Fresh news on smart grid and green technologies
While data center operators are generally a lot better at cooling management than they were ten years ago, many facilities still face issues that prevent them from either using their full capacity or wasting energy.
Lars Strong, senior engineer at Upsite Technologies, a data center cooling specialist, says the ultimate goal in airflow management is to have better control of cooling temperature set points for IT air intake, while minimizing the volume of air you’re delivering to the data hall.
We asked Strong and Wally Phelps, director of engineering at AdaptivCool, another company that specializes in thermal management in data centers, to list some of the most common issues they see in data centers they visit. Here is what they said:
1. Phantom leakage: This is leakage of cold air from the plenum under the raised floor into adjacent spaces or into support columns. Phelps says such breaches are fairly common and cause everything from loss of pressure in the IT environment to allowing warm, dusty or humid air from elsewhere to enter. The only way to avoid this problem is to go under the raised floor, inspect the perimeter and support columns and seal any holes you may find.
2. Too many perforated tiles: There is absolutely no reason to have perforated tiles in hot aisles and whitespace areas. It is a waste of cooling capacity. It is also possible to have too many perforated tiles on the intake side of the racks. One red flag is lower-than-normal air temperature at the top of IT racks, Phelps said.
3. Unsealed raised-floor openings: While many data center operators have made an effort to seal cable openings and other holes in their raised floors, very few have actually finished the job, Strong says. The holes that are left over can cause a lot of cold air to escape into areas where it is unneeded. One particularly important place to look for unsealed openings is under electrical gear, such as power distribution units or remote power panels.
EnerNOC, Inc. (Nasdaq:ENOC), a leading provider of energy intelligence software (EIS), today announced the release of its newest software update. This update includes the Company’s new predictive energy algorithm and tariff engine, empowering enterprise customers to predict energy costs with a high degree of accuracy. The new capabilities provide a granular view into future energy usage and spend to help users optimize consumption and reduce peak demand charges, which can comprise 30% or more of total monthly electricity costs.
“Whether a customer has one site, ten sites, or 1,000, the demand management capabilities in this software update are beneficial,” said Micah Remley, Vice President of Product Strategy and Technology at EnerNOC. “This release takes what we do exceptionally well in demand response at the system level, arms customers with the information to understand when they are at risk of setting a new individual peak – and how much money could be saved by avoiding it – and empowers them to be proactive in taking control of energy costs and mitigating expenses.”
The addition of predictive capabilities to EnerNOC’s energy intelligence platform, coupled with customer-specific tariff data from Genability, which the Company invested in earlier this year, gives users the visibility they need in financial terms to make informed operational decisions, such as when it is worth shifting load or curtailing energy intensive activities. Independent research firm Verdantix notes, “EnerNOC is placing significant emphasis on the actual cost of energy as opposed to the absolute level of power consumption.” (Verdantix, EnerNOC Gets the Focus Right With New Software Strategy, June 2014)
“To control the costs of most commodities, it’s about managing price per unit and how much you use overall. Energy is unique because there’s a third dimension – when you use it – that has a significant impact on your total bill. EnerNOC’s predictive analytics engine gives enterprises the unparalleled ability to plan ahead and make small but timely operational adjustments that unlock big savings,” said Tim Healy, Chairman and CEO of EnerNOC.
A trade group plans to publish a specification for building an Internet of Things software stack using the Internet Protocol. The effort is part of a growing trend toward implementing IP in embedded systems.
The IP for Smart Objects Alliance (IPSO Alliance) will publish at least one reference architecture this year for an IP-based IoT stack. It will also release a basic set of smart object data types for IoT communications over a variety of higher-level transports, including HTTP, CoAP, MQTT, and DDS.
“IPSO is transforming itself from a group focused on educating people why to [educating them on] how to use IP, so we’re helping identify a proper set of standards for IoT,” Geoff Mulligan, the group’s chairman, told EE Times.
The group will not create a software stack, but it will offer a reference architecture that engineers could implement in different ways. The smart objects are a set of software modules for handling specific IoT functions, such as lighting control.
A handful of open source software stacks for the IoT are available or in the works, including Contiki, OpenWSN, and an effort by Douglas Comer at Purdue. In addition, the Zigbee Alliance recently announced support for IP.
Venture capital (VC) funding into smart grid companies came in at $81 million in 13 deals during the second quarter of this year (Q2’14), according to a new report from Mercom Capital Group. That is compared to $101 million in 21 deals during the first quarter.
