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A Guide to Wireless Energy-Management Systems

ZigBee-based solutions are affordable and easy to install, and can help businesses cut their energy bills.
By Jill Gambon
Feb 01, 2011—Energy management may make the top-10 list of most popular words and phrases for 2011. That's because it's the key to saving energy—and money—in your organization (as well as your home). Energy costs account for a huge portion of most companies' operating expenses, so monitoring, controlling and conserving a building's lighting, heating and cooling, and other energy-hungry systems can lead to substantial savings. Several energy-management vendors report that customers have shrunk their power bills by at least 30 percent. Saving energy also means lowering your carbon footprint, which could help reduce carbon taxes and promote a green image, another plus for business.

Energy management is gaining popularity, too, because emerging radio frequency (RF) solutions for managing power consumption—many based on ZigBee technology—are easier to install and less expensive than wired systems. The RF systems rely on low-power wireless sensor networks (WSNs). They can link together controllers for a building's heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, lighting, equipment and other devices, allowing data about energy consumption and environmental factors, such as temperature or humidity, to be collected, transmitted and analyzed.

This gives property owners and building managers the ability to better control their energy usage, often from a Web-based interface on personal computers, touch screens or, increasingly, handheld devices. They can, for example, reduce the amount of electric lighting used in common areas of a commercial building during the daytime, when natural light is available. At the 4,000-room luxury Aria Resort & Casino, in Las Vegas, which opened in December 2009, an automation and energy-management system helps the hotel contain energy costs by controlling the lights, televisions and temperatures in unoccupied rooms, according to Susan Cashen, VP of marketing for Control4, which developed the solution. The system, which is activated by a guest's RFID-enabled room key, also plays music and opens the curtains, enhancing the guest experience, Cashen says.

In the United States, energy management is getting a strong push from the federal government. Billions of dollars in stimulus funds are being spent on smart-grid efforts, to upgrade the country's aging metering infrastructure at both businesses and homes. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has also been pumping millions of dollars into energy-management grants for commercial and institutional entities. Last fall, the DOE released a report outlining strategies for commercial buildings and hospitals to achieve energy savings of up to 50 percent, and recommended using wireless sensors to regulate lighting and other systems in unoccupied areas.
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