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Open AccessArticle

Data Mining Techniques for Detecting Household Characteristics Based on Smart Meter Data

Department of Informatics, Faculty of Applied Informatics and Mathematics, Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Nowoursynowska 159, 02-787 Warsaw, Poland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Thorsten Staake
Energies 2015, 8(7), 7407-7427;
Received: 16 April 2015 / Revised: 3 June 2015 / Accepted: 6 July 2015 / Published: 22 July 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Smart Metering)


The main goal of this research is to discover the structure of home appliances usage patterns, hence providing more intelligence in smart metering systems by taking into account the usage of selected home appliances and the time of their usage. In particular, we present and apply a set of unsupervised machine learning techniques to reveal specific usage patterns observed at an individual household. The work delivers the solutions applicable in smart metering systems that might: (1) contribute to higher energy awareness; (2) support accurate usage forecasting; and (3) provide the input for demand response systems in homes with timely energy saving recommendations for users. The results provided in this paper show that determining household characteristics from smart meter data is feasible and allows for quickly grasping general trends in data.
Keywords: data mining; users’ behaviors; smart metering; smart home; energy usage patterns data mining; users’ behaviors; smart metering; smart home; energy usage patterns

1. Introduction

Smart metering systems are key components for creating environmental sustainability by managing energy at homes. They are supposed to play an important role in reducing overall energy consumption and increasing energy awareness of the users through being better informed about consumption patterns. Leveraging smart metering to support energy efficiency on the individual user level poses novel research challenges in monitoring usage and providing high granularity information for the end users.
In this work, we see two complementary research goals impacting the energy usage at the household level. Firstly, we aim to prove the hypothesis that revealing household characteristics from smart meter data is feasible and allows for grasping general trends in data. Secondly, we try to find the best way to illustrate individual patterns of energy consumption to household members. For this reason, we test a diversified set of data mining algorithms to identify significant associations between energy usage and analysed features.
With this kind of analysis we aim to fill the gap on context annotated energy data including the following contextual features: hour of the day, day of the week and other devices used concurrently. We anticipate that attracting users with explicit annotation would encourage them to reflect on their daily activities and on their impact on the overall use of energy. Understanding of how energy consumption at home is related to the activity of the users, the time at which it is used, or other devices that may be used simultaneously is a key element of many applications that are intended to help users reduce or better understand their energy usage. In this context, the article addresses the needs to provide more intelligence in smart metering systems and to enhance future design and implementation of new features for the benefit of the end users. The outcomes of our study may apply to the following areas:
To deliver additional information in smart metering solutions as a part of intelligent home infrastructure that enables energy usage visualizations, increases awareness and understanding of home energy consumption which ultimately may lead to an overall energy consumption decrease;
To utilize a set of household behavioral data (patterns of home appliances usage) that can significantly improve the accuracy of the forecasts generated at the household level;
To provide the input needed in demand response systems where the individual customers can directly participate in demand management with timely recommendations aimed at energy savings.
The proposed research begins with the review of related works. Smart meter data characteristics as provided by self-designed metering infrastructure from one experimental household are described in the third section. In the fourth section, properties of chosen clustering methods and sequential rules are briefly discussed. The empirical analysis and comparison of the algorithms outcomes are presented in the fifth section. Clustering techniques and sequential rule mining techniques are applied to extract explicit rules that may be useful for forming the basis of demand patterns. Conclusions are given in the last section.

