August 2009

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Drilling for Dollars
IT Companies Find Energy

"Another myth is that we have all the technology we need to solve the energy problem”
US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu


Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD, LEED AP
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings

Contributing Editor


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There is an old saying, attributed to Alexander Graham Bell: “When one door closes, another opens”. While the traditional IT market or “door” of hardware, software and services from information technology companies has been slightly shut by the global financial situation, IT companies have found and opened new markets in the energy, environment and sustainability markets. It’s a huge opportunity worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the near future. It may seem a stretch for companies known for PC operating systems, internet searches and network switches to now take on energy management for utilities and buildings. Each of the IT networking titans now has products, primarily software, to monitor, manage and provide information on energy usage. The hardware and software covers homes, buildings, smart meters, electric cars, IT networks, and building automation systems. Almost all have been released this year and some are in limited release, beta versions or development. Here’s an overview of some of the offerings:

Dynamics AXMicrosoft

One of Microsoft’s products is the Dynamics AX, an accounting package within their Dynamics’ series for mid-sized companies that works and feels much like the other Microsoft products that many of us know and use. Within the Dynamics AX product, Microsoft earlier this year added the “Environmental Sustainability Dashboard” which essentially does environmental accounting. The data used in the environmental accounting is provided from two other modules in the accounting package, accounts payable and inventory management.

The program calculates and displays four of the Core Environmental Performance Indicators (CEPI) as identified by the Global Reporting Initiative. Those indicators are:

Direct Energy Consumption – This is related to energy sources that are bought and consumed, such as natural gas and coal.
Indirect Energy Consumption – This is electricity from a utility where the energy is generated elsewhere.
Total Direct And Indirect Greenhouse Gas Emissions – The carbon footprint of direct and indirect energy consumption.
Other Relevant Greenhouse Gas Emissions – For example, emissions from business travel.

Microsoft HohmMicrosoft has also released a product to address home energy use called Microsoft Hohm. It’s an online home energy-monitoring tool that provides recommendations to homeowners on how to save energy and compare their energy use to others. It also has a “Hohm user community” to exchange ideas.

The analytics embedded in Hohm are from Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkley Laboratories studies. Users can input specific information about their house or use local or national averages. Microsoft has teamed with four utilities (Puget Sound Energy, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Seattle City Light and Xcel Energy) and is working on automatically uploading the energy usage data into the Hohm application. In addition they have partnered with smart meter manufacturers, Itron and Landis+Gyr, which allow greater access to more granular energy consumption data. Obviously the integration with meter data would greatly improve the functionality and accuracy of the information.


Google has done a limited release of a beta version of their PowerMeter, another software platform geared to home energy use. PowerMeter collects information on electrical use and stores it in a Google data center. The information is pushed to it from utility companies, smart meters and energy management devices. Users are provided with access to their home electricity consumption on their personal iGoogle homepage or an in-house energy display device. Google will have a publicly available Google Data API Specification for the PowerMeter allowing third-party collaboration.

PowerMeterTo address different data formats from utility companies and different meters, Google has started to build a library of tools and sample code that will facilitate sending and receiving data from the PowerMeter. Goggle has partnered with utilities in the US, Canada, India and Germany: Glasgow EPB (Glasgow, Kentucky), JEA (Northeast Florida), Reliance Energy (Mumbai, Delhi & Orissa, India), San Diego Gas & Electric (San Diego and Southern Orange Counties, California), Toronto Hydro–Electric System Limited, TXU Energy, White River Valley Electric Cooperative (Missouri), Yello Strom (Germany). Google, like Microsoft has partnered with smart meter manufacturer Itron.

Google is also developing software to address an energy need which seems far, far into the future. That issue is recharging millions of electric vehicles at the same time. If the smart grid is to interact and regulate energy use in buildings, why shouldn’t the same relationship exist between the grid and millions of electric plug-in vehicles? All of this is of course to reduce peak electric demand, minimize the need for new power plants and reduce carbon emissions. The ramifications of software regulating when electric vehicles should be recharged and how much they should be recharged based on power generation in the grid are just short of mind boggling. For example, could the batteries in millions of electric vehicles be used for “storage” for the utilities, regulating their load by drawing from the batteries during peaks rather than increase power generation?


Cisco has been involved with several energy and environmental initiatives. They have been involved in some local civic projects such as Urban EcoMap, where one can obtain information on San Francisco’s greenhouse gas emissions by city zip codes, and the Connected Bus project, again in San Francisco, that provides free Wi-Fi on the public buses to enhance riders’ experience, digital signage to provide information on bus arrivals and external LED displays of environmental information.

The more serious business initiatives have been EnergyWise and the Building Mediator. Cisco is estimating that the communications infrastructure market for the US smart electrical grid will reach $20 billion a year over the next five years with huge requirements for products already in their portfolio; networking equipment and services. Cisco is already involved with Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy in smart grid projects.

EnergyWiseCisco released EnergyWise in January 2009. EnergyWise is software based on a version of Verdiem’s Surveyor PC management software that reduces energy levels of PCs. This is a free software upgrade for the Cisco Catalyst series to automatically turn off computers, VOIP telephones and wireless access points. At the core is management of network devices through the use of Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), that is, if the network is supplying power to the devices, the network can monitor and manage the devices. With EnergyWise, an IT manager can set policies on energy use, allowing PCs or networking equipment to go into sleep mode after work hours or at night or whenever they aren't being used.

The Building Mediator About the time Cisco introduced EnergyWise Cisco acquired Richards-Zeta Building Intelligence, a provider of building automation middleware, called the Building Mediator. The middleware solution is a combination of system controllers and software. The controller allows for the connection of HVAC systems, lighting control, power management and a host of other typical building automation systems. These are the primary systems consuming power in a building. The Building Mediator allows all connected system points to be accessible over an IP network and provides for two-way communications between systems with different protocols. The supervisory control platform for the controllers will be rolled up into EnergyWise increasing its capabilities to monitor, mange and provide insight into a building’s energy use.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] That’s Not All

Whether introducing middleware or dashboards IT manufacturers are also touting PoE devices, energy-efficient switches, and data center energy efficient solutions. HP has a number of Energy Star rated end-user devices as well as its Dynamic Smart Cooling. Nortel, as well as energy-efficient switching, is introducing the Energy Saver that monitors and manages power to PoE devices. Among many other energy initiatives, IBM has Green Sigma, a dynamic dashboard built on a Statistical Process Control engine/rule set. As the market for energy and energy savings continues to grow, so will the participants.


The move by IT companies into energy-related hardware and software presents an enormous opportunity but also comes with some obstacles. Customers for these new products are not necessarily the traditional IT Directors; they’re facility managers, home owners and utility managers. The sales and procurement processes for some markets, such as the design and construction for a new building are different from what IT companies are use to. In addition, the systems being monitored and controlled as part of energy management, such as HVAC, lighting and power management are unfamiliar territory for most IT companies.

For more information about smart buildings, technology design or to schedule a Continuing Education program, email me at


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