SPRIME Controlled AC Outlets

Reader [Tim Upthegrove] sent in a novel take on powering and monitoring AC outlets and devices called SPRIME, or Simple Powerline Remote Interactive Monitor and Enforcer. Compared to previous hacks, such as 120v switching or Quick cheap remote outlets, that only turned an outlet on or off; SPRIME allows not only control over outlets via the internet, but also power usage of devices currently plugged in.

We really liked their idea of giving power companies access to SPRIME outlets to reduce power consumption during peak hours, but sadly we don’t see it being implemented in homes any time soon. Catch a video of SPRIME after the rift.

[Thanks Chris McClanahan and Jeff Starker for the project, and deyjavont for pointing out our silly mistakes]

37 thoughts on “SPRIME Controlled AC Outlets

  1. Nice project. I’m trying to do something similar with my house, but for much cheaper. It looks like their device cost $100 per outlet. Maybe replacing the Arduino with a custom pcb and the bluetooth with a cheaper wireless module would do it.

    Anyone else do this cheaply?

  2. The concept of the hack is what we were trying to get at with this project. We also need a way to prototype the device as fast as we could, so you can definitely improve upon the design.

    There are a lot of ways to make it cheaper.

  3. This is fun, but as the first commenter pointed out, the per outlet cost is exorbitant. I wish they wouldn’t try to pass these off as energy saving. It’s obviously a false economy, both in equipment and in standby-power cost. I’m saving thousands of dollars by leaving my outlets unmodified and using the existing switches.

  4. @Jeicrash
    you are way too paranoid. The odds of someone driving around looking for bluetooth devices to mess with and stumbling on this setup are phenomenal.
    Are you deathly afraid of the dark? OH NO SOMEONE TURNED OFF MY LIGHTS HELP ME! Its the end of the world. Oh wait i can just turn them back on.

    This whole project is a total waste IMHO. You could do the same with a bunch of cheep x10 modules and not break your bank account

  5. “We really liked their idea of giving power companies access to SPRIME outlets to reduce power consumption during peak hours, but sadly we don’t see it being implemented in homes any time soon. Catch a video of SPRIME after the rift.”

    Yes, because I’d love to have another aspect of my life controlled. I’d love to have my power usage data logged and probably used against me in the future. I’d love it if the power company turned off my stuff whenever they wanted to. This is where personal responsibility really comes in handy.

    “Gene, has been using a lot of power during peak hours, and they send him a request asking if they can turn off his refrigerator for short intervals during peak hours. This helps flatten out power production, thus lowering costs for Georgia Power and reducing their waste byproducts. ”

    My fridge already has this feature built in. It’s called a “thermostat”.

    If someone wants to use this system for their own personal enjoyment, that’s fine. Giving someone else control over it? Idiotic.

  6. @Moogle
    While I agree that the same thing could be accomplished for much cheaper, however I wouldn’t call such a project a “total waste.” Any project in which you learn something is never a waste. You have to start somewhere, being hobbyists I think we all understand the feeling of “well it works but it could be done cheaper/better/more efficient/etc.”

    Like my grandfather always said: “Do anything, even if it’s wrong, just do something!”

  7. @Jacob “giving power companies access”

    Although it looks good on paper, I’m pretty certain that this is not a good idea.

    The biggest power sinks in a normal household are the ac, the refrigerator, the stove/oven, and possibly the clothes washing machine/dryer. If the power to any of these gets cut for too long, too often, or at the wrong moment the results could be pretty inconvenient.

    Imagine if they cut power to your fridge for a little too long. Yummy.

    If they cut power to the dryer for 30 minutes when you’re washing work clothes and taking a shower, you end up late.

    An lastly, the air conditioner. The highest cooling load is also the hottest part of the day. Not sure about your ac unit, but mine works best if it turns on about 2-3 times an hour for 5-10 minutes each. When I turn it off manually the temp rises fairly quickly, then it has to run longer to get back to the target temp. In the meanwhile, I’m uncomfortable.