2. Literature Review on Related Works

In the attempt of reducing electricity consumption in buildings, identification of individual patterns of energy usage is a key to raising energy awareness and improving efficiency of available energy usage [1]. Therefore, the primary interest of ongoing scientific and commercial research is to help users understand their own energy consumption as an important and necessary step on the way to energy reduction. The end users can be independently motivated to conserve energy due to intrinsic (e.g., moral motive or acquired knowledge) or extrinsic (e.g., economic rewards) reasons as explained in [2,3,4,5].
The possible means that can support energy and, in general, resource conservation at individual homes have been the object of the studies in social sciences and in engineering sciences since the 1970s and are still conducted nowadays [3]. It has been identified that the provision of feedback about energy usage is one of the most effective strategies for conservation [3,6]. The other strategies include the provision of information about energy conservation, goal setting to induce energy efficiency and conservation actions, and the reward of savings in monetary terms.
Recent years, with the development of smart metering solutions, have seen an increase in the number of tools that individual users can employ to monitor their energy consumption. Most of the tools simply provide access to raw usage data including, for instance, readouts of the watt hours consumed by a household or by a particular home appliance, and calculate the estimated costs. Previous researches have shown that users seek solutions that can provide greater insight into energy usage and its impact as they desire more real-time information to help them save money, and keep the homes comfortable and environmentally friendly [4,6,7]. In light of the cited works, the mechanisms that enable a user to link the activities and energy consumption by attaching contextual labels to energy events are a promising step to support energy conservation, however solutions for collecting annotations from users can be error prone or too intrusive. Nevertheless, there are successful applications for collecting annotations as a representation of electricity consumption data, and therefore make sense of past energy usage, as reported in [2,8].
Many research projects are involved in development of user-friendly and convenient feedback tools for visualization of electricity consumption providing instantaneous consumption data, often through suggesting ambient displays aiming at emotional reactions [9,10]. It can be found that both commercially and freely available resources use feedback tools including point of consumption devices such as Kill a Watt electricity usage monitors, information dashboards, analysis interfaces, and online profiling and visualization tools such as Microsoft Hohm, PowerMeter by Google, ODEnergy, OPOWER or AlertMe. These tools offer precise quantitative measures of energy expenditures, historical and predictive charting facilities, cost breakdowns, and performance tracking. However, they require some effort to integrate them into home infrastructure, and they lack convenient feedback on real-time resource use. This might have an impact on the decision to discontinue development of some of them due to a lack of consumer uptake (PowerMeter service was ceased in 2011 and Hohm in 2012). Nevertheless, new tools are constantly being developed to provide more detailed energy feedback. The itemized energy consumption from different appliances can be achieved by individually monitoring each of them. However, this strategy is expensive due to the hardware costs and complex infrastructure that may be difficult to deploy. In this context, there is a significant number of researches focused on appliance recognition based on non-intrusive appliance load monitoring approach (NIALM) [11,12,13,14]. It involves the use of machine learning algorithms and optimization techniques to recognize energy signatures of home devices. The challenge in NIALM is that individual appliances have very different energy signatures that are hard to distinguish unless very sensitive and high resolution meters are used. Therefore, this is an area of research which is still being thoroughly explored [15].
Based on NIALM, there have been research attempts devoted to load prediction on the individual household level [16,17,18,19]. They utilize smart meter data enriched with a set of household behavioral data (patterns of home appliances usage) and dwelling characteristics to benefit significant improvement in terms of the accuracy of the forecasts generated at the household level.
The proposed work fits into the research stream that looks at challenges associated with causal factors that impact energy usage of individual appliances observed at the household level. This is to provide customer feedback on usage patterns and derive significant underlying associations between several contextual factors including time of use and user activities. It shows a broad set of useful insights that may increase awareness and understanding of home energy consumption.

3. Smart Meter Data

Electricity measurements data were prepared using Mieo HA104 meter installed in one of the households in Warsaw, Poland for the purpose of SMEPI project (SMEPI—Smart Metering Poland, a Hi-Tech project to develop smart metering solutions partially financed by National Centre for Research and Development (NCBiR) and led by Vedia S.A in cooperation with GridPocket and Faculty of Applied Mathematics and Informatics at Warsaw University of Life Sciences). The household consisted of two adult people (in their mid-40s) and two pre-teen children. The adult members of the family were employed full time with standard office hours. The household was situated in a flat of about 140 m2 floor area and was equipped with various home appliances including a washing machine, refrigerator, dishwasher, iron, electric oven, two TV sets, audio set, coffee maker, desk lamps, computer, and a couple of light bulbs. The data were gathered during 60 days, starting from 29 August until 27 October 2012. However, for the analysis we extracted 44 days for which we gathered a set of user behavioral information such as devices’ operational characteristics at the household. These data were produced by the reference system which was constructed to collect binary data about the ON-OFF states of the devices. The reference data were individually collected for: washing machine (WM), dish washer (DW), tumble dryer (TD), kettle (KE) and microwave oven (MO); please refer to Table 1 and Figure 1 to see the details.
Table 1. The structure of raw data collected by smart meters.
Table 1. The structure of raw data collected by smart meters.
Time IDObserved Real Power (in Watts)Reference Home Appliance Data (“1”—ON State, “0”—OFF State)
The original dataset contained the electricity usage readings of the smart meter at every second, every minute and every hour. From these readings, we extracted the hour loads (in kWh) for the purpose of short-term load forecasting [19,20], and reference information. In this paper, only on-off states related with the above mentioned appliances will be used.
Figure 1. Power demand and reference information for 11 October 2012.
Figure 1. Power demand and reference information for 11 October 2012.
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In this study, we are aware of limitations due to the nature of the problem and data availability. Firstly, although we possess behavioral variables including devices’ operational characteristics of the household, in practical applications such data may be accessible only if the end user will make the effort to help the system gather the reference data about the operating devices. This is a manual process aimed at identification of which appliances are being switched on and off by the household members. Secondly, we are obtaining the data from only one smart meter and therefore we treat this experiment as proof of concept for the research tasks outlined at the beginning of the paper. Nevertheless, we believe that the results of the analysis may be generalized, to some extent, to any other household with similar socio-demographic characteristics, since electricity consumption in the household is highly dependent on the floor area of dwelling, area of living, number of occupants and age of the children [21,22].

