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Smart Energy Technology Pushes Forward

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Monday, October 18, 2010

A major theme of the 21st century will be the “greening” of our personal and professional lives.  For the last few years, new green computing paradigms have taught us that being environmentally friendly (conducting our lives in a more eco-sustainable manner) can result in major cost savings for businesses and individuals. Smart buildings and smart homes have been leading the charge to "go green," simply because residential and office buildings account for a huge portion of the world’s energy consumption.

With smart home automation supervising and regulating the energy consumption of a typical three-bedroom suburban home, more than 800 pounds of CO2 emissions can be eliminated each year.  Enabled by smart appliances that are interconnected and integrated with one another - and conjoined with the energy grid - smart buildings are increasingly being managed remotely, often thousands of miles away from the building itself.  Remote management capabilities offer outstanding opportunities for energy cost savings, as the human element of the monitoring process can be located in countries that have a lower cost of doing business.

The Mobile Angle

While smart home appliances have been making their presence known for a few years, they are becoming smarter every day.  Soon these self-regulating energy devices will be tightly coupled with the Smart Grid so that energy providers and consumers can better work together to make energy production and consumption cycles more efficient, cheaper and green.  Although this sort of autonomous integration with local and global energy grids is a few years away, semi-intelligent appliances are being used today by many homeowners and landlords that rely on remote devices (smartphones, iPhones, BlackBerries) and wireless energy applications to regulate thermostats, power-down lighting  and throttle all types of energy guzzling devices.

Homeowners that are lucky enough to have the latest smart house technology at their fingertips have been realizing the tremendous cost savings and convenience that comes with remotely regulating many aspects of their home environments.  In addition to effectively tempering energy consumption, users will be able to receive up-to-the-minute data and reports on past usage patterns, and they will be able to project future expenditures on electricity, heat and more.  Common mobile devices will be able to act as virtual meters, tracking all aspects of consumption—on a building-by-building or room-by-room basis and possibly down to an individual appliance or (very ambitiously speaking) an isolated toroidal transformer.

Once consumers have reliable usage statistics at their disposal, they will be able to confidently alter their energy usage patterns and totals.  They will be able to take advantage of price reductions that come with running washers, dryers and dishwashers during non-peak hours, controlling these machines from a location outside of the home.  The emergence of this new breed of educated and empowered (no pun intended) consumer can’t help but bode well for the environment.  We have come a long way since the days of simple dimmers and timers that regulated electricity when we went on vacation.  Indeed, a critical mass of smart home megastores—both bricks-and-mortar and online ventures—will be materializing in the near future.

Even those property owners that remain skeptical of remotely enabled smart homes may have already taken big steps in this direction: Sophisticated security systems (which are monitored and managed remotely) have served as a nice segue into a more comprehensive scenario of building automation and smart home functionality.

Integrating the Grid Data

As I have stated here at Dashboard Insight and other venues, the Smart Grid is on the precipice of revolutionizing the entire energy supply chain for North America, granting to all interested parties a new transparency into the procurement and production of energy.  As happens with all technology under a free-market system, collaboration will spawn innovation.  Once the new age of Smart Grid installations gains momentum, buildings that are wired to the energy grid will be able to generate and store their energy in infinitely creative ways, with the end goal of being able to create their own energy from alternative sources such as solar, wind and man-powered energy apparatuses.

While there is a tremendous focus on how the energy of the future can be produced and stored in a clean and green fashion, there remains a limitless number of questions concerning the best way to accurately capture, integrate and take action on the data associated with these green and neoteric means of energy production.  So far, I have yet to see any major software or utility company present a realistic (green-focused) data integration solution for the Smart Grid that would effectively service millions of energy users.

Eventually, all-encompassing Smart Grid data systems will scale up to serve all the interconnected business and residential dwellings of each First-world megalopolis; however, we are not quite there yet.  On a positive note, there are a multitude of Smart Grid dashboards that are being pushed out to market by large and small makers of business software.  (A Google search of "smart grid dashboard" produces more than 100,000 results, as of September 2010.)  But from a mass implementation perspective, Smart Grid systems are still firmly in their infancy.  In the next 12 months, I am looking forward to some thought leadership from some of the big players in data integration (IBM, Microsoft, SAS, etc.) about their plans and views on how to best handle the issues surrounding the capture, storage, distribution and mining of Smart Grid data, especially when green energy production is involved.

About the Author

William Laurent is one of the world's leading experts in information strategy and governance. For 20 years, he has advised numerous businesses and governments on technology strategy, performance management, and best practices´┐Żacross all market sectors. William currently runs an independent consulting company that bears his name. In addition, he frequently teaches classes, publishes books and magazine articles, and lectures on various technology and business topics worldwide. As Senior Contributing Author for Dashboard Insight, he would enjoy your comments at wlaurent@williamlaurent.com

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