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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

Building Intelligence meets the Intelligent Building. The Intelligent Building negotiates with the Intelligent Grid. How will this transform how we interact with the physical world?

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Sunday
Jan112009

The Talmud and the Smart Grid

I received an animated Christmas card in e-mail from a leader in demand-response last month. The e-card used flash animation to explain demand-response. The flash animation told a tale of demand-response during a holiday season. Santa and his sleigh flew into a transmission line, causing power shortage. DR aware equipment rapidly responded to signals sent out. DR-aware Christmas lights dimmed just a little. DR-aware electric menorahs turned off every other light. The animated card told a story that demonstrated that demand-response could be efficient, effective, and doubly offensive.

Demand-Response (DR) is an approach to power management developed by the electrical power industry. Peak power is the most expensive power. It is usually generated by the most polluting power sources. When consumers demand is greater than the system can provide, brown-outs and even black-outs ensue. If consumers in buildings, homes and industry could respond rapidly to signals that the grid was nearing capacity, it would greatly reduce the costs, both monetary and environmental of providing electrical power while improving reliability.

The menorah is part of celebrating Chanukah, also known as the festival of lights. Chanukah celebrates the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple following the defeat of the Seleucid empire. When the temple was re-dedicated, there was only enough sacramental oil to light the Temple’s eternal flame for one night, yet the lamp burned for eight days until acceptable reserves could be found. One might consider this in itself to be a miracle of DR.

Jewish tradition recounts a great dispute between Hillel and Shammai as to the proper order and means of lighting the menorah. The dispute swung on a fundamental question of faith and the practice chosen illustrated that faith. Modern practice follows Hillel, and the lights are lit in a particular order on particular nights. A quick explanation can be found at http://www.ou.org/chagim/chanukah/machloket.htm. Clearly blacking out every other light on the menorah in response to DR is offensive to tradition.

There is another offense from the misuse of the menorah. The Talmud prohibits using Chanukah lights for anything other than publicizing and meditating on the Chanukah story. For this reason, there is an extra light on the menorah, used to light the others. The extra light also provides ambiguity; if one were to read from the lights—something prohibited—then it's not clear whether the light one's reading from was from the Hanukkah lights or the extra light. Clearly using lights on an electric menorah, other than the extra light, would be for neither publicity or meditation. I see no reason why the extra light could not be used for DR—but not the others.

Acceptable DR must be based upon local control and local autonomy. Central control will never be sensitive to the local concerns in each home and each building. Failure to take those concerns into account will cause resentment. It is easy to come up with other scenarios in which an engineered demand response would be offensive in other traditions at other times. Resentment will limit response by limiting participation.

To be truly affective, grid-scale power management must respect local autonomy. The best way to do that is by economic signals to communicate scarcity and value. After receiving these signals, each business and household can decide.

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