May 2013

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EMAIL INTERVIEW George Hernandez and Ken Sinclair

George Hernandez, Sensors and Controls Technical Advisor, BTO

George HernandezGeorge Hernandez joined PNNL in 2009 and works in the Building Energy Controls group. Mr. Hernandez is a senior demand side management professional with innovative and detail-oriented knowledge to develop and produce successful programs that deliver products and services to the commercial and industrial energy marketplace. Mr. Hernandez is distinguished by exceptional execution skills that enable efficient concept to product delivery. Accomplishments demonstrate coordination abilities, creative thinking, developmental organization, strong leadership, management skills, and strategic planning. Mr. Hernandez has extensive knowledge, skills, and capabilities derived from a substantial career in demand side utility management across a wide variety of commercial and industrial sectors and utilities as both a corporate employee and an independent consultant. Mr. Hernandez received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from California State University and his Masters in Mechanical Engineering from The University of California at Berkeley. He is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) by the State of California.

High Impact Technologies

The group is focused on new, innovative, and high impact sensor technologies along with advances in control strategies that improve energy efficiency, environmental conditions, operational costs and -- most recently -- building to grid transactions.

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Sinclair What is the Building Technologies Office (BTO) at The Department of Energy up to these days? 

Hernandez:  The office is focused on three main themes: 1) Research & Development where we develop High Impact Technologies in the commercial and residential building sectors; 2) Market Stimulation where we accelerate technologies to market, and 3) Standards & Codes where we lock the savings in permanently.

We undertake most of this work by funding innovation with the respective industry and supplementing those entities with the national labs.

Sinclair As the sensors and controls Technical Advisor to BTO, what type of concepts and projects are you working on?

Hernandez:  Currently the sensors and controls work in BTO resides in the Emerging Technologies group as a core cross-cutting effort.  The group is focused on new, innovative, and high impact sensor technologies along with advances in control strategies that improve energy efficiency, environmental conditions, operational costs and -- most recently -- building to grid transactions.  These projects take the form of low cost wireless self-power harvesting sensors, building control algorithm development and validation, hardware and software solutions for retro commissioning, and -- most importantly -- open architecture control platforms for small and medium sized commercial buildings.  The latter opportunity is an open, competitive solicitation that we encourage companies to review and apply (

Our fundamental strategy is to get these products, services, and solutions out of the research arena and into the hands of the people who can do something with them in useful and meaningful ways to drive success in the market place.  If we are successful, we will enable existing market participants like building owners, facility operators, equipment suppliers, and utilities -- as well as new and yet unknown entrepreneurs and financial resources -- to efficiently transact products and services with, within, and between buildings by leveraging sensors and controls that operate on open platforms.  We understand these activities unlock new opportunities to deliver services that buildings want, to market financially beneficial solutions to all parties and stakeholders within the sector, and to increase operational benefits directly to building users and owners. 

Sinclair So how does this work relate to our May topic "Dynamic Data Fuels Deep Analytics"? 

Hernandez:  I believe that can mean different things to different people.  At its face value, I personally like that phrase ("Dynamic Data Fuels Deep Analytics") as it gets people excited, energized, and acting in an area of work that, to date, has not been fully realized or leveraged for the greatest financial gain within buildings.

However, I also know that if we as an industry don’t deliver something meaningful and easily understandable pretty soon, the market will grow weary of the "buzzword" and move on.  This problem of "big smoke, but no fire" isn't unique to our industry but to all industries that are hyping Big Data as the solution to problems we may not even have or know about!

I don’t know about other industries, but I do know that in our industry there is lots of data -- its maybe just not in a useful form or it may be locked up in proprietary system or it may be simply bad or not actionable.  Now as many of your readers know, there have been efforts in the past at solving some of these issues through open standards and data management.  But what I feel is needed, as a fundamental to this sector, is a very focused effort around data collection, validation, creation of taxonomies, and discussion on metadata.  Of course, there's a related task of ‘what data do we really need?’ that must happen simultaneously -- it's a chicken and egg problem.

In order for our highly skilled researchers to do their mathematical gymnastics and distill the highest value analytics, they probably need a lot of data that they may or may not be getting right now.  "Virtual" models and computational simulations are acceptable to a certain point, but in the end, it’s real data from and about the physical world that we all operate within that counts. In the end, I think we all collectively have a vision that buildings can be smart and that those smart buildings will rely on smart data from smart sensors and be controlled from smart control systems.  But we need to continuously ask, "how smart is too smart" and more importantly "what is that smartness worth across the various scales that building and people coexist within"?

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Sinclair How are you planning on stepping out of the ivory tower and engaging the folks who are in the trenches working the market? 

Hernandez:  Late last year, we started our outreach through a meeting held in Golden, CO where we convened a group of interested researchers to present their work in the building-to-grid space to understand projects and activities in that space.  Through those project reviews with industry, we got great feedback on the value of these projects and gaps encountered.  It was a very good meeting with some very thoughtful responses -- and I know a lot of attendees referred to and talked about your website!

We are continuing this effort with a technical meeting at the end of May in Portland, OR where we will present the strategic vision for the sensors and controls research at DOE, presenting currently funded projects and peer reviewing them as a group, and asking for industry feedback on challenges, gaps, and opportunity within this sector.  Our intention is to create a groundswell of interest such that we can get the entire industry to pull in the same direction with DOE's help, assistance, and funding, where it is appropriate, to help move building energy efficiency to the place where it should always be –  a first thought, not an afterthought!


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