September 2010

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The Power to Control Home Lighting and Appliances comes to your handheld device

Web services are the future of empowering personal power savings.

Manny Mandrusiak
Manny Mandrusiak
Vice President OPC Marketing,

OPC Foundation

Contributing Editor

Back in May 2009 I wrote a column entitled The Application my iPhone should have. It was an article that I wrote after receiving a hefty power bill due to leaving my AC on while on a road trip. The thing that I wanted was to be able to access my home utilities from my handheld device. That column was written while on a plane wishing for an answer, and this one was written on a plane having found the answer.

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While on a recent trip to Cleveland I decided to browse through the SkyMall catalogue and there was the answer to my request for the application to control my home on page 57. Control my home’s lights and appliances from the web! As I read the title I could not help but smile. This is exactly what I had written the article May 2009 about, and it was really cool to see that the trend toward web services is increasing.

The SmartLinc INSTEON Lamp Control starter kit comes complete with everything required to remotely control lights inside of a home via the internet or Wi-Fi from an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch or any other Web-enabled PC, Phone or PDA. There are also expandable modules to control thermostats, wall switches, sprinkler systems, and more.

This is not a product endorsement article of any kind. What this article is here to illustrate is that web services are the way of the future, and any technology (or protocol) not looking to securely embrace these concepts has just placed an expiration date on themselves. I have said it before, and I will say it again, those who fail to adapt will cease to exist in the marketplace.

The manner with which we as a society conduct our lives, and seek the delivery of information, has changed dramatically. We are a handheld society. We are enabled (thanks to web services) to work remotely. We do not need to constantly be tethered to a desk to be productive. Thanks to web services like VPN’s and Wi-Fi capable handhelds, and employee can be completely “virtual”. Located anywhere, and working at varied times during the day. Deadlines can be met by employees who can potentially put in a full day while remaining in their bath robes.

The reason for the above illustration is simple. Protocol consortiums and device manufacturers in the Building Automation space need to embrace the need for a communication mechanism that is scalable enough to embrace the fact that part of the future lies in web services and greater user control. This is the space that OPC UA lives in. OPC UA provides built in secure web services, and can very easily interface with existing BA protocols such as BACnet, and Johnson Controls N1, N2. There is no need to invest the time and money in creating a proprietary set of web services within these protocols when OPC UA has already done it, and has the ability to expand these existing technologies with the built in information model.

Consumers want to access their homes via their iPods, Droids, and Blackberries. They want to pay their bills online, and have direct access to their power consumption in both a real-time and historical environment. They are more aware and savvy because of the new advances in technology than consumers were 30 years ago. The “instant information age” is upon us, and as trends in our social life keep growing that way, there will be a huge demand for the same services in the Building Automation environment.

Imagine four apartment complexes all being tied together with a BACnet/OPC UA combined solution. A property manager can access all of the property information from any property using an iPad for example. He/she could look at individual HVAC systems to see diagnostic information, performance information in not only real-time, but also in a historical trend. Predicative maintenance becomes even easier. As patterns in usage emerge in the trended data, maintenance crews can be deployed to take care of system failures before they occur. This would in turn keep systems operating with more reliability, keep maintenance overtime costs down during high demand. An example of this would be four apartment complexes in Phoenix, Arizona during the summer months. The daily highs range from 105 F to 120 F. AC units are constantly running to maintain comfortable temperatures in apartment units and common areas. AC and HVAC failure during this time results in an extremely unpleasant situation for apartment dwellers, and dramatically decreases productivity for businesses located in these complexes. Revenue is lost due to shoppers not wanting to shop in an uncomfortable environment, and apartment managers lose tenants or have to offer reductions in rent or hotel reimbursement while fixing the problem. If the property manager has the ability to access an entire complex's AC units diagnostic information through that BACnet/OPC UA solution proper predictive maintenance can be conducted to avoid unnecessary maintenance costs during peak usage periods.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Similarly tenants who can control their home environment via the internet are way more likely to be energy conscious because of the ease of remotely controlling their devices. AC units can be turned on an hour before returning home to cool an apartment, and not left on all day. This reduces energy consumption, and works out better for the environment.

What is there to really be said in closing except that knowledge is power. The power from the corporate perspective by having greater secure access to building data using OPC UA, and reduce costs through greater predictive maintenance.

Empowerment to the consumer by having the ability to access data through web services, and have greater control over their own personal energy footprint. Each consumer could make a difference in wasted power consumption by having the ability to control their environment remotely. The energy savings by one individual is worth the minimal investment in the technology. Imagine an entire 500 apartment complex where every apartment reduced their power consumption by 10% due to having greater control of their environment via web services. Now that is a number that makes our planet just a little bit greener.

Web services are the way of the future, and there is no doubt that those who choose to adopt OPC UA as the standard for their secure web services will not only achieve their communications goals today but will have an impact on the shaping of Building Automation’s communications future.

All Building Automation Developers are invited to attend OPC UA Development Course from Oct 18 – 21 in Scottsdale, Arizona. This training will demonstrate just how easy it is to wrap an existing OPC COM product to become OPC UA compliant, and will guide attendees through the creation of native OPC UA product creation. Building Automation developers can see just how easy it would be to integrate OPC UA into their existing technology infrastructures and the benefits that provides.

Until next month remember, the future is at your finger tips on the web.

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