Mark Scott Lavin 2015-06-09 11:37:14
Enabling granular, real time, actionable information, and control Until recently, knowing how much energy a facility was consuming—let alone knowing in real time and responding dynamically to utility demand moment-by-moment—was an affair that, if possible at all, required running wires behind walls and teams of specialized engineers able to do sophisticated, costly, and sometimes dangerous, work. But in the age of wireless, that’s changing. Paired with intelligent lighting solutions, smart devices ranging from thermostats to outlets with miniature radios that talk to data centers, to cloud-based applications that turn cell phones into personal energy consumption dashboards, energy management systems (EMSs) are coming of age. In essence, today’s most sophisticated EMSs use the “Internet of Things” technology, essentially wireless devices “meshed” into networks, to deliver fine-grained, real-time data to cloud-based applications that return actionable energy visualization information to any Web-enabled platform. They can often support multiple modes of targeted control, from the ability to fine-tune lighting output fixture by fixture to the ability to automatically adjust overall consumption, to moment-to-moment utility requests. They can even help employees change their energy consumption behavior. The net result of all of this is not only do enterprises now have multiple, cost-effective channels for managing the energy bottom line, they may soon be able to participate as “prosumers” in transactive energy markets set to emerge in the coming decade. Power Analytics Corporation, one of the companies staking its claim within what some are calling an emerging “Internet of Energy,” states on its homepage that “the old power grid is becoming a transactional network.” And, the story begins with the new generation of energy management systems coming-of-age with the confluence of economic crash, cheap wireless controls for buildings’ moving parts, programmable LED lighting, smart devices, and updates to energy efficiency regulations like California’s Title 24. Energy, lighting, building automation, software, and even large-scale distributed energy startups and established players are taking position. Orion Energy Systems, Inc. reinvented itself during the Great Recession as an industrial and commercial LED lighting manufacturer. Scott Green, president of Orion Energy, says, “Lighting has changed more in the last six years than in the previous 60.” In fact, LED efficiency drove Orion’s decision to leave the lighting control business to others. “As LED gets more efficient, the return on lighting automation actually gets harder to sell,” says Green. “Two-year paybacks in fluorescent days are becoming 10-year paybacks.” So, Orion refocused on great fixtures that play well with others. Green says that LED “bulbs” are designed to deliver 300,000–400,000 hours of life, and for offices using lights about 4,000 hours per year, that’s a bulb change every 100 years. But perhaps just as important for how energy gets shared in decades to come, LED can be precisely controlled. Wired controls could let fluorescents do a few tricks, but many LEDs with solid-state drivers can be programmed, wirelessly, right out of the box. Some companies in the energy management space are discovering that wirelessly controlling everything in a building—and not just lighting—is now a short, but lucrative, leap. Daintree Networks, Inc., also pivoted during the crash by adding drivers for other smart building elements such as thermostats, fans, and plug loads to its Controlscope platform and redefining its niche as mesh networks, or the “Enterprise Internet of Things.” With the appearance of nearly 1,500 Zigbee certified smart-wireless products by hundreds of manufacturers in the last few years, Daintree’s open platform can now remotely control 80–90% of the smart devices in a building. “Zigbee is the most prevalent open standard, and it will only become more robust as it becomes more pragmatic,” says Mandeep Khera, Vice President of Marketing and Channels at Daintree Networks, Inc. And while some companies fear open standards, for Daintree, they’re the “how” of leveraging the brilliance of wireless smart device makers. As open standards now make it possible for any wireless mouse or WiFi hotspot to work instantly with your laptop, Daintree’s platform will similarly show any new Zigbee-certified LED fixture, thermostat, or dimmer on its dashboard the instant you plug it in. Judging from 200–300% sales increases year over year since 2011, the open standards approach seems to be working. And while code compliance, affordability, energy paybacks, pressure on carbon emissions, and other factors have driven sales, it’s precisely examples like wireless mice and WiFi that are making companies comfortable with the idea of wireless building management solutions, Khera says. United Stationers, a leading North American wholesale distributor of business products and a company committed to sustainability across its 60 facilities was delighted to learn that a Daintree system combined with LED lighting in its Sacramento facility routinely clocks 94% in lighting energy savings. When the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) approached United Stationers with a proposal to examine the benefits of such systems, they jumped on board and paired ControlScope with