One thought I haven't seen anyone else mention is the idea of connecting these inlet plugs to a single power converting device, which synchronizes it's various inputs to the grid, rather than connecting them directly to the grid.

One would assume that these plugs would be connected to a device doing exactly that...otherwise there would be no point.


A lot of comments seemed to assume that devices being plugged in would need circuitry to synch with the grid, and none of the articles I've seen mentioning the inlet idea give any details at all on what's happening past the wall with it.
DGBEACH
3 / 5 (2) Mar 05, 2009
A lot of comments seemed to assume that devices being plugged in would need circuitry to synch with the grid, and none of the articles I've seen mentioning the inlet idea give any details at all on what's happening past the wall with it.

They do mention BOTH "inlet outlet plugs and adapters". I am dubious, however, as to the efficiency that any device could have which would accomplish this task. Hopefully the energy you'd create would not be used just to power the synchronization device's circuitry!
uemang
5 / 5 (1) Mar 07, 2009
I agree that in a residential setting this concept has a ridiculous ROI, not just the adaptations to the pedal bike or what have you, but in plugs, adapters, internal wiring, DC to AC conversion, etc.

Could this concept be more viable in a commercial or industrial setting? Especially with machinery that creates massive amounts of waste heat as well as material, liquid and air flow.

But then again, gathering waste heat with huge banks of thermal couples could be a very costly endeavor, and you would probably be much better off just installing some solar panels or fiberglass insulation...
Soylent
not rated yet Mar 07, 2009
didn't see anyone mention anything about solar power or other forums of generating power at home.


They don't use any silly "power inlets", they just hardwire it.

i heard that the people doing solar power are actually making more power then they can use so they can have that plugged in and give power like that too. imagine how much that can help if a lot of people are doing the same thing now.


The electrical grid is not a bank that can store electricity and use it later. As long as you're ofsetting single cycle natural gas turbines you're probably fine. If you start eating into baseload or CCGT you'll create needless wear and tear on the electrical grid and the excess power will go unused.
Rupe
not rated yet Mar 08, 2009
If we standardize the outlet/mechanism for collecting generated energy, then it wouldn't matter if we were using solar cells, exercise bikes, wind turbines, or any thing else. It should make the cost of devices like solar cells and wind turbines less because (as mentioned in a previous comment) the inlet would need to lead to a consolidator/regulator and those materials could be eliminated from the cells and turbines. This also would open the door to new imaginative power sources like exercise bikes and who knows what else.

With that said, I think that the projects that did come in first and second to monitor our power usage, did so quite rightfully. Sunlight being the best medicine and all. At some point the monitoring could even be broken down to given outlets if not actual appliances. Then we would really be able to see if our exercise bike was helping with our electricity bill or if the old freezer down in the basement was killing your bill.
Velanarris
5 / 5 (1) Mar 24, 2009
I'd just re-floor the house with kinetic panels and make cash off throwing house parties.
"Price of admission? Walk around a lot."