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Association of Energy Engineers
George Owens is a past president of "Association of Energy Engineers", an "Energy Manager of the Year" and an "Energy Managers Hall of Fame" inductee.


by George R. Owens, PE, CEM

It seems strange thinking back just 10 years to 1995, when this report on the current status of Energy Management Systems and controls would have been manually keyed in, edited, spell checked, printed, walked to a fax machine and a hard copy mailed separately. In just a short period of time, the whole procedure has been replaced with voice input, artificial intelligence for automatic document editing (to the users personality) and seamless worldwide electronic mailing and filing. Just as the changes in handling the lowly memo have occurred, the world of Energy Management Systems merely resembles the crude systems implemented in 1995.

In 1991, an energy management historian of some minor fame published one of the first 10 year projections on Energy Management Systems. Although some of the predictions for 2001 were actually available in the 90's, it took a few more years to perfect the technology, price it competitively and gain customer acceptance.

By 1995, the following new technologies could be found as a first or second generation design in isolated systems:

  • Adaptive Controls
  • Fuzzy Logic Controllers
  • Radio Frequency Data Transmition
  • Computers in Light Bulbs and Light Fixtures
  • "Gateways" Between Automation Systems of Numerous Vendors
  • Integration Between CAD and Facilities Management Systems
  • Voice Recognition
  • Partial Motion Video
  • Stereo Sound

Unfortunately, these new technologies had not been commonly integrated into all of the Energy Management Systems in 1995 because they were often crude and expensive to integrate. And although the prices of computers continued to drop and their features continued to expand as predicted, the $1 or even $10 computer was still another 5 to 10 years away. One of the main roadblocks that prevented lowering the cost of a full function computer to this level was not the CPU itself. The cost of the box to hold it, power supplies and transceivers overshadowed the cost of the CPU.

Only in the year 2005, did the NC ("Network Computer") replace the PC. Finally perfected and manufactured in large quantities, prices came down to the one to two dollar level. With this much technology on a chip, it became silly not having a computer integrated into every device. These new NC's were able to integrate memory, computations, built-in environmental sensors, communications and power output devices directly on a chip in a package no bigger than the early transistors. The NC was now small enough with exceptional computational ability that it would easily fit into the tiniest device. With flexible communications capability and artificial intelligence, the NC would automatically network correctly with its brethren and form a working Energy Management System with only minor prompting from the operator.

Here is an example of the ease of integrating changes to an Energy Management System that is now available but only dreamed of in the 90's. Although this scenario was originally projected for 2001, only recently has the ease described below been achieved.

  • An operator wants to add a sensor to previously un-monitored room.
  • The operator goes to the storeroom and picks up the $10 sensor.
  • When the operator peels off the self-adhesive backing and sticks it on the wall, several things simultaneously occur:
    1. Power is supplied to the unit by a built-in solar cell with battery backup.
    2. The sensor starts broadcasting that it is now alive. This broadcast may be infrared, radio wave, or microwave.
    3. The computer recognizes the sensor, assigns a point number internally to the computer and within the sensor.
    4. The system will know the location by triangulation of the signal and its internal map of the building.
    5. The system will then start a self-optimization routine to discover the appropriate control strategies to utilize this new sensor.
    6. By the time the operator returns, the data for this sensor will be fully integrated with the man/machine interface. Information will be presented to the operator in the format that the operator prefers without ever once issuing a request.

The following additional technologies are in the early stages of implementation in 2005 and should be fully integrated into Energy Management Systems: 1) Full modeling and predictive software routines, 2) full video and audio on a chip, now you can see and hear what's going on from the operator's console, 3) realtime purchase of electricity, gas and other fuels, and 4) holistic systems with self-monitoring and repair features.


My desire in writing the continuing saga of the future of Energy Management is to stimulate the industry's imagination into designing and supplying even better systems than in the past. Technology has evolved from the 70's when I worked on my first programmable logic controller to the 80's and the simultaneous emergence of the PC based system through the 90's multi-media, graphical environment. Computational power has increased, prices decreased while software has become more sophisticated and yet more friendly too. I firmly believe that the systems of the future will improve even more significantly than the past 20 years. By the year 2005, when this story's setting supposedly occurred, Energy Management Systems will be more intelligent, easier to use, less expensive to install and energy costs will be reduced even more.

1995 George R. Owens.

An expanded version of this document was presented at the Association of Energy Engineer's World Energy Engineering Congress on Nov 8, 1995.

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