The report says the top VC-funded companies in Q2’14 were led by ChargePoint, a provider of an open electric vehicle (EV) charging network, which raised $22.6 million. Sunverge Energy, a developer and manufacturer of distributed energy management systems, raised $15 million, and On-Ramp Wireless, a developer of wireless solutions for energy automation and M2M communications, received $13.6 million in an amended funding round.
Gridco Systems, a smart power management technology company for utilities and industrial power consumers, raised $12 million, and rounding out the top five deals was GeoDigital International, a provider of geospatial information solutions to the electric utility, which raised $5.8 million.
Siemens Smart Grid has introduced a new mobile-web application which will allow utilities to maximize customer engagement and increase operational efficiency.
The application, dubbed Energy Engage Mobile, enables consumers to take control of their electricity, water, and gas consumption in near real-time and view their estimated bill.
The company said the mobile-enabled site displays account alerts and tips as well as price information, enabling users to see the existing cost of electricity per unit and transfer usage to off-peak times to avoid higher energy rates.
Lisa Caswell, president of eMeter, a Siemens Business, said it is essential in today’s world to put energy usage information directly into the hands of utility customers.
“Utilities can provide Energy Engage Mobile to their customer’s whether they be Commercial and Industrial clients or residential, to help meet energy efficiency and customer satisfaction goals, and complement engagement initiatives around smart grid programs,” Caswell added.
The City of Fort Collins, Colorado is currently offering Energy Engage Mobile application to its utility customers.
The application is being used in the city’s advanced metering project, enabling customers access to see interval reads for water use and electric usage.
When working with consumer devices that plug into a smart grid, there’s no substitute for field testing, particularly of mobile, battery-operated devices. In addition, the use of home gateways can simplfy testing for utilities and give consumers more choice.
Those are two of the lessons we learned at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) in the last several years working on our SmartSacramento smart grid program.
Fueled by a $127.5 million grant from the Department of Energy (DoE), we deployed 615,000 smart meters to our customers running on a two-way advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) network that connects those meters to Home Area Network (HAN) devices.
Between 2012 and 2013, we also deployed about 6,700 HAN devices. SMUD chose to deploy only ZigBee SEP 1.1 HAN devices to capitalize on their stronger security and the ability to upgrade to SEP 2.
In 2011, we recognized the need for a certification and testing program for the various HAN devices. At that time, many of the large California utilities had developed their own in-house testing labs. Given the pressure of our DoE deadlines, we took a hybrid approach, using both internal and external testing.
The latest in a long line of would-be standards for the internet of things (IoT), Thread is positioning itself against Bluetooth Smart and Z-Wave as the personal area network of choice for the smart home. Backed by the powerhouses of Google (via Nest) and Samsung, Thread is based on the 802.15.4 specification, and so its best chance of success will be to unite the advantages, and the supporter bases, of two 15.4-based standards, ZigBee and 6LoWPAN.
The Thread Group initially contains Nest, the smart home gadgets maker owned by Google, and Samsung, along with ARM, Freescale, Silicon Labs, Yale Security and ceiling fan maker, Big Ass Fans. Samsung and Google both have devices as their entry point to the smart home, and from there the broader IoT, but have ambitions to influence the whole stack, using ‘open’ vehicles to try squeeze mutual arch-rival Apple back behind its garden walls.
In contrast to some other recent IoT groupings – such as the AllSeen Alliance, based on Qualcomm’s AllJoyn technology, and the Open Interconnect Consortium, led by Intel – Thread aims to standardize the physical network which could then support any of those higher layer standards.
Thread is initially heavily focused on 6LoWPAN, because it is already used by Nest, and because it supports IPv6, important to ensure the IoT is future-proofed against running out of address space. 6LoWPAN is effectively a version of IP for the embedded space, providing a compression format for IPv6 that is optimized for low power, low bandwidth wireless links.
But the new body also hopes to lure the larger base of ZigBee developers, claiming many ZigBee devices could be upgraded to support Thread with just a software update. Attracting a home-focused ZigBee company like GreenPeak would be a valuable endorsement in the first major target market, the smart house.
