July 2008

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Be The Change
This year’s ConnectivityWeek offered more than simply updates on building automation technology. It encouraged a new energy revolution.

Ken Sinclair,

As published
Energy Management Canada

July Issue

This year’s recent ConnectivityWeek, held in Santa Clara, California, was entitled “Empowering the Energy Revolution.” Following on the heels of the information revolution of the late 20th century, the energy revolution is centred upon using IT to fundamentally change how we create, distribute and employ energy. Intelligent connectivity of everything from home appliances to environmental controls and industrial robots is critical to the success of such a movement.

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This was the focus of the event, which brought together major players from the U.S. electrical power generation industry, distributors, regulators, standards groups, end users and automators. It also included representatives from GridWise, ASHRAE and other standards and protocol groups.

There were a number of valuable takeaways for all of the attendees, including:

1. Building automation players need to reach out.

John McCaffrey had a great question for the attendees — Who are we? How do we best present our capabilities?

McCaffrey was describing the fact that building automation experts haven’t done a great job of stepping out of their silo and educating building owners, power companies, architects and others what they can offer.

2. Open source is a key application development platform today.

Open source creates an opportunity for those working in the automation field to develop enterprise connectivity solutions or energy data analysis applications more rapidly. Expect this to alter the pace of change in building automation systems in coming years.

3. Be agile in your building automation choices.

Agility is the ability to change position rapidly and accurately without losing balance. If you think things have been changing rapidly over the last few years, keep focused on the next few. Make every building automation decision a pliable one so you can maintain your agility in the future. Make sure your plans consider services and products that may not yet be available but are nonetheless being discussed.

4. Make collaboration a part of the way you work.

Collaboration involves data sharing and personal exchanges that make the sum greater than its attendant parts. Events like ConnectivityWeek and other conferences across North America offer automation and energy professionals to meet individuals who are key to helping them create change.

5. Demand response is the killer app for today.

Demand response is no longer something that’s only for the biggest of energy management players. It is a reality that everyone could be working hard to implement. The more businesses that take on this challenge, the quicker we will create a more manageable energy grid.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] 6. Eliminate wasteful energy conversions where you can.

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another. Every change required to convert energy into a useful form is costly, and yet we continue to operate many systems that convert energy poorly. Some of this is inevitable, due to our aging generation and distribution network. However, we must push future change more effectively. GridWise is helping to do that in the U.S., as is Ontario’s Smart Grid program.

7. The alternating current / direct current debate is alive again.

Direct current (DC), when it was first developed, was promoted by Thomas Edison. His main competition for electricity generation was George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla, who championed alternating current (AC) distribution. DC does not transmit well, which may not seem a disadvantage if you are generating power close to what you are powering.

At ConnectivityWeek, one speaker shared his vision of the future, using LED lighting as part of a ceiling tile grid system that included gigabit data and DC power distribution, with the ability for renewable power to interact at a building distribution level. The idea of such an “off-grid” building could be an exciting retrofit for some aging buildings.

Cars, of course, are the best example of current technology that could be harnessed for off-the-grid DC distribution and generation — particularly hybrids cars.

Perhaps the best catch phrase that encapsulated ConnectivityWeek for me was “be the change.” Don’t wait for others to come up with solutions. With the open source environment and opportunities for collaboration growing all of the time, professionals involved in any part of energy management or building automation should be reaching out to colleagues across disciplines to see what connections and changes can be made.  


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