Maker and self-proclaimed “nice nerd from Stuttgart” Ulrich Spizig tackled rising energy costs head-on by developing an Internet of Things (IoT) chatbot-driven interface for a water heater — and in the process drastically reduced gas consumption by two-thirds .
“As you may have noticed, gas prices in Europe are going crazy in 2022 [the] War in Ukraine,” writes Spizig. “We talked to our neighbors in our apartment [about] how we can reduce our gas consumption. One reason was gas prices, the other was: How can we reduce gas consumption to become more environmentally friendly?
A smart switch and chatbot have cut an apartment’s gas bill by more than a thousand dollars. (📷: Ulrich Spizig)
First, Spizig had to find out where waste could occur in the heating system. A search of the apartments turned up a clue: walls that were warmer than others. Further investigation revealed the presence of hot water central heating pipes in the walls leading to radiators – but for some reason were still hot in the summer when all the radiators were off.
“How can we reduce this kind of useless energy in the summer,” asks Spizig. “These hot water pipes only warm up our apartment in the summer. The reason for this hot water pipe was a circulation pump that constantly pushed warm water. This water pipe was not insulated and therefore heated up our walls.”
The Solution: Adding Control over the Internet of Things. A smart Sonoff switch has been attached to the pump, allowing it to be turned on and off at will. When programmed with a simple timer, the effect was immediately apparent: Gas consumption dropped by a whopping 40 percent compared to the original always-on pump.
The chat bot allows users to check the status of the pump and activate it for hot water. (📷: Ulrich Spizig)
That wasn’t enough for Spizig, who decided to take the project a step further and program a Telegram chat bot that connects to the Smart Switch via an Arduino sketch. “Any user in our apartment can turn on the hot water whenever they need hot water. This may be needed for showering or washing dishes. This switch-on is done with your personal mobile phone and the Telegram chat app.”
With the chat app, gas consumption fell even further: by the time the project was completed, Spizig and its neighbors had reduced gas consumption by an impressive 67 percent – drastically lowering the bill at a time of high energy prices, while preventing over 1,900 kg of carbon emissions.
More details about the project are available on Spizig’s Hackaday.io page; The chatbot source code is now available on GitHub under the mutual GNU General Public License 3.