4. Revealing Usage Pattern Characteristics with Data Mining Techniques

4.1. The Rationale behind the Choice of the Methods

In this section, we briefly present the diverse set of data mining techniques to address the problem of capturing and presenting individual patterns of energy consumption to the household members based on the smart meter data collected. Our primary motivation is to apply such techniques that will help users to understand their own energy consumption—since such understanding is a necessary step on the way to reduction. Without correct understanding, users may misplace their effort and resources, whether that is, for example, in terms of limiting household activities or replacement of appliances. Previous studies of energy usage analysis and visualisation identified that one of the main problems of current approaches is the lack of context around the information provided and resulting difficulties that users encounter in making sense of information provided [6,7,23]. This is due to the fact that information is often presented numerically and the household users are not familiar with the displayed units without provision of a reference. It is therefore important to highlight the need of providing a link between actions and consequent energy consumption, through the provision of feedback that refers to particular appliances or specific time of use over the day, week or longer period.
For this reason, we adopt relatively simple but reliable techniques that are intended to help consumers understand their energy usage and support their efforts in energy conservation.

4.2. Data Preparation

The starting point for the usage patterns detection was to prepare the matrix with switching on probabilities for each of the individual devices over a specified time period. The probabilities were estimated using the following formula:
P = N u m b e r   o f   t u r n   O N   e v e n t s   i n   h o u r   i T o t a l   n u m b e r   o f   t u r n   O N   e v e n t s
Table 2 presents the matrix with observed probabilities for each appliance turn ON events over the analyzed period of 44 days. The probabilities for each appliance are equal to 1. The highest probabilities (more than 0.06) for each appliance are shown in bold.
Table 2. The matrix with probabilities of appliances’ turn ON events in each hour.
Table 2. The matrix with probabilities of appliances’ turn ON events in each hour.
It can be noticed that the highest probabilities to use the kettle (KE) are in the morning (between 7 am and 9 am) and in the evening (between 7 pm and 8 pm). The microwave (MO) is used frequently between 7 am and 9 am, and at 8–9 pm. The use of washing machine (WM) and tumble dryer (TD) is to some extent correlated since both activities usually take place at 11–12 am and 8–9 pm. The dishwasher (DW) operates more frequently in the morning and early afternoon hours.
In the same manner, a bigger table (Supplementary Information) has been created, which consists of a 24 rows (representing hours) and 35 columns (representing appliances over the seven days of the week). For each appliance, seven columns show the turn ON events’ probabilities in a specified day of the week.