    Also, What happens when they manage to break the system, and your ac/fridge gets power cycled 20 times in a 2 minute period? Compressors don’t like rapid cycling. Do you really think they’ll even admit to screwing up? At least when they do it now, I’ve got a whole neighborhood with the same problem.

    Also, to those of you who might say I’m just being paranoid: If you are lucky enough to have a competent utility company, good for you. I am not so lucky, and neither is a large chunk of south Louisiana.

    I went 2 months without power after the last hurricane, and I’ve had 15 blown battery backups over the last 2 years.

    There’s no way I’m giving these idiots outlet-level control over anything.

  8. At least here in Northern Indiana, the power company (AEP) is allowing some volunteers to install a box onto their thermostat which allows them to kill the air conditioning during peak using when at risk of a brownout. You can, of course, flip a switch to disable their ability to do so, but you save money otherwise.
    This device seems fairly over-engineered :/
    Also, lol @ “AC Current” ;)

  9. It is call smart grid!

    Everyone is FREAKING OUT when you talk about the principal of smartgrid and what they ultimately want them to do. It will always be a choice!

    We are doing something similar for a session project.

    We are controlling what are not essential to human life. There is so much ethic into this type of project.

    @eldorel stop panicking! IT is not like you are going to ever see that in the near future. IT will not control your refrigaretor or your air conditioner.

    Those things will start in buisness and commercial application before going into houses.

  10. In ontario the power company is always bugging me to put a remote switch on my AC and they will give me a whopping $25 credit! as long as its not mandatory I will not do it.

  11. @Jerome
    “@eldorel stop panicking! IT is not like you are going to ever see that in the near future. IT will not control your refrigerator or your air conditioner.

    Those things will start in buisness and commercial application before going into houses.”

    That is incorrect. They are starting with Residential, because the cost to most businesses for turning off power is too high. Most factories have deals with the power company where they are rebated for power outages.

    Most larger building pay for power at a flat rate based on peak usage. The reason for this is simple Factories and office building or ‘steady users’ They can pretty easilly calulate and plan for that demand. What they can’t plan for as easily is residential demand.

    As Eric noted Duke-Energy already offers a device that connects to your HVAC Compressor (the part that is outside, the inside fan continues to run) The power company can turn off your A/C for up to 20 minutes an hour during a peak usage time. This allows the power company to flatten out the power spike a little. As an insentive they offer your a small refund for any month in which they power cycle your HVAC.

    You will find that this will become mandatory for residential “Non Essential” uses in the future. They are already manufacturing Electric Dryers that can tie to the Smart Grid to be turned off during peak times as well.

    To my knowledge it isn’t mandatory anywhere yet. But the day will come.


    Most compressors have protection against rapid cycling.

    If you are blowing UPS’s. You can request your power company connect a data recorder to your meter and they will monitor for voltage fluctuations for a period of time. Normally a week to a month. You can get a copy of the report, and they will work with you to solve the problem if one exists.

    The devastation caused by a hurricane can certainly cause enough damage that it can take months to restore power. First they need to rebuild the High Voltage lines, then they work out to the feeders and residential.

    Here in Indiana a tornado took out power poles around my home. We were without power for 4 days. That type of devastation takes time to fix.

  12. this project would be very easy to implement in a home because you by changing some of the original components like a voltage divider instead of a hal-fax sensor to measure voltage and you can get free pic micro controllers from micro-chip you could easily build the circuit that goes in the outlet for 15 to 20 dollars tops.

  13. @eldorel I’d say an AC is really not a necessary item, and if the load is too high you can get a black-out or brownout that closes everything down, so then it’s better to just have the AC off so the fridge and such keep working.
    Not that I’d let my powercompany EVER control my outlets, if they have capacity problems they should put part of the profits towards expanding capacity, it’s that simple, same thing as the internet, they claim they have to turn off stuff like P2P or streaming, but in reality what they should do is deliver what they sell and increase capacity according to need, which is what they got paid for.
    Same for banks too btw, and insurance companies, and everything, when you got paid you deliver what you got paid for, if you can’t get out of the business and don’t say you can.
    It’s like going to a mcdonalds and ordering a cheeseburger and they take your money then say “listen we can’t give everybody a burger since we only ordered a small amount of meat, here’s a bun instead, but as a special service you can pay again and we’ll add some lettuce and mustard, but still no meat”

  14. Just for the record:

    1) We don’t see this happening any time in the near future. This was just a class project, but it will be interesting to see how similar projects evolve in the future.

