Self-Organizing Equipment Will Help Cut Buildings' Energy Bills


photo by vagawi via Flickr CC

We all know that bees represent an extremely efficient social networking system. Using that buzzing example, a Toronto start-up is figuring out how to network a building's equipment in order to avoid big spikes in energy use, and therefore steer clear of big bills for peak-demand energy consumption. The company is essentially using smart grid technologies and a proprietary "swarm algorithm" to make sure that energy use stays at a steady, and cheap, rate when things like air conditioners and heaters need to kick on.

REGEN Energy has developed a wireless controller that connects to the control box on a piece of building equipment and functions as a smart power switch. Once several controllers have been activated, they detect each other using a networking standard called ZigBee and begin negotiating the best times to turn equipment on and off. The devices learn the power cycles of each appliance and reconfigure them to maximize collective efficiency.

Each device that is hooked up to the network thinks for itself and takes into account what the other devices are doing to make decisions on if it should turn on or off. This kind of thinking is exactly how building equipment should be organized, because it allows the building to run in its most efficient state. Combining a power networking system like this with highly energy efficient building design and equipment would minimize the energy consumption of places like hospitals, malls, restaurants and other buildings that use energy intensive equipment.

The devices are easy to install, and no special training is needed to utilize them. That means businesses and building owners can save a lot both upfront and in the long run by avoiding overconsumption of power.

Tests have so far demonstrated that building owners--of hospitals, hotels, shopping malls, factories, and other large facilities--could save as much as 30 percent on their peak-demand charges. Those savings, REGEN claims, more than cover the cost of renting the devices, which is an option for major electricity consumers reluctant to buy the technology up front. If the devices are purchased, the payback is less than three years

It sounds like a perfect solution not only for buildings, but for homes as well - and the smart grid in general. However, like everything else regarding smart grid technology, engineers are wary about taking the swarm logic to a bigger scale because it's new and hasn't been extensively tested. If enough people latch on to REGEN Energy's devices and test them, perhaps we'll have biomimicry, bees, and innovative thinkers to thank for a smart power grid.

Via Technology Review
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Tags: Biomimicry | Electronics | Energy Efficiency | Gadgets

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