April 2009

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What’s New! From This Year’s AHR Expo

Green, IAQ, BACnet, Demand Response, Wireless, to name just a few.
 

Steven R. Calabrese


Steven R. Calabrese
Control Engineering Corp.

Contributing Editor

As I left off from last month’s column covering the AHR Expo that hit Chicago back in January, this month as promised, I’m going to talk about what I found to be new and exciting in the world of controls. As I walked the isles of the Building Automation & Control Showcase, my first question to each exhibitor that I approached was “What’s New!”. As expected, everyone I spoke to had an answer to that question, some more elaborate than others, but all very interesting in their own right. As I’m limited to space here I can’t talk about every new product and idea that I ran across, so I’ll restrict my rhetoric to the few areas that I found to potentially have the most impact on me and how I make my living in this industry.

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As a sales engineer working for a temperature controls contractor in Chicagoland (we suburbanites really like to use that term!), I’m challenged with finding new business in the design/build, energy retrofit, and expansion & upgrade arenas. What this means is that I’m primarily dealing directly with d/b contractors, owners, and building engineers. As such, my approach is not to undercut my competition. Rather, I’m looking to sell solutions to my customer’s problems, however the first step to that end is to help my customer identify what his/her needs are, and where the problems lie. Once defined, then my role is to determine the proper course of action that will ultimately result in total customer satisfaction.

For me to succeed in these markets, it is important to keep up with the latest industry trends, and with the new products that these trends give origin to. The AHR Expo is a veritable feast of new products and new innovations, with all of the exhibiting manufacturers featuring their newest gadgets and gizmos that are sure to take the industry by storm!

Green

Seemingly the theme of the show throughout, the concept of green has taken on substantial significance in the last several years, as the focus on energy conservation and environmental awareness has grown profoundly. This year’s show reflected that, with many exhibitors displaying signs reading “Green Product”, and touting their eco-friendly offerings.

Of course discussions of “green” generally lead into discussions on LEED (sorry, bad pun). LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, and it’s all the rage these days in our industry. How it relates to the HVAC business and more specifically, to the building automation business, is certainly a topic worthy of exploring in a future column. Suffice it to say that there are many products on the market and currently being developed that, if properly implemented, can help attain LEED credits for a new building. As LEED is basically a rating system for how green a building can be designed, built, and managed, the more credits you can get, the better your building will score. So more about LEED and LEED-related BAS products in a future article, yeah?

IAQ

Space temperature and humidity combo sensors have been around for a while…how about temperature, humidity, and CO2 sensing all in one package? An idea whose time has come, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and electronic miniaturization. The sensor comes in both duct and space models. I particularly like the space version, seeing as you need only one decorative enclosure hanging on the wall instead of three separate products, side-by-side-by-side. Based on aesthetics alone this make good sense (another bad pun), not to mention the savings in labor and material costs.

BACnet

ASHRAE Standard 135 in full swing at this year’s show, with BACnet International occupying a good sized booth featuring some BACnet manufacturers and advocates. In general there were a lot of BACnet products, and BACnet-enabled equipment as well, from VFDs to packaged equipment, all being BACnet capable, and many (but not all) as factory-standard.

One product in particular that caught my eye was a device called a BACnet relay. This is a BACnet MS/TP open protocol device that hangs on the MS/TP network, is addressable, and can be commanded via the Building Automation System. A great device for when you simply run out of points on a controller, or if you just need to control that one piece of equipment clear across the building and you don’t want to dedicate a controller for just that one start/stop output.

Demand Response

Control Solutions, Inc The concept is fairly new, and the implementation of it is still in the early stages. But the theory is sound, and we should be seeing a lot more of this in the very near future. Okay, so what is it?

Demand Response (DR) or Automated Demand Response (ADR), is the process by which a facility will automatically shed its electrical load in response to a signal from the Internet. The first part of this equation is easy. Any building automation system can reduce its energy consumption in response to an event, whether it’s a scheduling function, a signal from some power meter, or a manual incident. The BAS sheds its electrical load by either turning off certain equipment, limiting the capacity of the equipment, or letting temperatures drift from setpoint, hopefully without compromising occupant comfort.

Anyway, the second part of the above statement, regarding the “signal from the Internet”, merits some explanation. Without getting into too much detail here, suffice it to say that there are signals available from the Internet that have to do with peak events and electricity price changes. The BAS can act upon such signals, to avoid peaks and shed electrical usage when prices are high. Neat stuff.

The product that caught my attention, and whose president and CEO I was fortunate enough to interview, is a residential grade thermostat that connects to the Internet using a WiFi chip that ties into your home’s wireless network (if you have one). The stat is a rather handsome device, with a touchscreen and a user-friendly interface. The device is fully programmable, can access the weather, and has Demand Response capability built right into it. Pretty slick for a little ole thermostat. You can visit www.ecobee.com for more on this nifty little device.

Wireless

Everything is going wireless! Wireless sensors and transmitters, wireless CO detection systems, wireless mesh sensor networks, wireless controllers and output devices. You name it, and it’s either offered as wireless by now, or is likely soon to be.

Here’s a new one (at least to me): wireless BACnet…you hang a transceiver device on your BAS “front end” side, and you install another transceiver device somewhere else; across the building, across the street, across the campus, or across town! On this remote transceiver you hang some BACnet controllers, and you’ve just extended your building automation system, wirelessly. This is a great product for large facilities and college campuses, and with a range of up to 40 miles, its utilization may even be extended to entire school districts!

Last on my list to discuss is the “wireless relay”. This device requires power to operate it, yet its output contacts can be triggered by a wireless switch that can be located up to 100 feet away indoors. The switch has no battery and uses what’s referred to as “energy harvesting” to generate a small amount of electricity at the flick of the switch, just enough to transmit a wireless signal to the relay and change its output state. For more on energy harvesting technology, you can visit www.enocean-alliance.org. I personally am keeping my eye on this as it really piqued my interest, and it’ll be interesting to see the direction that it takes.

Tip of the Month: Next month, back to business, with more on the practical aspects of controls and building automation. But before that, I would like to take this opportunity to mention a few words about my company and its capabilities. We’re a Chicago-based controls contracting company that has been in business for close to two decades. We focus on being not the biggest, but the best in our industry, with an emphasis on the technical and the engineering aspects of what we do. Our esteemed leader is a registered Professional Engineer who endeavors to align our firm with the major consulting firms in the Chicagoland market. Our capabilities include plan & spec work, but our strengths also extend well into the design/build and retrofit/upgrade/expansion/service arenas. I invite you to visit our website at www.controlengineering.net for an overview, and encourage you to contact me directly at scalabrese@controlengineering.net, in that I may be of service to you.
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