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NEWS ANALYSIS
22-Jul-2008
Powering Up (and Down) with EMS
 
 
Energy management systems can be efficient, energy-saving investments for building owners.

Everyone wants smaller energy bills. To conserve power and save money, energy management systems can be an attractive investment for building owners. They provide energy monitoring and control, allowing building managers more insight into where, when, and how energy is used. Many systems also have the capability to automate the energy control process, adjusting heating, cooling, and lighting in response to need.

For years, some building owners could only dream about implementing a complete EMS (energy management system), as various architectural challenges made deployment difficult. In some cases, it may have been prohibitively expensive to run wire, either due to small buildings (where it may be hard to make an EMS cost effective), older buildings, or challenging structures such as concrete walls. Today, some of these same buildings are benefiting from wireless systems and enjoying reduced energy bills.

One EMS company, Spinwave Systems Inc., www.spinwavesystems.com, Westford, Mass., recently brought to market a wireless EMS designed to be scalable for a variety of building sizes. The system includes wireless temperature and humidity sensors, wireless thermostat controllers, wireless gateways, and wireless Modbus RTU (remote terminal unit) radios.

Wireless installation made sense for Archbishop Riordan High School in San Francisco. When HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) contractor Comfort Dynamics, www.comfortdynamics.com, San Leandro, Calif., went looking for a system for the school, it found that Spinwave’s wireless system fit the bill.

The school was doing a radiant heating system retrofit, and needed a new digital control system. Built around 1950, the school had “12-inch-thick concrete floors,” says Paul Tross, lead controls technician, Comfort Dynamics, and “all the existing pneumatic tubing was set in concrete.” The school’s old pneumatic controls—which use pressurized air to control the school’s heating systems—were installed in the poured concrete floors, making Spinwave’s wireless system an attractive proposition.

Depending on how customers use the various components, Spinwave’s EMS lets users implement commands themselves, or a controller onsite can make those decisions. With the wireless system, users can add components with relative ease.

Spinwave’s EMS can integrate with an existing building automation platform or can be used on its own, based on how much complexity users require. Spinwave also recently entered into a partnership with AscentIQ, www.ascentiq.com, Allyn, Wash., in which AscentIQ provides a platform allowing users to integrate the EMS with other business software, such as financial reporting programs.

Customers use Spinwave’s products in a variety of ways, says Rainer Wischinski, vice president of marketing, Spinwave. Customers include system integrators, energy service companies, and demand-response companies. When used to its fullest, the system can monitor and automatically control energy consumption.

To help Riordan High School monitor its energy use, Comfort Dynamics installed 34 wireless temperature sensors and nine wireless repeaters from Spinwave, creating a mesh network. Comfort Dynamics then combined Spinwave’s EMS devices with a Reliable Controls, www.reliablecontrols.com, Victoria, B.C., BACnet DDC (direct digital control) control system. BACnet is a protocol for building automation and control networks. With the new system, the school can now trend temperature data, in addition to a wealth of other information.

“Prior to this they had no idea what the actual temperatures were … because with the pneumatic systems there’s no feedback,” says Tross. Now, the system reads zone temperatures wirelessly and transmits the data to a Web-based interface that allows viewing both on and offsite. The school has the ability to run reports on information such as run times, temperatures, and valve positions.

Tross says the school’s system has been up and running for about 10 months, and “I’ve had zero problems with the wireless stuff,” he says. The school can save energy by using its radiant heating system more efficiently, which is the main appeal of EMS systems.

Wischinski says even a small temperature adjustment can provide big savings. For instance, a system integrator installed a Spinwave solution in a U.K. hotel that uses occupancy-based sensing to raise and lower guest room temperatures. Spinwave’s occupancy sensors monitor each room, adjusting heating, cooling, and lighting based on whether the room is occupied. If the system senses guests have been gone for a set length of time, it automatically scales back on heating or cooling, and turns off the lights. When guests return, the system resets HVAC equipment to previous levels.

Systems like this, and like the one installed at Riordan High School, continue to become more popular. At Spinwave, Wischinski says they have seen “quite an uptake in interest” in energy monitoring within the last six months. As wireless systems become easier to install, that trend only looks to continue.

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