November 22, 2011, 5:12 PM — Several years back, I had the opportunity to cover a startup that had developed a system for monitoring and managing energy consumption using Zigbee – a communication standard for active 2.4 MHz, low-power wireless devices —and “swarm intelligence” – a mechanism based on the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems (think of the way bees work independently toward the shared goal of building a hive and making honey).
The company, Regen Energy, is based in Toronto and is selling its solution to midsize and large facilities, such as multi-unit residential structures, office buildings, hotels, warehouses and shopping malls. Regen Energy’s EnviroGrid system comprides smart controllers embedded with sensors that monitor energy consumption, and microchips encoded with unique identification numbers. The controllers share their sensor data and IDs with each other via the ZigBee standard for creating mesh networks. Each controller determines when to regulate an electrical load, such as an HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system, by evaluating its own data and the information from nearby controllers. EnviroGrid analyzes the collective data, then smooths out the combined electrical demand. The goal is to reduce energy consumption yet still ensure enough energy to keep things like heating, ventilation and air conditioning optimally configured and running smoothly.
I found the whole process fascinating, and know that similar, smart energy management solutions continue to make their way into the market. In fact, earlier this month, BT announced that it is rolling out a smart energy management and control system across thousands of its offices, telephone exchanges and data centers – with the expectation that the U.K. telecom company will cut as much as £13 million a year, or $20.7 million from its energy bills. The company also says it expects to reduce its carbon footprint by 5 percent, a reduction equivalent to the annual emissions from electricity supplied to 23,000 houses.
BT doesn’t say which products it will be using, nor does it provide many details on how they will work. The description given – that the smart meters will wirelessly monitor energy consumption and environment conditions sounds as if there will be sensors, mesh networking and RF communications. There’s also a central system that will cull all the data from the smart meters as well as from invoices and building energy management and control systems.