February 2011
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Energy that Thinks Like the Web
The internet of things and of energy could learn to think like the web.

Toby ConsidineToby Considine
TC9 Inc

The New Daedalus

Contributing Editor


A critical goal for Smart Energy is to enable Buildings, and Building Systems to exchange schedules with business and people. For people, schedule exchanges have been unchanged since early internet, before the modern web. New approaches to community calendars are exploring calendar as service, and personal control of calendar publishing. Applications that use these services are creating new modalities for maintaining both sharing and privacy in communities. Now, it looks like homes and buildings may take advantage of these approaches to make buildings that think like the web.

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WS-Calendar is a critical component of US National Smart Grid efforts. WS-Calendar builds on the venerable iCalendar standard to define services for communicating schedules and sequences of operations. This brings service integration to the world of Calendars. The new thinking about community calendars then provides a new approach to integrating building and home systems.

Traditional e-calendars are store, copy, and forward messages. If a meeting is set up for five people, there are five copies of that meeting message. Changing a meeting time requires finding and updating those five messages. This is easy if the messages are on a small office network on a single server. It is not so easy if those same messages are spread over two corporate servers, Google Calendar, a stand-alone PC, and cell phones. If the meeting is for 50 people, things can get complex. If that meeting is a community event, with 5,000 subscribers, it is almost impossible to support diversity of clients using traditional approaches.

Jon Udell (http://blog.jonudell.net/) has long been one of the best at explaining how to create applications that align with the Web’s deep architecture. Jon has published his “Seven ways to think like the web” summarizing this approach.

1.    Be the authoritative source for your own data
2.    Pass by reference not by value
3.    Know the difference between structured and unstructured data
4.    Create and adopt disciplined naming conventions
5.    Push your data to the widest appropriate scope
6.    Participate in pub/sub networks as both a publisher and a subscriber
7.    Reuse components and services

Jon applies these principles to personal information and calendars, and his Elm City community calendar project exemplifies them. Mark Surman has described this work as creating “cities that think like the web” (http://commonspace.wordpress.com/). I think we can apply them to build systems, and microgrids as well—yes, we can create grids that think like the web.

The continuing development of WS-Calendar since its initial public review finished before Thanksgiving makes this all easier. Standard REST and SOAP services for calendar communications reduce the barriers to distributed community calendaring. Mike Douglas is testing the new SOAP methods to synchronize dissimilar calendar servers (Exchange and BedeWork). Community Calendars are about to get much easier to implement using WS-Calendar.

WS-Calendar, though, was created to support smart energy—schedules and events for energy shortage and surplus, communicated along with volatile prices. Most importantly, these models have to work for small, resource-constrained systems.

Control Solutions, Inc There is a long history of simple calendar communications for small devices. Older cell phones interacted with iCalendar communications despite extreme resource constraints. Open source and silicon already exists for simple calendar processing. When these services get reduced chips that we can afford to put everywhere some interesting things happen.

Consider a Calendar Service on your smart thermostat. Add a community calendar server to your house. Maybe it’s on the magnetized thin film computer stuck to the front of the refrigerator. Maybe it’s on your wireless router. The home community calendar shares schedule services with Dad’s Android, with Mom’s Blackberry, and with the Kids' iPhones. Maybe, following the Elm City model, the house calendar subscribes to the high school community server and that of the church as well. The electric car will need this kind of information, and can create charging schedules that are themselves shared. Messages about schedule electricity shortage and abundance come through the Energy Services Interface (ESI).

The smart Thermostat, then, listens to the home calendar, compares it to its own, and provides more comfort with less energy and less user attention. This would create a smart thermostat that thinks like the web, in a house that thinks like the web. Commercial building and corporate servers, schools and class schedules, could become community calendar servers; building systems could turn to them for guidance. District energy systems and office parks could do the same. The internet of things and of energy could learn to think like the web.

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