Unlock energy efficiency potential with wireless automation systems

Monitoring devices in new plants and retrofits need no wires and no batteries.

By Graham Martin, EnOcean Alliance

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Wireless automation systems play a key role in reducing energy consumption. They can help to improve the carbon footprint of plants with a quick return on investment. World energy consumption will increase 56% by 2040, using 820 quadrillion Btu, but will already reach 639 quadrillion Btu by 2020, six years from now, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration, World energy demand and economic outlook, July 2013. This development is closely linked to CO2 emissions and global warming. In the past few years, areas in the United States have experienced high temperatures, wildfires, and droughts. These weather events could become more prevalent with the threat of climate change. As temperatures increase and as population grows, the drain on power capacity will lead to more brownouts and rolling blackouts.

Fossil fuels have fallen out of favor, nuclear power is viewed as risky, and renewable energy is nowhere near the point at which it can take the place of coal. Energy efficiency, in the minds of many, is a vital component to mitigating energy-related demand and curbing the impact that the rising cost of electricity has on a business’ bottom line.

Energy harvesting wireless systems could become more popular in monitoring and controlling energy-efficient facilities.

Hot demand for cooling

energy efficiency potentialAn important statistic to consider when discussing the future of energy demand is that nearly all of the world’s booming cities are located in the tropics, according to the 10th edition of Demographia World Urban Areas, published in May 2014 and written by Wendell Cox. These hot and humid areas will be home to nearly 1 billion new power-consuming individuals by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute report, “Urban world: Cities and the rise of the consuming class, published in June 2012 and written by Richard Dobbs, Jaana Remes, James Manyika, Charles Roxburgh, Sven Smit and Fabian Schaer. As population grows and as temperatures rise, demand for air conditioning will grow. China, as a matter of comparison, is expected to surpass the United States as the world’s biggest user of electricity for air conditioning by 2020, according to Stan Cox in his July 2012 article, “Cooling a Warming Planet: A Global Air Conditioning Surge,” published on environment360. Air conditioning not only consumes considerable energy but also releases planet-warming emissions. But air conditioning is not all bad; it does offer thermal comfort.

The aim of an efficient HVAC system is to minimize energy consumption while providing healthy and productive indoor environments. Conversely, poor air quality or a lack of thermal comfort can have adverse impacts. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy states, “In commercial office spaces, Sick Building Syndrome is a real concern, and can be a result of HVAC systems that don’t adequately distribute air to occupants. Efficient HVAC systems should ensure that occupants get adequate, filtered, fresh air. Typically, inefficient systems are not only energy-inefficient, but also ineffective at doing their intended function.”

Scientific studies show, for example, that health and productivity rise significantly if indoor temperature is cooled in hot weather, according to Lea Sabbag in “Temperature Impacts on Health, Productivity, and Infrastructure in the Urban Setting, and Options for Adaptation,” a paper published in 2013 by the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International. “It is true that air conditioning made the economy happen for Singapore and is doing so for other emerging economies,” states Pawel Wargocki, associate professor at the International Center for Indoor Environment and Energy at the Technical University of Denmark and president of the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate. The demand for cooling is all the rage in India, where air conditioning has become a cultural priority, forcing scientists to scramble to invent more efficient air conditioners and better coolant gases to minimize use and emissions. This demonstrates the beneficial relationship that HVAC systems can have with economic development. Without air conditioning, no one could effectively and efficiently do business in Singapore.

The cost of electricity

energy efficiency potential3In addition to the warming trends in the more northern climates, southern states, as well as tropical environments, are forced to cool their spaces, sometimes year-round. In places such as Hawaii and around the Caribbean, electricity is typically generated with petroleum-based products. In Hawaii, transportation consumes 63% of the state’s imported oil, while electricity generation uses about 30%. The issue here is that the cost of electricity fluctuates due to variations in the price of fuel used in power plants.

In some regions of the Caribbean, the use of petroleum products for power generation is around 75%. While manufacturers in the United States pay somewhere between $0.04 and $0.06 per kWh for electricity, manufacturers in the Caribbean pay around $0.38.

Significant effects with automation

Contributing factors like warmer temperatures and the inevitable rise in electricity prices make the need for energy management even more critical. Energy management, by definition, is the process of monitoring, controlling, and conserving energy in a facility. Energy management systems that utilize energy harvesting wireless building automation and control technology hold the key to saving energy. These wireless technologies can be used for retrofitting existing spaces, and, with no batteries, there is virtually no maintenance. Such a solution controlling HVAC and lighting can be expected to save anywhere from 20% to 50% on energy.

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