Stove Sensor Project Takes Top Prize in Vodafone Competition for Wireless Innovation

A traditional Indian biomass stove, left, and a modern gassifier stove with electric blower.

Groundbreaking monitoring system promises to reduce carbon emissions and health risks in the developing world

Public Affairs | 21 April 2010

BERKELEY—In a world where millions of simple stoves contributing to climate change and premature deaths are being replaced by lower-emission alternatives, individual household visits to evaluate the success of the interventions are simply out of the question. The method of measurement—vital to the continuing development of these lifesaving programs—needs to be low-cost, accurate, sustainable, and scalable.

A groundbreaking "stove use monitoring system" (SUMS) developed at UC Berkeley won the first-place $300,000 prize in the 2010 Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project, which selects three wireless projects with the potential to save lives and solve critical global challenges. The three winners were chosen from a pool of nearly 100 qualified applicants from universities and nongovernmental organizations from throughout the United States.

The "100 Million Stoves" device is a simple wireless SUMS, powered with the excess heat of the stove, which can be attached to the millions of new low-emission stoves being used in developing regions. The device will record usage data and send them to a dedicated reader carried by someone in the village making a monthly walk through. The cumulated data will then be uploaded via cell phone to a central database for systematic processing. The low-cost technology will allow the assessment of household energy programs, enable feedback from users, and provide transparent verification of carbon credits.

"The wireless SUMS can be deployed in a careful subsample across millions of households in a statistically valid manner," says Professor of Global Environmental Health Kirk R. Smith, who leads the UC Berkeley research team at the School of Public Health. "Unlike household visits, the monitors provide unique and valuable information that can be scaled to millions."

The "100 Million Stoves" team consists of Smith's research group, three small Berkeley companies— BioLite, Electronically Monitoring Ecosystems, and Berkeley Air Monitoring Group—and the Department of Environmental Health Engineering at Sri Ramachandra University in Chennai, India. Together they have built prototypes of the wireless SUMS, and the Vodafone award will help bring the project to the next stage of implementation and scale. The team plans to use the device in trials and its initial application will be in India as part of the country's National Biomass Cook-stoves Initiative.

"Soon it will be ready for use by groups around the world wishing to validate carbon credits for stove programs on the international carbon market," says Smith. "In addition, it can also serve as the basis for other devices to remotely and efficiently monitor the use and effectiveness of household health and energy interventions for research, program evaluation, and user feedback."

More information about the Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project, "100 Million Stoves," and the other two prize-winning projects is available on the Vodafone website.


Story from UC Berkeley Public affairs.

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