April 2006

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The GridWise Buzz…It’s Electric
The smart grid envisions an interoperable system that leverages information technology and automated systems to meet demand.

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

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It has not been my practice in this column to write about conference and industry meetings. However these events can be ideal for getting a snapshot of leading edge trends in the industry. Therefore I am going to break with tradition somewhat and mention several events in this column for one single purpose; to reinforce that this is the time of online energy technology. The buzz that is being created by smart building, smart grid and smart application technology is evident at every conference I attend.

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In addition to the GridWise Constitutional Convention, which was covered well by Automatedbuildings.com, GridWise and smart grid technology were the topic of a “Megatrends” presentation that Ken Sinclair invited me to make at the AHR show in Chicago. The point is not the topic however; rather it is the context of larger events. The ASHRAE BACnet™ standards committee, known for developing the leading standard for intelligent buildings communication, announced at AHR that the protocol has been amended to include a GridWise Object, or data type. Why is this significant? It is a clear indicator that the Intelligent Building world and the GridWise, smart grid, world are taking serious notice of one another. At the GridWise convention in Philadelphia attendees included smart building protocol and technology experts link John Petze of Tridium, Jim Lee of Cimetrics, former President of the BACnet Manufacturers Association and Jeremy Roberts of LonMark International. The ASHRAE standards committee originally envisioned that the so called “GridWise object” would be an automated demand response object, but it appears that this group saw much broader application for adding this functionality to the standard.

GridWise is a catchy term and for that reason it seems to be gaining visibility quickly. Evidence of this is the fact that a GridWise Exposition has been organized for Palm Springs (www.GridWiseExpo.com) in May, which will be co-located with Clasma’s BuilConn (www.builconn.com/2006/na/default.asp), the leading smart building event. Smart energy systems were also major subjects at the Intelligent Buildings Tour, co-hosted with AHR, and the Intelligent Buildings Conference, co-hosted with the March National Facility Managers Show (http://conferences.bnpmedia.com/ES/BAC/index.htm). Both of these events were sponsored by the Intelligent Buildings Forum. If it is not clear yet, there are several overlapping industries that are a buzz with talk of smart energy systems. The same goes for the utility industry. For example, the GridWise Alliance™ is a consortium of public and private stakeholders who have joined together in a collaborative effort to provide real-world technology solutions to support the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) vision of a transformed national electric system. This alliance has formed a national Research and Development (R&D) task force to work on demonstration projects. Among the high profile entities involved in this effort are members of the alliance including Bonneville Power Administration, IBM, The EnergySolve Companies, and other organizations like Pacific Northwest National Labs.

The GridWise BuzzThe notion of unifying enterprise intelligence to improve the operations of all building functions is where this really gets exciting. Also it is important to note that these ideas are not confined to the building and energy industries alone. A number of Information Technology (IT) companies seem to subscribe to the idea that all of the computer systems in buildings, along with the Web Services that exist on the Internet can be leveraged to bring more value. An IT industry leader, Cisco Systems Inc. recently launched an initiative called Cisco Connected Real Estate that brings many of these ideas home. A white paper can be downloaded from Cisco at http://newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2005/whitepaper.pdf .

The graphic above is a great representation of the infrastructure connecting homes, buildings and enterprises that could be communicating on a real-time basis. A key point is that this interaction assumes autonomous entities are simply utilizing web services and IT to create a market place that ensures greater reliability of the energy source, while at the same time offering the opportunity to save energy and redefine the buying and selling proposition for energy. This is not a command and control type of model; to the contrary it is a fluid system that allows for a much more robust electricity business. Wait… I can hear a whole host of readers saying, what do you mean robust? This renewed interest in the smart grid and the birth of GridWise was really an outgrowth of the blackout in August 2003. You are reading this in 2006 and, unless some massive excursion occurred during the time between this writing and the publishing of this issue, a similar event has not reoccurred. So clearly the electric system is already robust, but DOE projections estimate a 40% increase in electric demand by 2025. Therefore the key is to keep the system robust in light of that massive increase, while at the same time finding ways to achieve economic benefits by optimizing the new plants required to address growing demand.

The smart grid envisions an interoperable system that leverages information technology and automated systems to meet demand. Companies like Tridium have embraced this notion, and I have been invited to speak at the Niagara Summit on GridWise as well. In addition, Tridium will be hosting a meeting of the GridWise Business working group to discuss an action plan for the next year as part of the Niagara Summit www.niagarasummit.com.  All readers of Automatedbuilding.com are invited to join this event. Dial up information will be published on the Niagara Summit site prior to the event.

Smart building and grid systems are critical because they offer both cost savings and an approach to buy time for utilities to add capacity to the transmission and distribution. This is where the challenges lie; much more so than in generation. At the same time, effective regulatory and legislative initiatives can be spearheaded to reward utilities for building IT infrastructure necessary for a smart grid future. Without question this is a monumental task, and it is one that will require a diverse and effective collaboration from diverse industries to achieve. No matter how daunting however, the economic opportunity is massive and will more than justify the effort. Economics in this case means cost benefits for every participant in the industry, and that is an effort worth supporting.

About the Author

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 the Energy User News Technical Advisory Board, the GridWise Architecture Council and is a Contributing Editor with www.automatedbuildings.com.


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