4.3. Detecting Patterns Using Hierarchical Clustering

Hierarchical cluster analysis is an algorithmic approach to find discrete groups with varying degrees of similarity in a data set represented by a similarity matrix. These groups are hierarchically organized as the algorithms proceed and may be presented as a dendrogram. Many of these algorithms are greedy (i.e., the optimal local solution is always taken in the hope of finding an optimal global solution) and heuristic, requiring the results of cluster analysis to be evaluated for stability.
Hierarchical clustering methods can be divided into agglomerative and divisive approach. Agglomerative clustering is a widespread approach to cluster analysis. Agglomerative algorithms successively merge individual entities and clusters that have the highest similarity values computed using for instance Euclidean distance.
One of the most popular agglomerative clustering algorithm is Ward’s method [24]. This is an alternative approach for performing cluster analysis. Basically, it looks at cluster analysis as an analysis of variance problem, instead of using distance metrics or measures of association. It will start out at the leaves and work its way to the trunk, so to speak. It looks for groups of leaves that it forms into branches, the branches into limbs and eventually into the trunk. Ward’s method starts out with n clusters of size 1 and continues until all the observations are included in one cluster.
In general, Ward’s method can be defined and implemented recursively by a Lance–Williams algorithm. The Lance–Williams [25] algorithms are an infinite family of agglomerative hierarchical clustering algorithms which are represented by a recursive formula for updating cluster distances in terms of squared similarities at each step (each time a pair of clusters is merged).
The recurrence formula allows, at each new level of the hierarchical clustering, the dissimilarity between the newly formed group and the rest of the groups to be computed from the dissimilarities of the current grouping. This approach can result in a large computational savings compared with re-computing at each step in the hierarchy from the observation-level data.
The purpose of this analysis is to discover similar profiles or, in other words, appliances with similar switch ON probability distribution through the whole day or the whole week. As a result of grouping using Ward’s method with the Euclidean distance measure, the following dendrogram was obtained as presented in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Dendrogram for grouping the electrical appliances throughout the whole day.
Figure 2. Dendrogram for grouping the electrical appliances throughout the whole day.
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The height of each edge of the dendogram is proportional to the distance between the joined groups. As provided in Figure 2, two groups are distinctly separated from each other, and then one of them is further separated into two subgroups. Such information can be used to determine the final division of the data (in this case, three final groups).
From the visual analysis of the dendrogram, it can be observed that the switch ON probability of the kettle and the microwave at certain times are very similar (cluster marked in blue). In particular, it can be observed between 7 am and 9 am (as shown before in Table 2), which is usually associated with the users’ activity related with breakfast preparation.
A similar correlation in periods of joint work, can be seen in the case of washing machine and tumble dryer. In the investigated households, there is a logical relationship taking washing first and then drying the washed clothes (cluster marked in red).
Graphical representation of data from Supplementary Information (Table S1) is shown in Figure 3.
On the right hand side of the chart (marked in blue) one can find a group of similar usage patterns for the kettle and the microwave in the middle of the week. In the middle of the graph (marked in red) there is a group associated with the use of big household appliances consuming greater amounts of electricity. This group is also associated with the work period taking place in the middle of the week. The group marked in yellow and purple is related with the weekend use of such appliances as washing machine, tumble dryer, dishwasher and microwave. Group marked in green is the least likely to be interpreted, since it clusters different devices working throughout the whole week.
Figure 3. Dendrogram for grouping the electrical appliances throughout the whole week.
Figure 3. Dendrogram for grouping the electrical appliances throughout the whole week.
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4.4. Detecting patterns Using C-Means Clustering and Multidimensional Scaling

C -means [26] is one of the simplest unsupervised learning algorithms that solve the well-known clustering problem. The procedure follows a simple and easy way to classify a given data set through a certain number of clusters (assume C clusters) fixed a priori. The main idea is to define C centroids, one for each cluster.
Clustering is the process of partitioning a group of data points into a small number of clusters. In general, we have n data points x i ,     i = 1... n that have to be partitioned in C clusters. The goal is to assign a cluster to each data point. C -means is a clustering method that aims to find the positions μ k ,     k = 1... C of the clusters that minimize the distance from the data points to the cluster. C -means clustering solves:
arg min s k = 1 C x S k d ( x , μ k ) = arg min s k = 1 C x S k x μ k 2 2
where S is the set of points that belong to cluster k . The C -means clustering uses the square of the Euclidean distance d ( x , μ k ) = x μ k 2 2 .
