Energy Management Where Are You?

tendril-0314If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to progress is paved with technologies that never lived up to their hype.

For every technology or product category that changed the industry, the world, or both, there’s always one or more losers; they were marketed just as hard, with tons of cash thrown at their promotion, trumpeted by the trade media as the greatest thing since sliced bread, and yet never went anywhere. And then there are categories that have been heavily marketed, haven’t died, but by the same token have never really caught on.

I’ve been paying attention to energy management since 2008, and maybe earlier. And while for the longest time it seemed that, like the weather, everybody was talking about it, but nobody was prepared to do anything about it, there’s more systems support from automation vendors. All that’s needed now is some interest from integrators and end users.

The Whys

It has become more commonplace for end users to see the need to maintain a greener footprint. Whether it’s in the IT sector and the move to cloud based computing to reduce server footprint or the A/V industry and the need to turn lights and systems off when people aren’t in a room, the general consensus is that we’re more energy conscientious than ever.

But really, how many clients ask for energy management as part of an installation? One the one hand when you install a complete lighting package that includes shades, dimmers and HVAC control, you get energy management by default.

When it comes to commercial installations, energy conservation can be a factor, and there needs to be a focus on the point in time where the savings in energy covers the initial fixed cost of the system installed. That means that when making a proposal, sales designers need to present a real time energy saving return to the client. That may well be the key to closing the deal.

Conversely, and somewhat oddly, in the residential market, energy savings is usually one of the last reason’s a client will install a system in a home. Instead, most of these systems are added on by the integrator as a result of doing other work already in the home, such as adding a theater or music distribution in the home.

It’s quite common for the lighting/energy management part of the sale to only be in part of the house initially, but within six months to a year, the integrator is often called back to include the remainder of the house, as the client now better understands the benefits of the system and has lived with it for a while. That means there are opportunities for additional revenue from existing clients.

The Hows

There are essentially are two types of solutions. The first are stand-alone and local passive solutions in the form of occupancy or vacancy sensors that automatically shut-off lights and payloads, and dimmers controlled by occupants who reduce the amount of load.

These are more suited for single rooms or limited areas or retrofit projects. The second type is programmable and networked energy controls that are flexible enough to deactivate lights and loads based on time and occupancy patterns and at the same time provide data analysis on the amount of energy consumption.

These are the solutions that are intended to be remotely monitored. This begins by installing a meter on the main power supply to the building, which will give feedback on energy consumption to the control system. Changes in usage, and graphed usage trends can then be reviewed by the users.

Drilling down, there are four characteristics of active energy management. The first is temperature setback, where the temperature is auto set to a comfortable level based on outside temperature.

Next is dimming. Dimming the lights provides instant feedback. Which means that users are more inclined to leave lights off after seeing what leaving them on actually costs.

The third characteristic is dormancy settings. Occupancy sensors are installed in rooms, and systems are be programmed to put unused rooms into sleep mode.

Lastly, daylight harvesting is a major way to conserve energy and show clients the savings. Daylight harvesting uses photo sensors to scale the output of the building’s lighting fixtures to the ambient natural light from outside. This both saves energy and increases occupant comfort.

In fact, a couple of years ago one of my good friends industry, Barry Wosk, president of Sound Developments, incorporated daylight harvesting in the automation design of the new warehouse and head office he built in Vancouver, BC.

Of course, the best way to sell anything is to demonstrate it.

Your automation vendor, whichever one it might be, already has substantial product offerings and installation expertise. Doubtless they’ll even cut you a price break for buying and installing a demo system in your showroom and office.

One question that gets asked a lot is whether energy management is an added value for AV Pros or a standalone category?

Really, it’s both. AV Pros who commit to it soon discover that demand for energy management comes in two types: as part of a more traditional AV installation, and by itself, sometimes lighting control only, sometimes not.

As in all things in this business, there are dealers that cater specifically to this service, so it definitely can be a standalone project or just an add-on sale to a “home theater” project.

First Image via Tendril
Second Image via GE