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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
Jul192009

General Relativity and Control Systems Standards

I suspect most of my readers can just about remember light speed, the 100 foot barn, and the 110 foot log from learning about relativity. The barn had doors at each end, and one set would close the instant the other doors opened. The challenge was to transport the log through the barn. The answer had to do with light speed and collapsing space, so that as one got close enough to light speed, the log shortened, and it could fit through the barn. It was a simple enough calculation as to how fast one could go to make the log shrink how much. When each of us had completed the math, the professor sprang the surprise on us: "OK, what is happening from the perspective of a cockroach on the log?"

I haven’t been writing much recently, because I have been writing all of the time. The national smart grid roadmap is a project being completed in double time. The EPRI team is diverse and whip smart. The workshop participants are opinionated and have hundreds of millions on the line. I would be surprised of the process was not contentious.

The real problem, though, is no one thinks of the cockroach. Each player on the multi-disciplinary team sees the problem set up the way that they want things to work. Power grid engineers see homes and offices as just one more set of slow devices to turn on and off. Homes and offices see the grid as a secretive and not very reliable partner they have to work with. Green and sustainable energy folks seem to see the laws of thermodynamics as as much a social construct as are the tariffs and business procedures of the grid. Utilities executives see distributed generation as an inefficient way for middle class hobbyists to get their obsessions paid for by those less well off.

The cockroach was moving every bit as fast as the log he was sitting on. While an observer saw space, and the length of the log, contracting, the cockroach was sitting on the log and saw it remaining at 110 feet. The cockroach actually saw the barn getting shorter still, and not likely to let the log pass. However, the cockroach also saw was time dilation instead of space dilation. To the cockroach, the two doors no longer open and close simultaneously, giving the log just enough time to slip through.

And that is the problem with the smart grid. The grid operators do not see the problems of the buildings. The building owners do not see the problems of the grid, because they are hidden by the rules and market design. Venture capitalists do not see a path to profitability in funding projects with years of indecision by the utilities built into the sale cycle. “If only those others would learn about how hard my problems are…” None of them will embrace the perspective of the others; they happen to have other jobs.

Today, I have been wrestling with “Architecturally Significant Interfaces”. Grid architects tend to see the world as late 60’s open plan houses, with no proper rooms to divide the houses activities. Open up the kitchen to the dining room and living room. (I wonder how much great rooms are responsible for the tendency to eat take-out in front of the TV.) Open up the master bedroom to the great room as a loft; it is open and honest, and who cares if it scares the kids. Heck, pry the doors of the bathrooms, so everybody can interact, no matter what they are doing.

A good architecture divides the house into rooms, and thereby defines how people live there. It does not determine the furniture or the wall paint. The conceptual model of the smart grid (read it yourself, chapter 3) describes the functions of the grid and the buildings and people who participate in it. The Architecturally Significant Interfaces could define how information is handed between them; if selected correctly they will free up those in reach room to innovate, without concern for those in other rooms. If we end up with an open floor plan, we will have a mess, wherein in the name of openness we will need a family meeting to before we can decide to change anything.

Relativity—it relies on acknowledging different perspectives. Without acknowledging a few architecturally significant interfaces, the smart grid will assume a perspective held by no one. And that will be a prescription for failure.

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