high-performance Cree LED fixtures in their office and break areas. The installation involved replacing hundreds of fluorescents and reducing the number of fixtures, and that alone improved light quality. But ControlScope gave United Stationers an Internet-accessible floor plan displaying lighting status facility-wide, allowing them to design automated lighting plans for all zones, change any fixture’s set point with a click, and adapt plans as workflows change. They can see which lights are working, set maximum outputs, and track energy consumption. Personal remote controls let workers set and adjust their overhead light level throughout the day. Daylight and motion sensors turn lights on and off as needed, and wall switches in most areas let people temporarily override the system if they’re working late or working a projector during business hours. As it turned out, staff members are controlling nearly half of the facility’s lighting with personal dimmers, but that’s not a bad thing. Despite widely varying preferences, “the majority of people are turning lights down,” says Dave Bisbee, Project Manager with SMUD. “They do it naturally.” By communicating with staff every step of the way, United Stationers created a genuine excitement that was helped along by a quick and virtually painless installation and the prospect of a more comfortable—and productive—work environment. “As a customer, you used to have to buy a wired solution for each building application. One for lighting, another for HVAC, and another for energy monitoring and control. It was an expensive nightmare,” says Khera. “Now you set up one wireless controller and expand the network one application at a time. You can start with lighting, and add the thermostat or the plug load. In the future, you’ll be able to add non-energy applications, too.” Fine granular data is another critical ingredient driving a new energy order, and here, too, companies in the energy management space are rising to the occasion. Though it makes switches, dimmers, thermostats, temperature sensors, wall sockets, and power strips, Budderfly LLC considers itself a software company. Embedded with a tiny sub-meter, each of Budderfly’s devices in an installation gets assigned a user and pings a cloud based in Green Bay, WI, from a wireless controller. Meanwhile, the MyBudderfly app turns a phone into a personal remote control and dashboard that shows consumption, history, trends, office ranking, and utility peak alerts. It even learns when you’ve forgotten to turn the lights off. Budderfly considers its platform a biofeedback tool inspired by the idea that granular awareness at the plug level will fuel a domino effect of participation, accountability, and action from C-level executives to receptionists. While it’s primarily focused on human behavior, the platform lets an enterprise do the following: visualize consumption from the facility level down to a light switch; integrate smart metering, monitoring, and control; participate in Auto-Demand Response; and interface with typical building management systems that monitor and control mechanical, plumbing, heating, and ventilation. In one pilot program conducted by Budderfly and the New York College of Podiatric Medicine (NYCPM), benchmarking in the college’s test clinic quickly showed that 60% of workstation energy consumption and 28% of lighting energy consumption happened during evenings and weekends when the clinic was closed. After an initial facility evaluation, Budderfly installed its cloud-integrate hardware in the test clinic. With 60 days of tracking, daily, weekly, and monthly consumption patterns emerged and enabled Budderfly to recommend system-based control schemes. They worked with college staff to implement automated schedules for turning lighting and workstations off and noted after 30 more days of monitoring that the automated controls dropped consumption 36% on workdays, dropped it 87% on off-days, and delivered a payback in less than 18 months. The pilot program took place in NYCPM’s Clinic A, comprised of 11 examination rooms and adjacent areas that make up about ¼ of the college facility’s main floor. “With Budderfly control profiles in place, NYCPM was assured energy waste was eliminated without compromising clinic operations,” says Ken Buda, Vice President of Product Management and Operations at Budderfly LLC. And Budderfly and NYCPM are currently planning to expand the system to other clinics and administrative areas. Not only will this generate greater savings throughout the college’s 60,000-square-foot facility that serves more than 20,000 patients a year, but it will also enable participation in demand response initiatives. Utilities asking for energy usage data in detail as fine as Budderfly can provide is an exciting prospect, but they’re not knocking just yet, Buda says. Nevertheless, he expects that to change, perhaps with help from an ecosystem of energy management innovators whose visions extend beyond office building walls. Microgrids A microgrid is a network of power generation and storage, usually on a campus, typically designed to augment power from the local utility. Early microgrids in the 1990s were experiments in peak shaving by campuses like the US military base at Fort Bragg, near Fayetteville, NC. Fort Bragg is one of the US’s largest military bases, today covering 160,000 acres and staffed by 45,000. By the late ’90s, Bragg