As alluring as building anew is, it’s usually not possible, and may not be necessary. Similarly, retrofitting may be arduous, expensive, and disruptive to employees. Alternatively, a commercial building may amass greater — and faster — savings through smarter management of its existing HVAC and lighting infrastructures than by installing costly new air handlers and lamps. It’s the consumptive equivalent of why pass new laws when the ones already on the books aren’t being enforced.
Consider a simple scenario. Visiting a hotel in South Korea recently, Eric Smith, chief technology officer at automation-systems manufacturer Control4 complained that his room was too hot despite an outside temperature of 40 degrees F. “I was frying. Their solution? They rolled a portable air conditioner into my room with no place to vent the hot exhaust.” It’s enough make one nostalgic for windows that actually open.
Smith’s team at Control4 is developing technology to preempt similar situations. Ambient light and temperature sensors in a hotel room can ensure that only as much lighting as needed is supplied. Sensor data, including sunshine levels and outside temperature, can be checked against a calendar and used to initiate the raising or lowering of shades. “If the window blinds are closed in the winter, why not open them up to bring in light and heat,” Smith says. Tied into the hotel reservation system and knowing when rooms are booked or vacant, environmental control systems can set lights and HVAC to the appropriate state. The same applies to conference rooms.
Roque Island, a tiny blip of land off the rocky Maine coastline, is about as far away from Korea as one can get, but it’s here where the push to control energy use intelligently has taken center stage. Anna Demeo, a lecturer in physics and sustainable energy at the College of The Atlantic in Bar Harbor and a Ph.D. candidate in ocean engineering, is advancing smart grid technology. Collaborating with integrated control-solutions manufacturer Savant Systems, the two are finding ways to understand, predict, and manage electrical loads — technology that’s directly transferable to office buildings, hospitals, hotels, factory floors, and houses of worship.
“This research is about understanding the amount of power available through wind, solar, and tidal, and turning electrical loads on or off as necessary,” says Demeo. Though not everyone