Internet ups power grid IQ

By Ted Smalley Bowen, Technology Research News

Despite decades of advances in building controls, electric grid management tools and communications technology, buildings remain fairly isolated and uncoordinated consumers of electricity.

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have devised a system that leverages communications across the Internet to adjust building power use.

In a two-week test that involved five commercial buildings, the researchers showed that it was possible to use Internet-based price broadcasting to vary power use according to predetermined price thresholds. During the test, five different commercial buildings management systems responded to price adjustments within two minutes, said Mary Ann Piette, principal investigator of Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

Such systems could cut business and consumer power use and help prevent blackouts, according to Piette. Similar systems could eventually be used to coordinate power use based on other criteria, including energy-trading schemes and brownout prevention.

During the test, the researchers broadcast the pricing information, formatted in the Web-standard Extensible Markup Language (XML), to an Albertsons grocery store in Oakland, a Bank of America office building in Concord, the Roche Palo Alto biotechnology facility, a library at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland.

The University of California at Santa Barbara library building systems were managed by Itron Enterprise Energy Management Suite software, the Bank of America office building by Webgen Intelligent Use of Energy, Roche Palo Alto by Tridium Vykon Energy Systems, the Dellums Federal Building in Oakland by BACnet systems, and the Albertsons by Engage Networks/elutions.

The building management software was tailored for use with Internet-based demand-response systems -- modified to interpret XML signals, for instance -- under programs sponsored by the California Energy Commission.

Berkeley researchers wrote an XML schema based on work by Infotility Inc., an energy market information software and Web services company.

The Berkeley Lab twice signaled price increases that triggered reductions in the buildings' energy use -- at 30-cents and 75-cents per hour -- following criteria established by the buildings' facility managers. The building control systems triggered the required adjustments within two minutes, said Piette.

The test was a good if narrow proof of building energy management systems' ability to respond to price changes, according to Stephen Connors, coordinator and multidisciplinary research director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.

Beyond price, systems could be programmed to respond to changes in air quality, to participate in emissions trading schemes, to tap into sustainable energy sources, to coordinate the responses of groups of buildings, and possibly to minimize local brownout threats and price spikes, according to Connors. "There's still some wiggle room. But, all in all, it's a very cool beginning," he said.

Potential also exists in cutting demand internally, in addition to responding to external conditions, said Connors. "A kilowatt hour saved is a kilowatt hour saved."

The technical hurdles in carrying out the two-week test at the five different sites included configuring Web services properly at all test sites, installing measurements systems to capture data on the buildings' reductions in electricity demand, and describing poorly documented systems, according to Piette.

The researchers are gearing up to test systems from more vendors, analyze the cost of such technology, and figure out how to integrate it with current demand-response programs and tariff schemes, she said.

Piette's colleagues were Osman Sezgen, David Watson, and Naoya Motegi from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Joseph Desmond and Nicholas Kardas from Infotility, Inc., Gaymond Yee of the California Institute for Energy Efficiency, Christine Shockman, of Shockman Consulting, and Ron Hofmann, a California Energy Commission consultant. The research was funded by the California Energy Commission.

Timeline:  Now
Funding:   Government
TRN Categories:  Energy; Internet
Story Type:   News
Related Elements:   None


June 16/23, 2004

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