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It Starts with a Zombie Fortress

Plans for a Zombie Fortress cannot assume that the grid will work, or that the neighbors will be a useful source of supply or resilience.

Toby Considine

Toby Considine
TC9 Inc

The New Daedalus

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In smart energy, it is easy to get distracted by utility incentives and demand response and other tariffed actions. Utility tariffs are set in stone months or years before an actual set of market conditions arise. Demand Response events miss the supplier’s pain-points while ignoring opportunity for the building owner. “Running a meter backward” is a silly demonstration project that works only so long as very few people do it. All of these are regulatory fantasies that violate the laws of economics and physics. For a smart energy engineer, it is better to start with a more realistic fantasy.

Smart Energy starts with a Zombie Fortress.

Many today who are uneasy about politics and culture and technology dream of a place to get away if things fall apart.  Zombies have no politics, no ideologies. They are mindless, and ugly, and the perfect nightmare for a time when any judgment potentially offends. The coming Zombie Apocalypse is the perfect non-specific eschatology for our time.

The Zombie Fortress is where you go to be safe from the world. Folks can share their desire for a Zombie Fortress without getting into discussion of politics with their friends. The Zombie Fortress names a non-political escape, a bolt-hole to go when everything goes wrong. (Some might claim that the editor of Automated Buildings has retreated to a Zombie Fortress.) Plans for a Zombie Fortress cannot assume that the grid will work, or that the neighbors will be a useful source of supply or resilience.

The challenge of the Zombie Fortress is to live a full life within the site-generated power. System efficiency is critical, certainly, but it is swamped by the power usage efficiency; the operating margin must go as close to zero as doable. This means no power spikes, and no wasted power. Systems must be negotiated so that intermittent systems do not run at the same time. Any extra power, moment to moment, must be pre-consumed or stored.

Above this is a policy layer. If you habitually use power into the night, that is the basis for the power storage goals. Weather reports may set to pre-consumption goals. Systems must decide how important they are and run, or not run, accordingly. Engineers will be in short supply after the Zombie Apocalypse, so the systems in the fortress must integrate themselves.

But maybe the burning times have not yet come. For now, you decide to use the Zombie Fortress as your Party Pad in the mountains. Maybe the Fortress cannot produce enough power each day to keep the lights on, the water pumped, and the environment comfortable during sustained use. If the Fortress plans to store power all week though, it can support a two day weekend. Maybe a three-day weekend requires two weeks of storage.

But you want to throw a big party. The last party was automatically base-lined by the Fortress. You contact the Fortress from afar, and ask when it will be ready. The Party Pad / Fortress informs you that it will need four weeks to accumulate enough stored energy, five if you send in a cleaning crew during the week in advance. This is the right level of owner interaction.

Transactive energy within the fortress is the simplest integration strategy devised. Traditional integration requires detailed knowledge of all systems, solving what economists call the knowledge problem. Transactors don’t need knowledge of their trading partners, merely common agreements. New systems must merely introduce themselves to the market. Each system, to participate competently in the market, needs to understand its own patterns of use and load shapes.  Operating parameters are created by setting budgets for systems and functions.

Reliable Controls Proposed regulations are already making some power producers nervous about next winter. More intermittent power sources are going to make the power grid a less reliable partner. The Galvin Perfect Power Initiative states the reliability comes from within each node, and resilience from a node’s neighbors. The Zombie Fortress is the ideal node to participate in a smart microgrid, whether it encompasses the back-country bolt-holes, or an in-town neighborhood. Zombie fortresses are self-aware, at least so far as energy use, and ready to trade.

Don’t plan for short term inducements and temporary incentives. Design systems that self-integrate with other systems in the facility. Design systems able to negotiate with their peers for predictable load curves, effective pre-consumption, aggressive storage and full use of “excess” energy.

Design systems for the Zombie Fortress.


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