September 2009

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Smart Buildings and Market Information Enable Collaborative Energy

Collaboration requires able partners; smart grids require smart buildings able to make intelligent decisions about energy use.

Toby ConsidineToby Considine
Systems Specialist,
Facility Services, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
The New Daedalus

Contributing Editor

Intelligent energy use acquires energy at the right time at the right price for the right reason. Intelligent buildings provide customer amenities and customer services at the right time. Collaborative energy works with the smart grid to minimize the incompatibilities of these two problem sets. Systems on the grid and in the building need to do a better job of sharing information to improve the performance of these functions.

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Smart operations in transmission and distribution will provide only minimal help in adapting to new energy sources or in coordinating supply and demand. The improved situation awareness they provide can, however, deliver better market information to help smart buildings acquire energy at the right time.

Intelligent buildings need to know what services their occupants expect them to provide, and at what quality of service. Today’s intelligent thermostat makes the occupant think about the building. The occupant should tell the building what his activities are, and what quality of service he expects. The thermostat, then, should optimize service [comfort] delivery as well as economic performance on its own.

To optimize economic performance, buildings need three types of information from a smart grid. (1) A smart grid should provide the building with the price of energy now, and anticipated price in the future. (2) A smart grid should provide risk and reliability information, both now and for the future. (3) A smart grid should provide information on other aspects of electricity that the building occupant may be interested in, such as available carbon credits or green generation source. (4) A smart grid must provide the building with information on current energy usage rights, information that should be as frequent and as close to real time as practicable. With these information streams, the intelligent building can begin to use energy intelligently.

The plug in electric vehicle is just one more smart component of the intelligent building. The owner should provide a schedule of the services that will be required. This may include distance to work. It may include after-school sports and it may include evening choir practice or even community organizing. Energy use decisions by the car, including rapid charging or overnight waits, becomes merely another aspect of the functions of an intelligent building.

These capabilities are pre-adaptations for distributed energy. In biology, pre-adaptation refers to features evolved for one purpose that are ready to serve another purpose later. Distributed energy will be more intermittent than current electrical sources, and may be subject to more regulation as to when it may or may not be used. The intelligent building is what enables smart grids to accept distributed energy.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Utilities are relatively monolithic in their requirements and extremely risk adverse. This means that utilities make poor markets for new technologies. Intelligent buildings are diverse; they will provide a mix of purchasers ranging from early adopters to laggards that with the late risk adverse, will result in more normal markets for energy technology, e.g., the Pemberton innovation diffusion and Rogers’s technology adoption curves. This will attract more venture capital to distributed energy, particularly to energy storage. There are more storage options at the smaller scale of the end node than there are at grid scale. There are many ways to store energy, and the curious might look to IDEA (District Energy) to expand their perspectives. Distributed energy resources and storage enable the Net Zero Energy (NZE) building. NZE it the most intelligent energy use of all.

The electric distribution system of North America has enabled for us the greatest life style ever invented. It has largely succeeded in creating electricity too cheap to meter…until we bundle the capital costs into the electricity. To make the next step, smart grids must interact with smart buildings: collaborative energy...

Collaborative energy is how the smart grid will deliver the most benefits to society. Those benefits will be social and environmental as well as economic. The purpose of the smart grid is to better coordinate energy supply and demand, even as the sources of that supply become more distributed and less reliable. But collaboration requires able partners; smart grids require smart buildings able to make intelligent decisions about energy use.


"When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." -- Alexander Graham Bell


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