Unfortunately, there is no general theoretical solution to find the optimal number of clusters for any given data set. Although it can be proved that the procedure will always terminate and the C -means algorithm does not necessarily find the most optimal configuration, corresponding to the global objective function minimum. A simple approach is to compare the results of multiple runs with different C classes and choose the best one according to a given criterion, but we need to be careful because increasing C results in smaller error function values by definition, but also an increasing risk of overfitting. The algorithm is also significantly sensitive to the initial randomly selected cluster centers.
Multidimensional scaling (MDS) [27] is a term that is applied to a class of techniques that analyses a matrix of distances or dissimilarities in order to produce a representation of the data points in a reduced-dimension space. Most of the data reduction methods have analyzed the n × p data matrix X or the sample covariance or correlation matrix. Thus, MDS differs in the form of the data matrix on which it operates—it is an individual-directed method. Of course given a data matrix, a dissimilarity matrix could be constructed and then proceed with an analysis using MD techniques. However, data often arise already in the form of dissimilarities and so there is no recourse to the other techniques. Also, in other methods, the data-reducing transformation is linear. Some forms of multidimensional scaling permit a nonlinear data-reducing transformation.
There are many types of MDS, but all address the same basic problem: Given an n × n matrix of dissimilarities and a distance measure find a configuration of n points x 1 , ,   x n in the reduced dimension space q ( q < p ) so that the distance between a pair of points is close in some sense to the dissimilarity between the points. All methods must find the coordinates of the points and the dimension of the space, q . Two basic types of MDS are metric and nonmetric MDS. Metric MDS assumes that the data are quantitative and metric MDS procedures assume a functional relationship between the interpoint distances and the given dissimilarities. Nonmetric MDS assumes that the data are qualitative, having perhaps ordinal significance and nonmetric MDS procedures produce configurations that attempt to maintain the rank order of the dissimilarities. In our study we used one form of metric MDS, namely classical scaling.
In general, given a set of n points in p -dimensional space, x 1 , ,   x n , it is straightforward to calculate the distance between each pair of points. Classical scaling (or principal coordinates analysis) is concerned with the converse problem to determine the coordinates of a set of points in a dimension q [28].
Classical scaling is one particular form of metric MDS in which an objective function measuring the discrepancy between the given dissimilarities, δ ij , and the derived distances in q , d ij , is optimized. The derived distances depend possible to calculate on the coordinates of the samples that we wish to find. There are many forms that the objective function may take. To find the minimum of the stress function, most implementations of MDS algorithms use standard gradient methods [29].
The purpose of these computational experiment is to discover similar profile, in the same way as in the previous case. As it was mentioned, the partitioning method divides the data into C disjoint clusters, so that objects of the same cluster are close to each other and objects of different clusters are dissimilar. The output of a partitioning method is simply a list of clusters and their objects, which may be hard to interpret. Therefore, it would be useful to have a graphical display which describes the objects with their interrelations, and showing, at the same time, the clusters. Such a display was constructed using so-called CLUSPLOT [30].
For this purpose we have used the C -means algorithm, but of course also other clustering methods can be applied. For higher-dimensional data sets a dimension reduction technique before constructing the plot was applied, as described in Section 4.2. The MDS method yields components such that the first component explains as much variability as possible, the second component explains as much of the remaining variability as possible. The percentage of point variability explained by these two components (relative to all components) is listed below the plot.
Then, CLUSPLOT uses the resulting partition, as well as the original data, to produce Figure 4. The ellipses are based on the average and the covariance matrix of each cluster, and their size is such that they contain all the points of their cluster. This explains why there is always an object on the boundary of each ellipse [31].
Figure 4. MDS surface for grouping the electrical appliances throughout the whole week.
Figure 4. MDS surface for grouping the electrical appliances throughout the whole week.
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In our study, we examined several dissimilarity measures, but in the Figure 4 we show results based only on Euclidean distance, which explain 42.53% of the point variability. It is due to the fact that other measures explain less the point variability, namely: maximum −26.34%, Manhattan −30.15%, Canberra −32.84%. The results refer to the larger input data matrix, as denoted in Section 5.1.
On the right hand side of the picture (marked in red) can clearly be seen a group of similar periods of work of the washing machine, tumble dryer and microwave oven in the weekend. On the left hand side of the graph (marked in blue) there is a group associated with the use of kettle and the microwave in the middle of the week. Group marked in purple is the least likely to be interpreted, which cluster different devices working throughout the working days and weekend days.

