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Smart grids move into mainstream

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by Daily Commercial News

Building automation and wireless sensor networks — smart grids — can improve the efficiency of HVAC systems, lighting systems and appliances.
Korky Koroluk
Korky Koroluk

We’re going to be hearing a lot about smart grids in the months and years to come.

When we hear of them now, most of us think of electrical power grids that can not only deliver electricity to users, but also receive power back from clients using photovoltaic arrays, small wind turbines, even small hydro facilities.

But smart-grid technology has applications far beyond that.

The true smart grid allows both energy generators and energy users to react to events in real time — as things are actually happening— using modern information technology that can be put to use in more localized situations.

There are any number of companies and non-commercial organizations that are looking for ways to make our world greener. One of them, The Green Grid, is a consortium of companies, large and small, that is concerned with the carbon footprint of energy use within IT systems. As part of their work, they have done some studies on green construction, and the use of IT in zero- and low-emission buildings.

The group has found that one key thing the architecture-engineering-construction sector can do to lower carbon emissions is to improve the efficiency of HVAC systems, lighting systems and appliances. And it has found that building automation and wireless sensor networks — smart grids — can help.

Sensors and data loggers at one time were the preserve of researchers, but that has changed. Their price has come down and reliability has improved. They have also became simpler to use as wireless technology matures and as the Web evolves as a platform for many kinds of collaboration and management functions.

We now have developers producing products that are exclusively Web-based. So now, there are companies designing and selling wireless monitoring and management programs for HVAC and energy systems. They will read things like temperature, humidity, AC voltage, AC amperage, and gauge and differential pressure in the HVAC system. And the relevant software is designed to control and manage systems from a platform on the Web.

There are also weather stations that collect data needed for the design and management of green roofs.

Anyone wanting both a green roof and LEED rating points for it must be able to document the roof’s performance, and weather stations are ideal for the job. So far these stations are self-contained systems, and not part of a smart grid. But IT development is so rapid that this statement might already be out of date.

These devices can measure wind speed and direction, rainfall, stormwater runoff, temperature, relative humidity, and any number of other things 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The data they collect can help the building operator make good choices about tuning and maintaining the roof.

Integrating the operation of weather stations into the overall building management systems might make a lot of sense — especially since the phenomenon of green building keeps growing.

FMI Corp., a firm offering both investment banking and management consulting for the worldwide construction industry, noted in a recent study that green, non-residential construction in the United States was worth $13.4 billion in 2006, and forecast that it would grow to $21.2 billion this year.

The company suggests that contractors willing to take on green building projects, as well as offering continuing green services, are likely to improve their competitive position.

That’s why many in the industry are paying such close attention to the development of smart grids. When The Green Grid holds a series of technical forums in a couple of weeks, ASHRAE members will be on the list of speakers.

As smart grids move into the main stream, every building contractor and many of the subs will ultimately be involved with them.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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