Thread will add software to the 802.15.4/IPv6 foundation, for functions such as routing, set-up, security and device wake-up, to standardize these capabilities and reduce power. The Thread group will provide testing and certification for its specifications, emulating WiFi and Bluetooth rather than the more splintered ZigBee. Some Nest products already use an early form of Thread, rather than vanilla 6LoWPAN, pointing to the heavy influence of Google’s subsidiary on the shape of these specs, though there is also likely to be considerable input from ARM via its Sensinode acquisition. The Finnish software firm was a significant contributor to 6LoWPAN and other low power M2M standards.
Data analytics for the smart grid tends to come in two different flavors. In one corner, there are the big, expensive deployments from IT vendors like Oracle, IBM, EMC, Teradata, and of course, the startup that would be the energy data analytics king, C3 Energy. In the other corner, there are the remaining startups, which may offer only a fraction of what the big boys promise, but also come at a fraction of the price.
At least, that’s the general understanding of how the still-nascent utility data analytics market is developing. It’s hard to know for sure, because most utilities aren’t disclosing how much they’re paying for the latest large-scale deployments, although they’re quick to announce how much value they’re expecting to get in return.
That makes any information about comparative pricing worth hunting down. One such glimpse comes from California municipal utility Glendale Water & Power, which has publicly disclosed a February report (PDF) that shows a serious price difference between big contenders Oracle and C3 and the winning vendor, Escondido, Calif.-based startup Detectent.
Which group will solve the interoperability problem?
1. The Thread Group
Developed by Google’s Nest Labs, ARM and Samsung, Thread is designed to build a low-power mesh network as an alternative to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more.
Thread, which uses 2.4GHz unlicensed spectrum, is built on existing standards, such as IEEE 802.15.4, IETF IPv6 and 6LoWPAN, meaning that existing devices which use ZigBee / 6LoWPAN etc. can easily migrate to Thread.
It doesn’t rely on a central hub, unlike other smarthome platforms, even though it already connects more than 250 products on the market.
Nest already uses Thread for its smart thermostat and smoke and carbon monoxide alarm, and has also partnered with Mercedes-Benz, Whirlpool and light bulb maker LIFX to integrate their products too.
“The Thread protocol takes existing technologies and combines the best parts of each to provide a better way to connect products in the home,” said Vint Cerf, VP and chief internet evangelist for Google and advisor to the Thread Group.
Freescale, Big Ass Fans, Silicon Labs and Yale Security are other founding members.
2. Open Interconnect Consortium
Unlike Thread, the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) is still defining the wireless connectivity requirements that would enable billions of devices to connect with each other.
Set up last week by Intel, Samsung, Dell and others, OIC is looking to build up on existing technologies, such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Zigbee, with plans to reveal its own open-source software by the third quarter of this year.
The organisation is currently focusing on smart home and office technologies and then plans to target vertical sectors like automotive and health care. It also plans to certify devices that are compliant with its standards.
Other Members include Atmel, Broadcom and Wild River, which are expected to contribute software and engineering resources to develop protocol specification and an open source framework
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Organizations looking to improve their data center efficiency and cut costs can reap benefits by transitioning to a cloud computing model.
The volume of critical data produced by our digital world continues to grow, increasing the need for businesses to acquire expensive and power-hungry technology to support and run data applications. Organizations are struggling to manage big data and adopt newer applications and technologies while addressing the environmental and financial pressures to operate in an efficient and sustainable way.
As a result, businesses are taking more action to increase efficiency through their data centers. A recent survey of business and government energy leaders commissioned by Schneider Electric found that data center efficiency will be one of the most popular energy management approaches for organizations in the next five years. Organizations also are finding new ways to reduce operational expenses and avoid large capital investments.
Often, businesses look to make improvements in the physical infrastructures within their own data centers to reach these goals. However, many have also begun to consider either co-location or cloud providers that promote energy efficiency and sustainable practices.
There has been some debate on the energy efficiency and cost effectiveness of cloud computing, but the idea that cloud computing is inefficient is a myth. Since the cloud business model relies on high data security and operational efficiency, lean operating principles are often employed to improve financial performance. This has resulted in the cloud being a practical solution for businesses looking to lower their costs, improve their risk profiles, and increase their agility and efficiency, allowing them to delay large capital expenditures.
Moving toward a virtualized environment, whether through virtualization of physical servers or by moving applications into the cloud, helps consolidate systems and reduce overall IT electrical load. It can also shift some capital cost into an operational expense and help businesses realize savings in administration, licensing, maintenance, and reduced downtime.
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