In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence & Security Act. Designed to increase energy efficiency and the availability of renewable energy sources, the policy spooled out a variety of standards for lighting and residential and commercial appliance equipment, including refrigerators, lamps, dishwashers, and residential HVAC systems. The new measures go hand-in-hand with nationwide efforts to establish a “smart grid” system aimed at revamping the U.S.’s current overly taxed electricity grid, which has shown signs of not coping well with a variety of new technologies.
Control4,’s EMS 100 line of products continues in the vein of its consumer-friendly control products and includes the Energy Control (EC- 100) that provides feedback, control, and automation on a 4.7-inch color touchscreen.
However, long before energy management and monitoring became a rallying cry of the green movement, many consumer electronics manufacturers, including those catering specifically to residential electronic systems contractors, recognized that control of energy draining products was not only a best practices must but a great selling point to get the attention of environmentally conscious clients.
“Our focus is on giving integrators and their clients the data needed to make informed energy management decisions and the tools they need to make active and real change,” said Bill Pollock, CEO and president of Panamax/Furman. “Even with electronics manufacturers makiang products that are much more energy efficient, we are still combating wasted energy. Whether it’s due to culprits such as stand-by power or just some bad habits nearly all of us electronics enthusiasts have, there’s some “low-hanging fruit” out there that can be remedied with the proper tools for real impact on utility bills and the environment.”
The Whole Home Approach
Like energy itself, energy management is about harnessing several disparate parts to create a powerful and efficient system. In the custom integration segment the most familiar physical manifestation of that effort has been the touchpanel, where control of household lighting, entertainment equipment, security systems, and other home electronics can be achieved with a few taps of the client’s finger.
“Energy management and savings are always key benefits of a good integrated control solution, in both residential and commercial environments,” said Pete Baker, vice president of sales and marketing for RTI. “What a control system provides is a convenient way to access, monitor, and control subsystems such as HVAC, lighting, shading, and much more.
To monitor, manage, and control power consumption at a rack level, AMX recently unveiled the NetLinx Power Management Distribution Unit.
Baker noted that other benefits and savings can be achieved simply from dimming the lights and utilizing automated lighting scenes through the control system. “In essence, we provide a simple way for users to manage their systems more conveniently and efficiently, automated and/or manually, which leads to energy savings,” he said.
Mark Kaloudis, senior product manager, Critical Power & Cooling Services for APC by Schneider Electric, said that his company’s customers are increasingly aware of their power consumption and intent on limiting the amount of power they waste. However, he added, APC believes that consumers are most likely to benefit from passive energy saving features, because they don’t require the user to change their behavior.
“To help our customers manage their power consumption, we have included Power Saving Outlets on our newest products, including the recently released G50B-20A2,” Kaloudis explained. “A ‘Master’ outlet and three ‘Controlled’ outlets automatically cut power to idle equipment, conserving electricity. Using APC’s Smart Tracking feature (patent pending), the Master Outlet can be set so that it recognizes when the connected component goes into standby or sleep mode. The Master Outlet then automatically shuts off power to the controlled outlets eliminating needless power draw of idle equipment. As soon as the component plugged into the Master outlet is turned back on, the power to the Controlled outlets is also restored.
According to Kaloudis, the G50B-20A2 also has five outlets that can measure the amount of power being consumed by the equipment connected to them. This provides the user with a greater understanding of how their system and usage habits affects their energy consumption.
URC’s Network Series controllers interact with the popular TED (The Energy Detective) smart meter (it also interacts with systems that are not yet on the Smart Grid) to allow clients to not only observe energy monitoring information, but to also to act on that data by allowing adjustment of lights, temperatures, and power down components.
As the urgency to meet new energy goals set by the government grows, control systems manufacturers have been well ahead of the curve by offering not just control, but also energy management, energy monitoring and tangible feedback so that end-users can better tailor their energy needs to budgets and standards.
“We want to be able to provide homeowners with insight into the make up of their electricity bill; how much consumption (and cost) is associated with heating, cooling, refrigeration, lighting, hot water, keeping the pool at 89 degrees,” said Richard Walker, president of Control4 Energy. “This is why we’ve created the Energy Management System and why we’re working with utilities to make this capability available to homeowners so they can directly control some of these appliances in a way that fits their lifestyle and budget.”
