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The world of home and building automation controls depends on sensors; they are the eyes and ears (and nose) of the control system.  I recently had a good discussion about the future of the energy management system market with Jim Carroll, one of the founders of Savant Systems.

Jim made an interesting assertion that standalone sensors, such as those used for occupancy sensing, will simply not be enough for energy management systems in the future.  A simple occupancy sensor can be used for numerous things, to turn lights on, engage HVAC systems, etc… Useful. But in the energy management systems of the future, Savant Systems has gone much further in how information is used.  Jim explained that energy management solutions need to provide ambient awareness: the ability to provide modular information to control systems in such a way that the growing number of environmental information streams converges to support intelligent environment profiles.

In this context, by the time an occupancy sensor registers the fact that someone is in a hotel room, it’s too late to turn on the HVAC system for the end user—the ambient environment is too hot or too cold, not to the user’s preference. Information streams from various sources need to be incorporated, such as information from the hotel hospitality front desk system. In this example, the information should be integrated into the energy management control system, so that the temperature is at or near ideal for the end user.  At that point, the occupancy sensor is just providing confirmation.

Savant Systems has a positive reputation, very successful at targeting high end homes and commercial buildings. The core technology difference I see between Savant and (the many) others comes from the years of meshing control elements and integration with a myriad of other systems. Many energy management system components on the market today do not easily interface (communicate) with other systems. Many are bridgeless islands of control functionality, particularly in the residential market. Vital components, such as HVAC control (thermostat), are critical to energy management systems, and really need to communicate with other systems to be truly be considered.

The notion of ambient awareness is a good one, and I see significant potential to incorporate many information streams. For example, smart phones are being used as proximity detectors for energy management systems today; Allure Energy calls it Proximity Energy Management.

Energy management components need to have the capacity to communicate with a range of control systems. The lack of any standard interface creates an opportunity for those companies like Savant Systems to provide the fabric in which the myriad of control elements are entangled to create ambient awareness across disparate technology domains and geographic locations. The requirements for implementing future energy management systems falls more in line with IT organizations core functions than traditional facilities management and maintenance.