was pushing hard against a 78-MW demand contract with Carolina Power and Light. To avoid penalties, the base teamed up with the utility, PI Encorp LLC, and Honeywell Home and Building Control Division to lay the early groundwork of what would become one of the first microgrids. In the summer of 1999, the base retrofitted 11 standby generators able to supply 3.85 MW of backup power. An Encorp “Gold Box” Generator Power Control (GPC), integrating traditional control modules, protective relays, and network connectivity into a single programmable unit was installed at each generator, letting it run in parallel with its partners and connect with the grid. The whole system tied into a central Dispatch Workstation running Encorp’s entelligent-VMM (Virtual Maintenance Monitor) software so operators could set the overall demand threshold, monitor demand at local substations, watch the generators, and receive maintenance alerts. Once the setup passed its first peak-shaving test in February 2000, and as Fort Bragg and similar campuses started adding more generators, photovoltaics, microturbines, windmills, inverters, and batteries to these distributed energy networks, the microgrid concept was born. As a “20-year-old energy tech survivor,” Encorp has learned something new with every one of its 400 microgrid client projects—both in the US, and recently, India—says PI Encorp CEO Michael Clark. He adds that the challenge is often to enable legacy generation hardware to talk to the new network, though newer equipment such as inverters can sometimes be equally troublesome. Encorp’s “Gold Box” GPC, developed with grants from the Department of Energy, might be thought of as a kind of universal adapter that solves that problem. The current generation GPC is a solid-state, open protocol device that’s become the cornerstone of a full service company offering design and startup services, customer training, technical support, remote monitoring, operational management, switchgear, and distributed system control software. Demand for microgrids is growing, Clark says, and not just in early adopter states such as California and New York. “Small towns in places like Wisconsin, Connecticut, and New Jersey are seeing the logic as well,” he says, especially since 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy have added power security and reliability to their concerns. An example of what microgrids may be evolving into might be the tantalizing science experiment that serves distributed power resources to more than 30,000 people at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). The UCI Microgrid serves several types of buildings and fleets of cars and buses running on several kinds of renewable fuel. As configured today, the microgrid networks more than 3 MW of solar power, a 19-MW natural gas-fired combined cycle plant, centralized chilling with a 4.5-million-gallon thermal energy storage tank and a Southern California Edison substation supplying power from the grid at reduced voltage. The microgrid provides heating and cooling, energy, and thermal monitoring, and metering and control to all major buildings. It integrates electric and hydrogen vehicle charging stations, and it’s all connected via a 1-mile utility tunnel hidden under the campus central park. As microgrids reach such levels of complexity, data-rich energy management and “Internet of Things” operability hasn’t been lost on developers like MelRok LLC, whose cloud-based, scalable EnergiStream Platform (ESP) interfaces with UCI’s Microgrid’s simulation model to provide real time information and analytics. Even just calibrated with conventional sub-meters, UCI’s Microgrid Model has been an invaluable resource that’s helped UCI explore how best to add photovoltaic arrays, molten carbonate fuel cells, advanced inverter controls, and thermal storage. MelRok’s ESP is taking the data from 100 new, advanced meters and the existing meters and returning insight into cost, weather normalization, profiling, load forecasts, thresholds, and alerts so that UCI can now better control the microgrid. The microgrid has successfully disconnected from the grid without power interruption, and can now participate as a smart power for the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). And the ability to monitor, control, and optimize energy input and consumption leaps from buildings to power networks, an energy revolution may be taking shape. “Peer-to-peer energy sharing, is inevitable in the near-term future,” says Kevin Meagher, COO of PowerAnalytics Corporation, a software company that’s betting its own 20-year microgrid-building business on that proposition. Acquired by Causam Energy in 2014, PowerAnalytics has recontextualized its software and services and transformed its market strategy. The company has recently added a new development front-end to its legacy DesignBase and Paladin cloud-based software for designing distributed energy systems. Its purpose is to help partner companies solve the power engineering part of letting neighbors and enterprises successfully trade energy. “It’s all about optimizing Moore’s Law, the Law of Thermodynamics, and market constraints to get the best energy performance possible,” says Meagher. “And solving the power problem will enable the energy industry to leapfrog the paradigm of load-solving.” Markets are based upon predictability, Meagher says, and when you can predict your