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Wireless sensor system measures, analyzes energy use

By , Network World
April 21, 2009 11:14 AM ET

Network World - Arch Rock has created a special version of its wireless sensor networking product line to monitor enterprise energy use and identify changes to make it more efficient and to save money.

Energy Optimizer combines Arch Rock's existing PhyNet IP-based sensor nodes, wireless routers, and server appliance with a new electric power sensor and a new data analysis and reporting application.

The resulting information can be used to find areas to cut energy spending, to avoid peaks and troughs in energy use to minimize that part of the energy bill governed by peak consumption rates, to participate in a utility company’s load shedding and demand management programs, and to comply with state and federal energy use mandates. Users can see energy use by department or over a given time period, for example.

These results are achievable because the new sensor measures electric use on a fine-grained level, by individual circuit. It can show what systems are using what amount of electricity. This data is exported to analysis and reporting software that correlates the data with budgeted spending, demand trends and other criteria.

"We introduce all this without affecting or changing any existing HVAC, lighting or other systems," says Roland Acra, CEO for Arch Rock.

The new components fit into Arch Rock's existing PhyNet wireless sensor mesh infrastructure. PhyNet, released a year ago, consists of an array of indoor and outdoor wireless mesh nodes, outfitted with IEEE 802.15.4 short-range radios, an IPv6-based networking stack that implements the IETF 6LoWPAN specification, and a combination of temperature, humidity and other sensors.

The nodes link with a nearby PhyNet wireless router (which in turn can link via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to a WAN connection if needed, or use a direct cellular WAN interface), to feed data into the rack-mounted PhyNet Server. The server hosts the data analysis and presentation software and the management GUI.

Arch Rock is one of several vendors (including some that have formed a consortium working toward an IP-based vision of low-power sensor networks, an alternative to the network stack created by the ZigBee Alliance

The new parts of the Arch Rock system include the IPpower sensor node, which attaches to a building electric circuitry and measures the flow of electricity through it. There are two models, one that can be cabled into a power link between, say, an outlet and a rack of compute servers, and a second that requires installation by a licensed electrician. One node can monitor as many as three separate circuits (a home, for example, might have 10 to 20 circuits).

The data collected is displayed via the Energy Visibility Portal, the new Web-based application on the PhyNet Server. Arch Rock hosts this portal, offering customers subscription-based access. The portal shows energy-use summaries and breakdowns for such things as individual rooms, server racks, large HVAC circuits for equipment like pumps or boilers, and lighting. Monthly spending for a given area can be subdivided into the biggest users; cumulative monthly spending can be tracked against various baselines, such as budget, historic spending and so on.

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