July 2010

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Will Building Automation lead the next energy revolution?

It will be the vertical that will continue to create the products and devices that can make these new sources of energy easy and inexpensive to implement into existing building and factory infrastructures.

Manny Mandrusiak
Manny Mandrusiak
Vice President OPC Marketing,

OPC Foundation

Contributing Editor

There was a time on this planet when humanity faced an energy crisis because the primary fuel source (wood) was running out. Trees were being harvested faster than they could be replanted, or grow to maturity. The island of Britain was almost completely stripped bare of trees. This energy crisis was averted by the discovery, and mastery, of another carbon based fuel source – coal.

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The discovery of coal led to advances in mining, which was not without its own share of problems. Coal was not abundant in all areas of the planet. The island of Britain was one area of geography where coal was very abundant. As veins of coal began to be exploited, the need grew and miners needed to mine deeper into the earth. As coal mines went deeper into the earth, a huge problem presented itself.  Mines were filling with water as the drilling hit the water table. To solve the problem of the flooding mines, the steam engine was developed and thus began the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution led to the discovery of oil, and natural gas. This discovery led to further technological advances and has brought us to the point where we live in a very technological based society. A society that has conquered nature, had the ability to not only explore the uncharted areas of the planet, but also to reach out for the stars. As a planet we have realized that there was a price for our quest for energy. A hole in the ozone layer caused from the production of too many green house gases. A war of fluctuating oil prices and political unrest as the search for new oil deposits becomes a global issue. Ultimately an issue where experts predict that there will be a shortage of oil in as little as a decade, is becoming something that everyone is talking about.

These factors have led to countries around the world wanting to “Go Green” and not only find alternative energy sources, but become more energy efficient with our current resources. The question arises as to which industry leads the charge toward becoming energy efficient. Some say it is manufacturing, but I think that it is the Building Automation industry.

Innovations are being made every day to make homes and factories more energy efficient. Smart switches and monitors have been installed in thousands of factories and office buildings in Europe. These sensors detect movement and body temperature of people in a particular room, and turn the lights on when there is movement, and off when there is none. This reduces the amount of power that a factory uses to produce the same number of products. It not only improves the bottom line, but it is good for the environment.

Here in North America similar green initiatives have taken root. Smart meters are being installed in homes and businesses to enable energy production companies to collect more data about energy usage. This domestic energy usage can be historized, and trended, via a communications protocol like OPC, to show peak energy uses. Programs can then be created to regulate the demand for energy during peak hours, and reduce green house gas emissions for the production of power.

Solar panels are being installed on homes to heat water, or provide a supplement to heating a home. Solar energy is a clean and abundant energy source, which has become less expensive to implement on complete neighborhoods. Complete solar grids are becoming a common sight particularly in the desert regions of the US.

CatNet Systems Another alternative energy source that the Midwest is seeing is windmills. Wind farms are being constructed on cattle grazing land to provide supplemental power to complete towns, and a few small cities. Data from these wind farms is often collected using OPC as a communications backbone because of its ease in connecting with the existing power grid networks.

In closing, I truly believe that the Building Automation industry is blazing the path towards us becoming more energy efficient as a planet. It will be the vertical which will demand the energy produced by these alternative energy sources. It will be the vertical that will continue to create the products and devices that can make these new sources of energy easy and inexpensive to implement into existing building and factory infrastructures. It will be these innovative products that will be integrated into existing building systems to either supplement, or replace the demand for the carbon based energy demands of a technology hungry society.

What the future holds, only time will tell. What I do know is that the next energy revolution will definitely include OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA) as the cornerstone of data communications. No other communications specification on the market today possesses the robustness, and scalability that OPC UA does. As the planet continues to be future facing and seek new forms of energy, OPC UA has already embraced that vision, and is ready for integration into new energy source systems today.

For more information on OPC UA, or to find an OPC Foundation Training class near you, navigate your browser to www.opcfoundation.org 

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