golden goose’s future output, you can monetize the forecasts. As inverters that can maximize solar penetration, real-time grid communication, and solar forecasting become widely available, utilities are becoming more willing to pay more for energy from rooftops and do so for longer periods. As more generation types and especially energy storage become part of the distributed energy equation, peering is going to take off, Meagher says. “Various storage technologies are being experimented with, from electrochemical batteries to thermal, hydroelectric, and even compressed air,” he explains. “But, however it evolves, storage is going to enable distributed providers to monetize their energy output in new ways.” Andrew Krulewitz, Director of Marketing and Product at Growing Energy Labs Inc. (GELI), agrees. The solar-plus-storage market is expected to grow from $42 million in 2014, to more than $1 billion by 2018. Hawaii is brimming with so much solar that the utilities have placed a moratorium on further installations, he says, adding that such growth is awakening the US to the potentials of new revenue streams from distributed generation and storage. “It’s not hard to imagine whole neighborhoods disconnecting from the grid in the near future, and as energy storage becomes efficient, we can start building tradable surpluses. We’re not there yet,” concedes Krulewitz. “Currently, we’re focusing on helping enterprises backup 10 to 20% of their load through storage and smart distribution capacities. But energy storage R&D grants are being issued at a fast clip, prices are dropping, and storage is becoming more and more financially viable.” GELI itself formed in 2010 to build better large grid-scale batteries, but soon moved to fill a void of operating systems for unifying energy generation and storage with its GELI Energy Operating System (EOS). The system lets users plug in any configuration of energy assets from EMSs, electric vehicle chargers, and home-scale or grid-scale batteries; to thermal energy storage, grid power, natural gas generators, and solar arrays. The EOS then aggregates available resources, pricing, demand load data, user priorities, and other considerations to calculate the best plan for optimizing supply and demand over the entire energy network. “Essentially, we’re building the drivers to make everything work together,” says Krulewitz. As the grid moves more and more to the distributed sharing model, the EOS will more and more empower users to monitor demand, sell energy to the grid at optimal times, and help battery manufacturers monetize multiple value streams. The GELI EOS has most recently shown what it can do in an installation for the City Hall in Benecia, CA. Like many well-intentioned organizations the City of Benecia discovered that electric vehicle chargers can drive major demand spikes, sometimes at inconvenient times. A spike might modestly impact energy bills at one hour and be hugely expensive at another. GELI’s installation now helps the City Hall, which derives its power from both a solar array and the grid, solve the problem by telling the EV chargers when to run off the grid, the solar array, or the battery array. This year, GELI is collaborating with storage manufacturer Imergy Power Systems on a microgrid project at Los Positas College in Livermore, CA, funded by a $1.5 million California Energy Commission grant. The EOS will coordinate Imergy vanadium batteries capable of storing 250 kW and delivering 1 MWh, an existing 2.35-MW solar array, 10 electric vehicle charge stations, and 3,200 ton-hours of ice energy storage. The project will reduce peak charges, improve the Chabot-Los Positas College district’s energy independence, and likely save $75,000 a year. Once we can design storage systems that keep users days ahead of their loads, emerging ancillary markets will hockey-stick, and the Internet of Energy will follow, once user-friendly business models get worked out, Krulewitz says. Neighborhoods and networks of enterprises will be able to pool their energy to even out peaks and troughs, and become even greater net energy producers. In the short term, EMSs at the facility-level embracing “Internet of Things” technology can help enterprises generate significant energy savings, help users customize productive work environments for themselves, and can pay for themselves quickly as installation and maintenance costs decline precipitously. But the longer-term prospects can’t be ignored either. GELI’s Krulewitz says the latest crop of building and EMSs are “making our job a lot easier. He says, “Building management systems collect all of a building’s data at a single coordination point. Tapping in at one point is a lot easier than treating building systems separately.” And the better the EMSs resolution, precision, and responsiveness, the better it will play with the GELI EOS, or whatever else might be running things at larger scales. The more precisely you can tell what’s happening in a building, the more possible it becomes to push and price a precise amount of energy into the forward energy market. As the precision and predictability becomes the norm, virtual power plants will emerge, and it will become possible to achieve benefits and revenues far beyond what conservation and peak savings can generate alone. Mark Scott Lavin writes on efficiency and the environment.
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