They were developed to allow us to set the mood in our homes, but one wifi lightbulb is playing a rather different role in a remote Highland community.


For experts have developed a system to tell the 115 strong community on the Knoydart Peninsula how much power they are using.

The Edinburgh University team of social anthropologists and designers believe the project will help them prevent localised power cuts during the height of the tourist season.

Only reachable on foot or by boat, Knoydart is off the National Grid and a hydro scheme, fed by Loch Bhraomisaig on the slopes of Beinn Buidhe, provides the local power.

It is run by Knoydart Renewables Ltd, a trading subsidiary of the Knoydart Foundation which led the community buyout of the 17,200 acre Knoydart Estate in 1999.

This provides 180kw per day of cheap green power for use by local people and businesses such as the pub, tearoom and bunkhouse.

There is backup electricity supply is provided by a diesel generator in the village of Inverie, the main settlement, used for short periods when maintenance work is needed or when demand threatens to be greater than supply.

This can happen in the summer when the population rises with those who have walked into Knoydart being joined in Inverie by other visitors arriving by boat from Mallaig.

To solve this problem, the Edinburgh team worked with Knoydart Renewables. The team re-programmed a Phillips wireless lightbulb and connected it to live data from the hydroelectric turbine.

The lightbulb was installed in the window of the community information centre on the peninsula's only tarmac road. It is the first lightbulb of its kind that changes colour depending on how much power the area is using. If it is green, it means most of the 180kw is still available.

Orange means between 100 and 130 kw has been used. Should it turn red, however, everyone is encouraged to turn off any non-essential electrical items.

Dr Jamie Cross, Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Development at Edinburgh University said the Knoydart work had been part of a project entitled "Off the Grid", his department was conducting. #

It was looking at three different communities with no have access to their national power systems. The other two were in India and Papua New Guinea. One of his research team had lived in Knoydart.

He said: "There was an interest in how you better engage the public the community and visitors in the challenges of providing energy. There was a piece of equipment that had been installed in the hydro scheme that produced a lot of data from sensors placed across the hillside on rainfall, dam levels and how much electricity was being consumed by the community. But it wasn't clear what should be done with all this information."

So they built a website, The Power of Knoydart, to put the data online. It has an icon which shows how much is being used along with messages.

Its latest message says: "Hey! We have loads of spare power available. Why don't you do some laundry, use your power tools, cook tomorrow's meal or switch the heating on."

A widget can also be downloaded from the website. It shows a kettle. It is full for plenty power, which empties as demand gets closer to the maximum of supply.

"But we wanted to build display something more publicly so we took one of those new fangled wifi light bulbs and reprogrammed so it was connected to the hydro data and put it in the information centre," Mr Cross said.

Angela Williams, Knoydart Foundation's development manager said the development was really useful giving real-time information. "It's fantastic. If it has been a busy time, we can just check what power is available."