4.5. Detecting Patterns Using Grade Data Analysis

Grade data analysis is efficient technique which works on variables measured on any measurement scales (including categorical), since it bases on dissimilarity measures such as concentration curves and some precisely defined measure of monotonic dependence. Its main framework is constituted of grade transformation proposed by [32]. The idea is to transform any distribution of two variables into a convenient form of the so called grade distribution. This transformation is characterized by the property which leaves unchanged the order of variables, ranks, values of monotone dependence measures like Spearman’s ρ * and Kendall’s τ . In case of empirical data this approach consists of analyzing the two-way table with objects/variables, which is preceded by proper recoding of variable values.
The main tool of grade methods is Grade Correspondence Analysis (GCA), which refers to classical correspondence analysis, but it is going significantly beyond it, by the mean of grade transformation. To put it shortly, GCA is ordering the variables/objects table in such a way that neighboring objects are more similar than those further apart, and at the same time, neighboring variables are also more similar than those further apart. After optimal ordering is found it is possible to aggregate neighboring objects and neighboring variables, and therefore to build a clusters with similar distributions. The Spearman ρ * was originally defined for continuous distributions, but it may be defined also as Pearson’s correlation applied to distribution after the grade transformation. The grade distribution may be defined for discrete distribution too, and it is possible to calculate Spearman ρ * for probability table P with m rows and k columns, where p i s is the frequency (treated as probability) of i -th row in s -th column:
ρ * ( P ) = 3 i = 1 m s = 0 k ( p i s ( 2 S r o w ( i ) 1 ) ( 2 S c o l ( s ) 1 ) )
S r o w ( i ) = ( j = 1 i 1 p j + ) + 1 2 p i + ,   S c o l ( s ) = ( t = 1 s 1 p + t ) + 1 2 p + s
and p j + and p j +   and p + t are marginal sums defined as: p j + = s = 1 k p j s , p j + = s = 1 k p js p + t = t = 1 m p t s p + t = t = 1 m p ts .
GCA tends to maximize ρ * by ordering row and columns according to their grade regression value, which is the center of the gravity for each row or each column. The grade regression for the rows is defined as:
r e g r r o w ( i ) = s = 1 k p i s S c o l ( s ) p i +
and for the columns:
r e g r c o l ( s ) = i = 1 m p i s S r o w ( i ) p + s
The algorithm calculates the grade regression for columns and sorts the columns by its values what results in increase of the regression for columns, but at the same time the regression for rows changes. If the regression for rows is sorted then regression for columns changes. As proved in [33] each sorting of the grade regression increases the value of Spearman ρ * . The number of possible states (combination of permutations of rows and columns) is finite and is equal to k ! m ! . Each time the value of Spearman ρ * increases, and the last ordering produces the largest ρ * , called local maximum of Spearman ρ * . The output from GCA depends on the initial permutation of rows and columns, and if it is ordered in reversed way with respect to initial permutation, it is possible to achieve symmetrically reversed local maximum.
GCA primarily permutes randomly rows and columns and reorders them to achieve a local maximum. This process is iterated as many times as needed, but typically 100 iterations is enough to receive the result with the highest ρ * . Having checked all possible start permutation then the result would be the global maximum of ρ * thus resulting in the largest possible value in the analyzed table. It is important to mention that calculation of grade regression requires non-zero sum of every row and column in a table, so this requirement applies also to the GCA. More detailed description about grade transformation can be found in [34,35].
Finally, grade analysis technique is aided by visualizations using over-representation map which is the chart of the probability density of grade distribution, showing which cells are over or under-represented in a particular dataset.
The data structure presented in Table 2 have been analyzed in GradeStat tool [36] which has been developed in Institute of Computer Science Polish Academy of Science.
The first step was to calculate over-representation ratios for each field (cell) of the table. A given m × k data matrix with non-negative values can be visualized using over-representation map in the same way as a contingency table [28]. Instead of frequency n i j the value of j -th variable for i -th object is used. Next, it is compared in a contingency table with the corresponding neutral or fair representation n i × n j / n i j where n i / j n i j ,   n j / i n i j . The ratio of the first and second expression is called the over-representation ratio. An over-representation surface over a unit square is divided into m × k rectangles situated in m rows and k columns, and the area of rectangle placed in row i and column j being equal to fair representation of normalized n i j . For instance, taking into account the use of kettle at 7 am on Monday the ratio would be equal to 1.579 (for Table 2), since probability of using the kettle in this hour is 0.12 and the row sum is 0.38 (for five appliances) then we have: 1.579 = 0.12/((1 × 0.38)/5). In the same manner, the calculations for the Supplementary Information were prepared. Having the over-representation ratios, the over-representation map for the initial raw data can be constructed.
The color of each field in the map depends on the comparison of the two values: (1) the real value of measure connected to the considered field and corresponding to population element; (2) the expected value of the measure. The cells’ colors in the map are grouped into three classes:
  • Gray—the measure for the element is neutral (ranging between 0.99 and 1.01) what means that the real value of the measure is equal to its expected value;
  • black or dark gray—the measure for the element is over-represented (between 1.01 and 1.5 for weak over-representation and more than 1.5 for strong) what means that the real value of the measure is greater than the expected one;
  • light gray or white the measure for the element is under-represented (between 0.66 and 0.99 for weak under-representation and less than 0.66 for strong under-representation) what means that the real value of measure is less than the expected one.
The following step was to apply the grade analysis to measure the dissimilarity between two data distributions in order to reveal the structural trends in data. The grade analysis was done based on Spearman’s ρ * , used as the total diversity index. The value of ρ * strongly depends on the mutual order of the map’s rows and columns. To calculate ρ * , the concentration indexes of differentiation between the distributions are used. The basic procedure of GCA is executed through permuting the rows and columns of a table in order to maximize the value of ρ * . After each sorting the ρ * value increases and the map becomes more similar to the ideal one. That means that the darkest fields are placed in the upper-left and lower-right map corners while the rest of the fields is assigned according to the following property: the farther from the diagonal towards the two other map corners (the lower-left and upper-right ones) the lighter gray (or white) color the fields have.
The result of the GCA procedure for the Supplementary Information is presented in Figure 5. The initial value of the Spearman’s ρ * was 0.1045, and after sorting the overrepresentation map the ρ * value increases to 0.5563 (which means that neighboring objects are more similar than those further apart). Additionally, cluster analysis was performed through the aggregation of some columns into one column (and for the rows respectively). The optimal number of clusters is obtained when the changes of the subsequent ρ * values appear to be negligible as referenced in [35]. Based on the results presented in Figure 6 (showing increase in ρ * depending on the number of columns and rows), overrepresentation map was divided into 25 clusters (five clusters for the rows and five for the columns).
Figure 5. Overrepresentation map after transformations and grouping for the whole week.
Figure 5. Overrepresentation map after transformations and grouping for the whole week.
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Figure 6. The values of the rho-Spearman depending on the number of clusters.
Figure 6. The values of the rho-Spearman depending on the number of clusters.
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The resulting order presents the structure of underlying trends in data. Twenty-five clusters show typical usage patterns of home appliances. The overrepresentation map in Figure 5 presents that the use of all devices on Tuesday morning happens very often (four clusters in the left upper corner), as frequently as the usage of tumble dryer with washing machine on Friday and Saturday in late afternoon or in the evening (four clusters in the right bottom corner). In the opposite corners (upper right and bottom left) there are devices which were operated very rarely.