Control4’s EMS 100 line of products continues in the vein of its consumer-friendly control products and includes the Energy Control (EC-100) that provides feedback, control, and automation on a 4.7- inch color touchscreen. Continually updated through its connection to the utility company’s smart grid network, the EC-100 allows end users to monitor potentially power-draining appliances and receive alerts from their utility provider about more energy efficient options. Because Control4 has created a “partner ecosystem” with more than 6,000 device drivers, the EMS range is essentially plug-n-play on the residential side, while its ability to interact with utilities that are not yet on the Smart Grid makes it a flexible option for consumers looking to add a smart meter.
For Crestron, which has 20 years of innovation and product development around energy management, monitoring, and control under its belt, the approach always has been about streamlining the vast array of environmental systems that its products interact with to create efficiency and reliability with measurable energy savings. The company’s Fusion Viridian is its latest energy management software that takes the practice to a whole new level.
“To help our customers manage their power consumption, APC has included Power Saving Outlets on its newest products, including the recently released G50B-20A2.
“From any touchpanel or web browser, Viridian allows occupants to easily monitor and analyze utility meters, occupancy status, CO2 levels and more by room, energy source, appliance/device, time period, and others modes, while calculating/displaying on-site renewables,” explained Jeff Singer, Crestron’s director of marketing communications.
Giving homeowners a watchful eye on their consumption, Viridian sends alerts if it senses something out of the ordinary. From abnormal water or gas volume, to excessive electrical current, to high CO2 levels in the air, Viridian can also prevent disaster by shutting down a system automatically, according to Singer.
Viridian fits in with an overall Crestron approach that Singer calls comprehensive and that includes other company products, such as the affordable home automation system Prodigy and its range of infiNet wireless dimmers and switchers. “Our products lines are engineered as comprehensive solutions for each environmental system, and then taken to a higher level by ensuring that each system works with the other,” Singer said. “And all from a simple, intuitive user interface, whether it be a touchpanel, a keypad or an iPad. The result is a home that operates at the highest efficiency level possible, and reduced energy consumption.”
From any touchpanel or web browser, Crestron’s Viridian software allows occupants to monitor and analyze utility meters, occupancy status, and CO2 levels.
The g! whole house management system from ELAN Home Systems–which incorporates green elements such as LED lighting (versus fluorescent lighting) and electroluminescent backlighting in its range–represents a holistic take on energy management. The g! (green) product takes its name seriously right down to the packaging.
“This green mindset goes beyond the electronics to include our packaging with the use of biodegradable soy-based printing inks and recycled paper for our cartons and user manuals,” said Eric Harper, marketing director for ELAN. “This means our support materials are produced without further deforestation and can be recycled without contaminating water tables.”
ELAN prides itself on giving homeowners on-thefly, intuitive control, and the g! system is in line with that product ethic. Built on the company’s HomeLogic line of IP-based software and hardware, g! includes the TS2 interactive touchpad, the TS7 seven-inch touchscreen, the HC12 and the HC6 Controllers, and the soon-to-ship HR2 Handheld Remote, all of which are designed to allow an end-user to easily monitor and modify system settings. “g!” puts home owners in control, allowing them to change schedules and change scenes for their lighting as they need it with automated scheduling and a very easy way to program in a more interactive and almost fun manner,” Harper said. “As far as easy integration with other products, g! has an extensive library of third-party drivers that are the most reliable in the industry.”
Colorado vNet is also committed to producing control products that give end-users the means to save on energy consumption. Like every smart control system manufacturer, the company’s range of touchscreens are a single-source point of entry to controlling light systems and third-party HVAC and security systems. And like ELAN, Colorado vNet has looked to improving its touchscreen controls to be greener.
Colorado vNet’s range of touchscreens are a single-source point of entry to controlling light systems and third-party HVAC and security systems.
“We use only energy-efficient amplifiers that power down into sleep mode when not in use,” said Petro Shimonishi, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. “Colorado vNet employs Class D amplifiers with improved SPL, thereby further improving overall efficiency.”
Harvesting Other Energy Fields
At URC, attention has been paid to hitting the three identifiable area of energy conservation: energy monitoring, energy management, and energy savings. This approach is reflected in URC Lighting Control by Lutron, which is a fuss-free dimming product, and controllers like its Network Series that interact with the popular TED (The Energy Detective) smart meter (it also interacts with systems that are not yet on the Smart Grid) to allow clients to not only observe energy monitoring information, but to also to act on that data by allowing adjustment of lights, temperatures, and power down components.
