WASHINGTON, Pa. (Dec. 9, 2011)—It’s “lights out” research for Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) senior Cory Thoma.
Thoma’s senior honors project, “A Zero Knowledge Building Temperature Controller,” was presented at this year’s TECHCON 2011 conference in Texas, where his poster was awarded second place in the competition against undergraduates from top research universities like Stanford and the University of California Berkeley.
An information technology leadership major, Thoma’s research focuses on implementing encryption algorithms that allow the smart appliances in a home to communicate with a smart meter. From information provided by the smart meter, the power company can select the most efficient ways to provide electricity while maintaining consumer privacy about the exact usage of their appliances.
Thoma said the smart grid structure is designed to work with smart appliances. A smart appliance is one that can monitor its own power usage and respond to the needs of the power network. Smart appliances send their usage to a smart meter. This meter becomes part of a larger network of smart meters that respond to fluctuations in usage, supply, and cost and are monitored specifically by a power station, Thoma said. The meters respond by giving power to appliances when it is best for the appliance to get the power, based on the information provided by the appliance and power station.
“This is where a problem occurs, a problem where users of the system do not want the power companies to know about their usage of individual smart appliances. They may consider it an invasion of privacy, or simply just do not want the power companies to know how much they are using their air conditioner, or other appliance. This is where the research I worked on this summer comes into play. The work I did over the summer focuses on a proposed solution to the problem of private usage sharing between the power companies and the users,” Thoma said.
Thoma’s research was funded by Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC). SRC’s President and CEO, Larry Sumney, is a 1962 graduate of W&J.
Thoma is working to extend his initial model to encompass a full range of appliances and to introduce a simulation of energy markets, enabling consumers to shop for the best price on their energy, he said.