4.6. Detecting Patterns Using Sequential Association Rules

The problem of discovering sequential patterns is based on a database containing information about events that occurred within a specified period of time. The aim of the sequential association rules is to find the relationship between the occurrences of certain events in the selected time period [37].
The problem of discovering frequent item sets is to find all item sets occurring in the database D with the support higher or equal to minimum support threshold supplied by a user. An itemset with the support higher than minsup is called a frequent item set.
The support of the rule X Y is the ratio of the number of transactions that support both the antecedent and the consequent of the rule to the total number of transactions. The support of a rule denotes its statistical significance. Rules with low support tend to describe relationships that are not common in the database. On the other hand, rules with high support are covered by many transactions in the database and they describe common patterns.
The confidence of the rule X Y is the ratio of the number of transactions that support both the antecedent and the consequent of the rule to the number of transactions that support only the antecedent of the rule. The confidence of a rule denotes its statistical strength. High confidence indicates strong correlation between elements contained in the antecedent and the consequent of the rule. Low confidence denotes weak correlation between elements and may indicate purely coincidental co-occurrence of elements.
Lift of the rule X Y in the database D is called the measure of the rule correlation, indicating what is the impact of an element X for occurrence of an element Y . In other words, lift measures how many times more often X and Y occur together than expected if they where statistically independent. Lift is not down-ward closed and does not suffer from the rare item problem. Also, lift is susceptible to noise in small databases. Rare item sets with low counts (low probability) which per chance occur a few times (or only once) together can produce enormous lift values.
A sequence is an ordered list of elements < X 1 , X 2 , ... , X n > where X i is a set of items, i   X i L . Each set X i is called a sequence element. The length of a sequence X is the number of sequence elements. Each sequence element has a timestamp denoted as ts  ( X i ) . A sequence < X 1 , X 2 , ... , X n > is contained in another sequence < Y 1 , Y 2 , ... , Y m > if there exist integers i 1 < i 2 < i n in such that X 1 < Y i 1 , X 2 < Y i 2 , , X n < Y i n . The sequence < Y i 1 , Y i 2 , , Y i n > is called an occurrence of X in Y .
There are three main time constraints involved in sequential pattern discovery, namely, the minimum and the maximum time gap between consecutive occurrences of elements within a sequence element (called min-gap and max-gap respectively) and the size of the time window which allows for merging items into sequence elements, denoted as window-width [38].
The starting point for the usage patterns detection, based on the sequential association rules, was to determine the transaction matrix. Each transaction has a time stamp indicating the occurrence of the elements in the specified sequence. In this case, we assume that a single sequence is the whole day, therefore, the tag sequence is the particular date. The time stamp is the hour at which specific devices were turned ON (column 3 of Table 3). Created transaction table takes into account only the binary information (the appliance was turned ON or not), but does not include the number of switch ON states in a given hour. In the analyzed period, there are theoretically 24 × 44 = 1056 transactions (the number of hours multiplied by the number of days), whereas the used SPADE algorithm (Sequential Pattern Discovery using Equivalence classes [39]) does not include empty transaction (hours, in which none of the tested devices was turned ON); therefore, the final transaction table contains only 319 transactions.
Given the rules with the support of more than 0.1, the minimum time difference between successive elements in the sequence of 1 and a maximum time difference between successive elements in the sequence of 1, the following behavior patterns can be observed:
  • with the support equal to 0.1 and with the confidence of 100%, if in a certain hour the washing machine operated, in the next hour the tumble dryer and kettle operated;
  • with the support equal to 0.1 and with the confidence of 100%, if in a certain hour the washing machine operated, in the next hour the washing machine and kettle operated, and in the next hour the washing machine also operated, so did the tumble dryer and kettle;
  • rule No. 4 with the support equal to 0.15, and with the confidence of 75% shows that the occurrence in a sequence of such devices as kettle, dish washer and washing machine influences the occurrence in a sequence of such appliances as tumble dryer and kettle.
  • with the support equal to 0.1 and with the confidence of 66%, if in a certain hour the kettle operated, in the next hour the washing machine was turned ON, then in the next hour the washing machine and microwave were in operation.
All these observed sequential rules have lift greater than one, which means that the occurrence of the elements in the left side of the rules influence the occurrence of the elements contained on the right side of the sequential rule (Table 4).
Table 3. Part of the transaction table.
Table 3. Part of the transaction table.
Sequence StampTime StampElements
201209109kettle, microwave
2012091010kettle, dish washer
2012091011kettle, dish washer
2012091020washing machine
2012091021washing machine, tumble dryer
2012091022microwave, washing machine, tumble dryer
2012091110kettle, microwave, dish washer, tumble dryer
2012091111tumble dryer, dish washer
2012091119washing machine
2012091120microwave, washing machine
2012091121kettle, microwave, tumble dryer
Table 4. Selected sequential association rules.
Table 4. Selected sequential association rules.
{washing machine} => {kettle, tumble dryer}
{kettle} => {kettle, tumble dryer}
{washing machine},{kettle, washing machine},{washing machine} => {kettle, tumble dryer}
{kettle},{dish washer},{kettle},{washing machine},{washing machine} => {kettle, tumble dryer}0.150.753.33
{washing machine},{kettle},{washing machine} => {washing machine, tumble dryer}0.100.662.96
{kettle},{washing machine} => {microwave, washing machine}0.100.662.96

