Human Heat Pumps
Tuesday, March 4, 2008 at 06:59AM
Toby Considine in Markets and Innovation, Microgrids and Distributed Systems, Re-thinking things

I was discussing service oriented buildings with my colleague Neil McKeeman last week. We discussed how the enterprise agent could offer more responsiveness and more strategies to react to demand response signals then ever the building systems can. As we make the economic basis for building strategies clearer with open markets, buildings will have more and more responses; not just load shedding, but demand shaping as well. Many buildings will become their own microgrids, with some generation and energy storage of their own. Such buildings will use their knowledge of the inhabitants and their business activities to become autonomous energy traders for their owners.

Neil had a moment of revelation, and began throwing out scenarios. One of them was for the mixed retail buildings. In our region, such buildings may have little if any heating component; their challenge is the shed heat year round. Neil imagined the landlord offering incentives for heat sources in the building in certain circumstances. Would the restaurant or club offer happy hour or instant discounts to pack the rooms to meet heat incentives?

Our conversation went on to what sort of business could respond in this way. It would have to know its customers and be able to communicate with them. Would the business harvest SMS addresses from the bowl of business cards by the cash register, you know, the one offering free lunch to the winner of a once-a-week drawing? Maybe twitter services could pull in customers quickly to meet a heat incentive.

My thoughts turned instead to energy harvesting. Would there be a place for small heat pumps to capture energy from vent systems before the air goes outside? How could you distribute and market this within the building? Could such energy recapture ever replace the district steam plant?

There are many proposals out there for conversion of direct physical energy from building inhabitants into energy. There are nightclubs that capture vibration energy from the floor to power the lights; the intensity of the light show is driven directly by the intensity of dancing (or so they claim). At least one gym claims to provide heat and power from the exercise bikes and other cardio machines. Several proposals for capturing tread energy to power subway and train stations are floating around.

But Neil’s is the first proposal I know for direct human heat capture and re-sale within a building.

Central energy conversion and management must be focused on the large-scale and controllable processes we use today for power generation. Distributed energy conversion and storage management can rely on the particulars of each scenario. Maybe waste heat will not be worth re-capturing until it can act as a catalyst for hydrogen conversion in building fuel cells. Maybe thermal storage will suddenly be worth much more to meet financial markets in load shaping. Maybe the smartest energy buys will be in punctuated gaps between business day loads and car-charging spikes, making buffered storage much more valuable.

Some of these ideas will fail. Some will succeed beyond all expectations. We need an environment that will reward risk-taking and innovation, that will focus and reward all the bright people who might put this together. We need open markets in energy, markets with informational interoperability at the interfaces to intelligent systems to support many diverse strategies.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (http://www.newdaedalus.com/).
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