“Our focus is to make energy management as affordable, functional and widely available as possible,” said URC director of marketing, Jon Sienkiewicz. “For example, because our lighting control products are ‘native,’ they can be controlled directly from a URC remote control without a black box or separate interface of any kind. They even work with other brands of RF remotes (418MHz or 433MHz). This is a profitable solution that saves our dealers time and has the added benefit of saving their clients money.”
According to associate director of marketing Greg Rhoades, HAI introduced its first Energy Star Programmable Communicating Thermostat in 1996 and since then all of the company’s products have been an extension of that energy conservation move. HAI’s thermostat is notable for its built-in runtime graph that shows how long the system has been running and compares it to graphs from previous weeks. But Rhoades points to other benefits of HAI’s straight-forward range of automation products: “We also know that retrofits are extremely important, especially in today’s real estate market as more people look to improve their existing homes. For instance, HAI’s plug-in lamp or appliance module allows quick integration of a new table lamp or small appliance. HAI’s light switches can simply be swapped out with the existing switch. The Omnistat2 thermostat requires only additional wire for communication to a home control system, and we’re developing a model that’s wireless.”
HAI’s thermostat is notable for its built-in runtime graph that shows how long the system has been running and compares it to graphs from previous weeks.
The Power Factor
Energy management and monitoring goes an extremely long way to achieving ideal global energy consumption goals, but an additional layer to help with this admittedly difficult task is power management. As Furman/Panamax’s Pollack noted, wasted energy such as that pulled from standby power still has an impact on utility bills no matter how energy efficient an electronic product is. Highlighting the challenges that some IP-addressable power management products can present to set up and maintain, Pollack pointed to his company’s BlueBolt technology, which is a hosted cloud-based platform that is completely plug-n-play once a free account has been set up on bluebolt.com.
“Since our expertise is in power management and our products are already monitoring and reporting power data, there’s an obvious fit between our products and dedicated control solutions,” Pollock said. “That’s why we made all of our BlueBOLT-compatible products very easy to integrate into a control system. “All BlueBOLT-compatible products ship with an RS-232 interface as an optional add-in, or you can use the Cat- 5 connector on our BlueBOLT card to connect via Telnet or HTTP protocol. All BlueBOLT devices send and accept standard ASCII commands, and the products not only report a wide variety of power-related data but also are very customizable in accepting a variety of commands from control units. With these features, experienced integrators can seamlessly incorporate a very powerful energy monitoring and management feature set into any control or automation system.”
To monitor, manage, and control power consumption at a rack level, AMX recently unveiled the NetLinx Power Management Distribution Unit. Its unique selling point is its ability to distribute and control low- and line-voltage power of connected devices. Equipped with eight individually monitored and controlled AC units, the unit also has a built-in 12-volt power supply with two sets of four AxLink Bus Strips and sensor that monitors the temperature in the rack to prevent potential overheating.
Xantech’s ISM4 Intelligent System Manager is also interested in reigning in wasted energy. Using sensors to detect whether a product is on or off, the ISM4 maintains the correct power state at any given moment with infrared and serial commands as well as sends feedback to about a component’s power status to a third-party controller–a feature that Xantech says is important when a master controller needs to understand what components are off and on.
Hitting Energy Targets
It goes without saying that energy demands will only grow as technology keeps pushing our wildest imaginations as well as our dated electricity grid systems. While it’s impressive that CE manufacturers have taken heed and are constantly seeking to make products that shy away from becoming energy monsters, there is still many more miles to go before any honest statements can be made about our collective energy efficiency. What is important is that strides are being made.
With Panamax/Furman’s BlueBOLT line experienced integrators can seamlessly incorporate a very powerful energy monitoring and management feature set into any control or automation system.
For Pollock, the writing is on the wall: utilities simply will not be able to keep up with peak energy use in the next several years. “For us, the next big step is to expand our energy management platform from affecting the 10 to 25 percent of residential home energy usage that is consumed with our entertainment systems and home electronics, and expand this to the rest of the home,” Pollock said. “We are developing wireless outlet control devices that will allow you to use the BlueBOLT platform to monitor, control, and schedule usage of any electrical outlet in your home.”
ELAN’s CTO, Bob Farinelli, recently attended the Distribution Technology & Innovation Summit 2010 in Las Vegas and spoke of the whole-house technology industry’s role “in producing a more efficient, smarter grid for both the utilities and consumers through automation.” Harper reports that the company is now looking to develop long-term solutions for users, in addition to a more immediate g! plug-in that might help homeowners make more informed choices on energy use.”
Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor for Residential Systems.