Architects have always been on the cutting edge of design—and today's issues of energy efficiency, global warming and equipment control represent today's “design edge.” As emphasis on energy efficiency has expanded, architects and designers have responded with enhanced energy efficient designs. The coming trends in the utility industry once again provide increasing opportunity. This time it will be building owner cost savings through…Automation and Connectivity.
There are a number of concepts with which today's architect or designer must familiarize himself or herself if they are to assure modernity in their designs. Demand Response, ZigBee networks, and Advanced Metering Infrastructure are some of the most current.
Demand Response Today, utility commissions in almost every state have ordered utilities to implement, or at a minimum, study the concept of controlling dispatchable electric loads; typically referred to as “Demand Response.” Electric utilities ask commercial and industrial customers to reduce electric consumption during critical times by allowing the utility or an independent curtailment provider (aggregator) direct control over certain electrical loads. Alternatively, a signal may be received by a building owner or operator, and they in turn drop a portion of the load. Utility control is implemented to ensure grid reliability. Demand Response through remote curtailment often provides an additional revenue stream to the building owner, as well as mitigate high energy pricing during peak demand periods. This ultimately reduces cost to customers. And just like energy efficiency, demand responsiveness is easier, less expensive, and simpler when the control protocol is incorporated into the design rather than an item considered as an afterthought.
While many programs currently focus on controlling air conditioning and motor loads, utilities are looking to lighting as the next target application for Demand Response. Electric utilities are investing billions into infrastructure—enter the Smart Meter and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). Across the nation, utilities are installing smart meters in businesses and homes creating two-way networks so the utility can remotely read meters, connect and disconnect services, and signal equipment to reduce electric consumption at critical times.
Through the communication connectivity and control integration of AMI and the designers' integrated design, these networks provide building owners the ability to better manage costs while enjoying the benefits of automation. This increased functionality allows owners to participate in new and emerging programs and tariffs, which will allow them to reduce operating costs while increasing electrical grid efficacy and reliability. But the entire portfolio of initiatives goes beyond today's idea of a smart meter. Before we know it, “plugged-in” smart designs will be the standard.
Communication Protocols “Response-enabled” messages must, at a minimum, provide businesses the awareness of what is happening on the electric grid and what benefit their participation provides. This is accomplished with a message datacast to every participating facility providing the energy manager the ability and awareness of when to respond. The most reliable responses are automated, and this is accomplished with new grid-aware wireless systems.
Understanding how these concepts integrate into design starts at the point where the automation signal is sent and received—the communication protocol. One protocol that holds real promise is the ZigBee network.
ZigBee is a mesh network communication standard utilizing a 2.4 GHz frequency (an open and unlicensed protocol) operating through a Gateway format such as BACnet and LonWorks for building management, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems (SCADA), and Modbus for industrial networks. The Gateway allows disparate networks to exchange information. Wireless sensor networks, such as ZigBee, are well suited for the harsh radio frequency (RF) environments common in commercial and industrial (C&I) applications.
As applied to the C&I marketplace, ZigBee is about enhancing reliability through control. This wireless technology allows the building owner to integrate and centralize management of lighting, heating, cooling, and security. Under the heading of building management, one can also automate control of multiple systems to improve conservation, flexibility, and security.
Optimizing lighting controls using an open protocol like ZigBee enables integration of a mesh network comprised of 100 percent digital microprocessor-based devices with embedded radios. The network is scalable and flexible up to 65,000 network nodes where the lighting ballasts become the control and communication nodes providing the Digital Lighting Network (DLN) backbone. Control ranges from a single personal space to an enterprise distribution. The selected software and user interfaces determine the user experience. One such interface, which incorporates the system's real-time monitoring, web-based automation and load shedding capability is the Lutron Electronics Digital microWATT system. This system connects analog devices making the devices “smarter”, meaning building owners and managers get the best of both worlds: Use of existing analog components (retaining reliability and reducing operational costs), along with the added value of digital technology integrated to outside networks.
Mesh network proponents suggest that the use of a standard protocol with appropriate software will simplify lighting control system design and commissioning in new construction and retrofit applications, as well as reducing cost and complexity of system installation. This is accomplished by using a common platform, which is more cost effective than creating a new proprietary solution every time a technology is implemented. Utilities are interested in using the AMI technology on their electric distribution system integrated into their SCADA systems, and then combined with a ZigBee local area network in the business to communicate with lighting systems, thermostats, and other controllable devices.
One Final Thought… There is growing concern that Global Warming may be accelerating at an alarming pace. California's Assembly Bill 32, “The California Global Solutions Warming Act of 2006” requires the state to study ways of mitigating greenhouse gases through load control or mitigation. Demand Response and load automation will certainly play a role.
Understanding how the utilities intend to implement these smart technologies and how the technologies interface with architectural design is essential. Request your utility to present at industry meetings or invite them into your offices. Architects and lighting designers enhance professionalism and the value delivered to customers by assuring designs offer customers functionality for today and… for tomorrow.
Mr. Ander is a member of numerous professional organizations and serves on the Board of Directors of the Sustainable Building Industry Council, the New Buildings Institute, the Collaborative for High Performance Schools, and the California Commissioning Collaborative. He is the author of Daylighting Performance and Design and has won awards for various energy related projects. Mr. Ander has executive produced six environmentally-focused television programs. “Greener Buildings/Bluer Skies,” won a 2006 Emmy Award.