    2) Yes, bluetooth is not the best way to do this. There are cheaper alternatives, but this was a simple and standardized way for us to get the prototype done.

    3) Security is DEFINITELY important. We just didn’t focus on it for this project.

    Thanks for your comments and thanks to HAD!

  15. Good idea technically, but the external control is a no-go – I’ll weigh in on the side of the paranoid for once.

    Here, Illinois Power/Ameren is hawking a remote thermostat which they’ll install for free if they can kill your A/C for up to 8 hours at a stretch what they claim will be a limited number of days. Not bloody likely – I skipped it since we use timed thermostats and ventilation which is probably more efficient.

    In that kind of system, you can bet the houses in the low-property-tax-zone around the local country club won’t be turned down first if at all and I don’t need to come home to decaying pets.

    IP had control of the local nuclear plant (that was very seldom operational) and their operating officer dropped a Pacific Seacraft 32′ sailboat in the artificial lake to party on at company expense.

    That kind of oversight is just what your elderly, asthmatic aunt needs in summers that can go 100°+ and saturation humidity.

  16. Government is progressively moving toward being able to tell you…

    * What car to drive.
    * Where to get your health care and how much of it you are allowed to get.
    * What you can and cannot eat.
    * How and where you educate (indoctrinate) your children.
    * How much power you are allowed to use and how much it costs.

    Why is everyone taking this laying down? Might as well put cameras in these SPRIME sockets too.

  17. How about using a cold reservoir (filled with some sort of refrigerant , thermally sealed ) that you cool at night and use during peak hours.
    It would be
    1) more efficient , you cool it during the night when it’s cold outside
    2) it would smooth out peak demand
    3) it would keep a steady demand during the night , so the power company can expect to produce a constant amount of power at all times
    4) it would do away with the pesky problem of cooking yourself during peak-hours.

  18. @Drone
    Not everyone is taking it laying down, but far to many have already been indoctrinated through our schools and frankly don’t know any better.


    We have this it is called geo-thermal. The problem is, as always, cost. The cost of the system takes many years to see ROI. This is the same problem with solar in most areas of the country. The cost of system installation far outweighs the benefits received.

  19. @Whatnot: why mention Bush? This crap is coming from the “elite”. Do you still believe there is a difference between Democrat and Republican? If you do, I have a bridge to sell you.

    You have to cut down your power use, so the rich can keep their A.C. running. If you don’t, they’ll pass a law to force you, under the guise of “being green” (which is neo-pagan nonsense)

  20. Anyhow, getting it back to the ‘lectronics.

    re: the utility controlling an outlet, it’s less about denying people service, and more about evening the load across the supply lines. Rather than have every A/C unit come crashing down on the system at the same time, they can smooth the peaks with little to no effect on the unit’s effectiveness at cooling.

    At least, that’s how a smart system would go about it. In the same way your computer schedules a number of things (programs) to consume common resources (cores), AC gets blasted in short bursts as needed, where needed.

    If you took the same principles and had local storage at peoples homes (battery, super capacitors, or re-useable fuel cells?), they could completely hide a low-duty cycle distribution to homes with effectively large buffers that could charge quickly.

    I’ve some other thoughts on it, might blog about it soon.

  21. @Speedball: You are welcome. I coined it at work and use it all the time in forums and real life :)

    I just want to raise awareness on the general public about these ex-hippies’ agenda. I don’t and never will worship their goddess Gaia. Down with the neo-pagan cult! :D

  22. This is pretty dangerous to do. Your insurance company will do anything they can to back out of covering a fire, and if they find this in the house they have a good excuse. It is definitely in violation of building codes to do that in an outlet like shown. My advice is to just make it a plug-in box that goes over an existing outlet. This way you MIGHT have less liability if something were to happen. Please be careful guys!

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