July 2008
Interview
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EMAIL INTERVIEW  Robert LeFort & Ken Sinclair

Robert LeFort, CEO Ember

Robert LeFort was appointed as CEO of Ember in April 2006. Most recently, he was the President of Infineon Technologies North America Corp. in June 2002, with responsibility for all headquarters business activity and key customers. Earlier, he was Vice President Infineon's Automotive & Industrial business, managing business development and relationships with companies using Infineon chips for dynamic vehicle management, engine control, automotive safety systems and related applications. Before joining Infineon in 2000, LeFort was Customer Manager at Delphi Corporation, a Tier One automotive electronics supplier, and held positions at Cherry Semiconductor (now part of ON Semiconductor), Unitrode Corporation and Analog Devices. He holds an MBA from Boston University and a BSEE from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.


ZigBee for Energy Management

According to The Brattle Group technologies like ZigBee can help reduce peak electricity demand by at least five percent over the next few years. This reduction could save consumers more than $3 billion in annual electricity costs, and help reduce the $50-$100 billion in losses that businesses suffer each year due to power outages and brownouts.

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Control Solutions, Inc

Sinclair:  Why is Ember heavily focused on energy management?

LeFort: Growing energy demand, inadequate supplies, increasing costs and climate change are driving the need for more efficient energy consumption within homes and buildings. At the same time, utilities are struggling to manage the peak energy demand dilemma, where approximately 10 percent of total electric generating capacity has to exist only to be used less than one percent of the time.

For example, North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) reported that electricity demand in the United States is expected to increase by 135,000 megawatts in the next decade yet only 77,000 megawatts of new resources have been identified, creating a shortfall of 58,000 megawatts – an amount equivalent to 110 large power plants. By utilizing intelligent control energy demand can respond dynamically to the available energy supply, huge cost, reliability, and energy efficiency gains can be achieved within homes and the energy grid without sacrificing comfort or productivity.

To this end, utilities are embracing Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) systems that combine Home Area Networks (HANs) and Neighborhood Area Networks (NANs) as part of larger “Smart Grid” initiatives to meet these challenges. ZigBee wireless technology is a great fit for enabling these initiatives and Ember as the ZigBee leader is at the forefront with solutions that are robust, reliable and scalable for this critical application.

Sinclair:  Can you explain AMIs, HANs and NANs in simple terms?

LeFort:  AMI refers to two-way communications systems between “smart meters” – for electricity, gas, or water – and the utilities providing the service. AMI systems include the hardware, software, and associated system and data management software, that creates a network between advanced meters and utility business systems. This network allows for the collection and distribution of information to consumers and other parties in addition to the utility itself. It can be used for multiple purposes, including “time-of-use” pricing information, demand-response actions, or remote service disconnects. AMI networks for Demand Response include wireless in home devices.

HAN would comprise ZigBee-enabled devices including appliances, thermostats, water heaters, pool pumps etc. and can be enabled to communicate with the smart meters. Utilities may institute “time of use” pricing schemes, where the AMI/HAN is used to communicate the current price of energy to the consumer. Smart, communicating appliances connected to the HAN can then be set to operate only during low-cost energy periods.

NANs aggregate a mesh configuration of smart meters in a neighborhood that can communicate with the utilities’ infrastructure.

During periods of peak demand, the AMI system – using HANs and NANs – can work together for better communication between consumers, businesses and utilities and even automatically manage high-load devices in participating homes, such as changing the thermostat setting of the HVAC system. Utilities save big by not having to build new power plants which also helps in preserving the environment. Homeowners save money through lower bills and attractive rebates and studies demonstrate that a HAN-enabled home provides equal or better comfort and convenience. And communities avoid the ravages of rolling blackouts.

Sinclair:  Why is ZigBee best suited for this application?

LeFort:  HANs for energy management come at a time when standards based wireless home automation products that control entertainment, lighting, climate and security systems are taking hold. ZigBee is driving this new wave of affordable home automation, so it’s natural that ZigBee would dovetail perfectly into HAN energy management applications as well.

ZigBee is a wireless standard that enables home automation devices to communicate reliably by utilizing a self configuring mesh network. Most wireless technologies are point to point and therefore any disruption in one connection creates a disruption in the communication, ZigBee’s mesh architecture provides redundancy thereby dramatically increasing quality of service. ZigBee is the software protocol built on top of the IEEE 802.15.4 radio. As a standard, it’s interoperable with a host of OEM products. Its wireless mesh networking makes it simple and cost effective to install even in existing homes. And ZigBee devices operate for years on cheap batteries, making it ideal for HAN applications. ZigBee networks typically use a line-powered routing infrastructure and battery operated end devices such as temp sensors. These sensors often sleep for much of their life and wake on activation or for periodic timed status updates.

ZigBee also has application-specific profiles to ease development of certain applications. In January 2008, the ZigBee Alliance unveiled its latest profile – the ZigBee “Smart Energy” public application profile – specifically to support Demand Response and AMI programs.

Lastly, ZigBee is highly reliable, which is critical to HAN applications. ZigBee is extremely tolerant of interference from other radio devices, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. In fact, typical home automation products often build in both Wi-Fi and ZigBee in the same device.

Control Solutions, Inc Sinclair:  Can you tell us about some customers implementing solutions for energy management?

LeFort:  Certainly. Itron, for example, has integrated Ember’s ZigBee technology into its OpenWay AMI platform. Itron’s OpenWay CENTRON smart meters provide a two-way communication pathway to the home for energy load control and demand response. It’s already been adopted by Southern California Edison’s SmartConnect metering program.

Göteborg Energi AB chose the AiMiR AMM System from Ember-customer NURI Telecom for its AMI application to cover an entire metropolis with ZigBee wireless infrastructure for the metering services of tomorrow, making it the world’s first “ZigBee city.”

We also have a number of customers, including Cellnet+Hunt, Computime Limited, Comverge, Energate, Greenbox Technology, Itron, LS Industrial Systems, PRI, Tendril and Trilliant Networks, who just recently completed full ZigBee Smart Energy Profile certification, which is a major industry milestone.

Sinclair:  What does this mean to consumers, utilities and the community?

LeFort:  According to The Brattle Group technologies like ZigBee can help reduce peak electricity demand by at least five percent over the next few years. This reduction could save consumers more than $3 billion in annual electricity costs, and help reduce the $50-$100 billion in losses that businesses suffer each year due to power outages and brownouts.

It also gives consumers much greater insight about their energy consumption, and lets them partner with utilities to efficiently manage their energy consumption and in the process help conserve this resource. For instance, energy usage information provided by the utility can enable homeowners to monitor and manage their own energy consumption, using an Energy Management Console to control local devices. For demand response situations, utilities will typically schedule load control events to coincide with peak energy demand, and communicate this information through a ZigBee in-home display. During scheduled load control events, the utility can assist in managing homeowners’ high power consuming appliances to conserve energy and avoid grid failure. While homeowners will not be mandated to participate in the events, they may be incented to participate through preferential pricing rates during peak energy demand.

Sinclair:  What Ember solutions specifically address this market?

LeFort:  Ember just announced its Smart Energy Suite which is a collection of embedded software, tools, and silicon that dramatically simplifies the delivery of devices certified to the ZigBee Smart Energy (SE) Profile. The ZigBee SE Profile defines the standard behaviors of secure, easy-to-use HAN devices which are critical components of emerging AMI deployments. Ember has been working with AMI industry leaders within the ZigBee Alliance to accelerate delivery of Smart Energy Profile Certified products.

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