5. Conclusions

The worldwide adoption of smart metering systems supported by data analysis techniques leads to the realization of dynamic tariffs, energy usage visualization, and efficient meter-to-cash billing processes. Nevertheless, there is a need to deliver simple and reliable tools that are intended to help consumers understand their energy usage and support their efforts in energy conservation.
The simulations presented here can support development of tools that allow customers to gain important insights on energy consumption. For the policy makers and distribution entities, it can indicate the direction towards provision of personalized and scalable energy efficiency programs and present a view of how the smart metering infrastructure can be enhanced in the near future. From this perspective, the results are interesting and constitute a promising step to support energy conservation.
The set of clustering and association techniques helped to examine the interdependence between the usage patterns of home appliances and derive significant underlying associations between several contextual factors including time of the use and user activities. Certainly, the analysis showed a number of useful insights that may increase awareness and understanding of home energy consumption. In particular, we could observe that:
big appliances consuming greater amounts of electricity were predominantly used during weekend days or late afternoons during working days;
the kettle and microwave oven were frequently used in the morning during working days;
the use of the washing machine implied the kettle and tumble dryer would be switched on soon;
time-based associations can be easily observed using segmentation algorithms while associations between devices can be revealed using sequential rules;
working periods of the washing machine and the tumble dryer are very similar and depend on each other;
in general, appliances were operated in a way that they formed stable patterns as to the time of the use and day of the week.
The findings (1)–(6) on appliances’ typical operating time windows and their co-occurrence can be considered here for tariff plan optimization, since the analyzed household had a fixed price energy tariff plan. Such action is especially recommended since the adult household members are working full time and the majority of their daily routines falls on off-peak periods. In practice, a saving of 10% or more is achievable by matching household needs with the most appropriate profile, as estimated by electricity distributing companies.
The proposed set of diversified data mining algorithms provides, in our opinion, the best way to illustrate individual patterns of energy consumption. We show that revealing household characteristics from smart meter data is feasible and offers appealing visualization of general patterns in data. We need to keep in mind that those particular techniques represent slightly different approaches to data analysis, thus they cannot be compared directly, since their evaluation may be, to a large extent, subjective and may depend on user preferences.
For future research, we see the following direction. Since the results are promising and visually appealing, we plan to design a larger experiment for a dozen or more households. Additionally, we aim to explore algorithmic approaches for mining usage patterns and utilize them for the purpose of energy consumption forecasting and the development of unique, individualized energy management strategies. Additionally, since the electricity consumption of households varies over time based on the actions of individual electrical appliances operated by the members, we would like to propose the optimal structure of the data set, which takes into account the variability associated with the switch ON states of individual devices to support their accurate recognition. In future studies, special attention will also be focused on the design of algorithms that in real time will be able to identify working states of the electrical appliances in the household.
In the end, it is worth mentioning there are high expectations for combination of research on forecasting systems utilizing non-intrusive appliance recognition and user pattern behavior with multi-agent systems [40,41,42,43].

Supplementary Materials

Supplementary materials can be accessed at:


This research was financed by VEDIA Inc. leading a project partially supported by National Centre for Research and Development in Poland (NCBiR).
The computations were performed partially employing the computational resources of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modeling at the Warsaw University (Computational Grant No. G59-31).

Author Contributions

Krzysztof Gajowniczek prepared the simulation, analysis and wrote half of the manuscript; Tomasz Ząbkowski coordinated the main theme of the research and wrote other half of the manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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