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Online Inside and Out

Some of this technology is WiFi and Internet based and some is cellular or satellite based, but the flavor of wireless is not important.


John J. "Jack" Mc Gowan, CEM
Energy Control Inc
Contributing Editor

Published in
Energy & Power Management

December Issue

There are a number of dramatic changes underway in the online world, particularly with wireless. Across the country, municipalities have invested in WiFi Internet hot spots. It started out with airports, libraries and other public buildings, but rapidly cities have begun to provide WiFi clouds over the community to offer low cost alternatives for citizens to access the Internet. Technologies like WiMax, which can be broadcast over wider geographic areas and is touted to have better data security, are being implemented in some cases as well. All of this is exciting, but in reality it is simply another way to get on line and do the same things we have always done. This can be beneficial, but what gets me excited is when access to the on line services spawns new applications and offers real benefits.

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Recently I heard about some new on line services that caught my attention, because of the far reaching implications. These services also intrigued me because I could see a host of ways in which the same technology could be used to save energy. Some of this technology is WiFi and Internet based and some is cellular or satellite based, but the flavor of wireless is not important. What is important is the way that devices are being used. Some devices are being used to save energy now, in the form of gasoline, with GPS technology being overlaid on the highway system. In a number of cities we have heard about using RFID technology to identify cars that enter the high occupancy vehicle lane and assess a charge to the owner. Newer developments include charging varying rates for using the lane based upon the amount of congestion and time of day; leading some to refer to these as “Lexus Lanes”. Another concept is to use similar information to assess congestion pricing for use of inner city streets during high traffic periods. In several European cities, notably Stockholm and London, cars are fitted with RFID transponders so that the drivers’ credit card can be automatically debited when they enter these areas at peak times. In London they have been doing this since February of 2003 and drivers who enter congested areas on weekdays between 7 AM and 6:30 PM are charged at approximately $15 U.S. dollars per day. The belief is that assessing these charges will begin to change behavior, reduce traffic at peak times and save gasoline.

Other examples that caught my attention have to do with emergency management. There are new devices on the market like one from Research in Motion, that are being used for emergency management. In the wake of hurricane Katrina, it was evident that communication between the various emergency management agencies in given areas could be improved. They are taking a cue from this in Texas, where they are working to form a Gulf Coast Regional 211 information and referral system. This system will enable better communication when large portions of one state must evacuate into another state. Another exciting component of this is to provide the ability for redundant communication systems. The system would utilize land lines, as does current technology. However if land line communication fails due to a natural disaster, a back up feature would switch to communication using voice over internet protocol using wireless Internet service. Leveraging the power of new wireless infrastructure with existing technology results in much more robust communication. Blackberry's 8700C device (www.blackberry.com/go/cingular) has had applications built into its software by Cingular to allow first responders to manage emergency situations remotely, provide emergency contact lists electronically and communicate during infrastructure failures. So here are life and death situations that technology is helping to address more effectively. Are there similar applications that could be developed for energy?

The first observation is that there are a number of applications in development or already in use that can bring real value to the energy community. Several utilities are experimenting with thermostats that are fitted with cellular technology to allow for load shedding. Automated Demand Response is a hot and growing market, see www.demandresponseinfo.org. The idea of using cellular technology goes far beyond the notion of interruptible power, where compressors are cycled off for a period of time. Using cellular or Wireless Internet Smart Thermostats, it is possible to set parameters around how much the customer is willing to participate, and to see real time results. This is a simple example, but it shows tangible results for interoperability between the supply side and the demand side. There is a tremendous need with projections from the U.S. Department of Energy calling for 40% increase in electric demand over the next 20 years. If you consider how much of our digital economy and life style are predicated on access to electricity for all of the devices that drive that life style, these type of service are both viable and necessary. It is even possible to foresee a time when new economic elements could be introduce to modify the fee paid to a customer for shedding load in real time based upon the severity of the need.

The notion of technologies that enable emergency response even during times of infrastructure failures is of great value to the utility industry. Even more to the point, utilizing on line services to achieve similar results to what has been seen with just in time production in the manufacturing world, offers huge benefits. First the cost of downtime can millions of dollars per hour; an example is that some have estimated that the blackout of 2003 cost residents of the affected area around $150,000,000 in lost productivity, sales, etc. The GridWise Architecture Council is actively pursing just the types of solutions that are being implemented already in emergency management, with energy. Interoperability between devices that are deployed through the local customer’s energy system, as well as the market at large is key to achieving long term energy reliability.

From an energy point of view, the real story is not in the technology itself but in the applications that bring value to building owners and improve energy productivity. Readers should make it a point to look for those applications and not get sidetracked with the technology buzzwords and details, but challenge the industry to leverage that technology to deliver energy features that do not exist today. Demand Response is a great example of leading edge applications that are reducing cost, improving electric grid reliability, but it is just the beginning. Interoperability is the central focus of GridWise Architecture Council activities, and it will enable applications that deliver what demand response offers today and much more. It is a truly exciting time to be in the energy business.

Mc Gowan is President of Energy Control Inc., an Energy Service Company and System Integrator. He is an author and has published 5 books including “Direct Digital Control” on Fairmont Press. The Association of Energy Engineers named him “International Energy Professional of the Year” in 1997 and admitted him to the “International Energy Managers Hall of Fame in 2003. Mc Gowan sits on U.S. Department of Energy GridWise Architecture Council. He also sits on the Energy and Power Management Technical Advisory Board and is a Contributing Editor with WWW.Automatedbuildings.com.



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