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Why New Daedalus?

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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Friday
Aug102007

Transformation through Interoperability

I just got through reading some conference abstracts on energy reliability and demand reduction. Every paper brought intelligence and a deep domain knowledge to the subjects. Still, there were big differences between them.

The basic approaches are well understood and widely known. Your parents or grandparents, whichever generation it was that grew up in the depression told you all the key techniques of demand reduction when you were growing up. Turn off that light when you leave the room. Don’t run that water. Eat everything on your plate. Well, maybe not that last one. Under demand reduction, we merely automate these processes.

Power reliability is also well understood. There has been little fundamental change in the power grid design since the 40’s. The sensors have gotten better. The power crews now use cell phones with GPS. The standard is still for how many minutes a year I can light a light bulb.

Engineers are process oriented. Processes are about situation awareness and predictable results. Good engineers extend control over processes to increase predictability and reliability. Digital control has enabled good to extend and automate control of demand response and power reliability. Sometimes a technology like Zigbee comes in and gives the engineer a new tool to cost effectively extend sensing beyond where he could before, or in a more cost effective way than before. Most of the papers I read showed good engineers making incremental improvements to existing processes.

Real change is rarer. Real change comes when someone recognizes that the last incremental change enables doing something quite different. Often the engineer who develops that change does not recognize the value of his work. And so we plod along, getting another 1-2% efficiency at the cost of great effort.

So it is in building-based energy management, and in managing power reliability. Power grid operators who have long used demand response on the supply side are wrapping old fashioned energy management in the same old blanket. Some energy suppliers are beginning to discover what their customers have been doing since the energy shocks of the 70’s. This will result in another incremental improvement.

We need something better than incremental improvements right now. We cannot afford the power grid incremental improvement will demand. We will not stand for building the transmission lines and power plants incremental improvement will require. We must look for a transformation, for something that changes the rules.

The rules today are that energy customers, the buildings, are passive consumers of power. The rules today are that the Utility is responsible for providing as much energy as the building wants at whatever time the building wants it. The rules today are that members of a Utilities Commission, experts in neither power provision nor efficient operation, will decide on all innovations in society’s “best interest”. All the incremental improvements work within these rules.

We must use information technology to break these rules, not merely to enforce them with incremental change.

Using information technology, buildings and neighborhoods can be responsible for their own power use, and even power generation. These needs can be informed by the operations of the homes and businesses in those buildings. This can free up the Utility to be a source of power for homes, but not the only one. The utility can use information technology to focus on efficient delivery of energy; freed from the burden of instant response, it can make radical improvements in the efficiency thereof. Using information technology, building occupants will negotiate with their internal processes and with the power grid using instantaneous knowledge of the most powerful abstraction in the economy, pricing.

The transformation comes from trading the efficiency of control communications for the nimbleness of abstract interfaces built on open standards. In the grid, this will remove structural disincentives to new power sources, including “unreliable” ones based upon natural forces such as sun or wind. In the building, this remove the complexity of assembling diverse sources of on-site power generation and storage while enabling energy using processes to be responsive to the needs of the human inhabitants and current power availability as indicated by the live prices.

This transformation will make more of a difference than all of the incremental changes, even as its details will use and extend the craft learned through the incremental changes of the past. This transformation will only come from giving up control, and allowing interoperability.

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