Pushed forward by both private sector green initiatives and public sector funding, much emphasis has been placed...
on improving enterprise energy efficiency. While a few organizations may embark on green projects with the goal of saving the environment, for most it's purely a matter of dollars and cents. Less energy use means less spending. To that end, enterprise energy management networks enable organizations to monitor and manage building systems such as lights or heating and cooling in the same way they manage IT resources -- by giving them IP addresses and making them part of the enterprise LAN and WAN.
Enterprise energy management has long existed in one form or another, from simple programmable thermostats to large-scale environmental control systems. The significant shift now is in how these management solutions interoperate with the rest of the enterprise, as well as with outside utility providers. Because they are IP enabled, enterprise energy management networks allow for bi-directional communication between building facilities, enterprise network administrators and the power utility.
How networked energy management systems work
There are literally thousands of data points that can be collected and monitored within each enterprise facility. Nearly all heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems have some form of sensor and control interface to determine the heating or cooling needs of a given area of the building. Most electric and water meters can likewise be monitored to determine usage. These remote devices, which are typically a hardware box with HVAC and temperature sensor connections on one end and an Ethernet interface on the other, are deployed at each facility to create a two-way integration with building environmental and energy interfaces. They not only collect the data gleaned from these sources but also offer the ability to control the equipment remotely.
These IP-based devices link to an enterprise's traditional data network, allowing for both direct management through standard browser-based configuration tools and the ability to push the collected data across the wide area network to a centralized management platform back at the corporate headquarters.
The centralized management system collects, collates and analyzes these data points, placing the information in a database to give the organization a complete view of the energy consumption across all resources. Much like network monitoring systems, an enterprise energy management network can set the baselines of energy consumption and can quickly alert administrators to spikes in usage and other potential trouble. With that data in hand, enterprises can use the centralized environmental control to develop a consistent enterprise-wide energy policy. These policies could define the parameters for environmental and energy metrics, including range of acceptable building temperatures, low-power modes for off hours, and notification procedures if a particular building falls out of compliance. Cisco's Network Building Mediator, for example, can independently send SNMP traps to any monitoring tool, opening up the opportunity to properly shut down a user's desktop during off hours, for example, or turn down wireless access points near a conference room when it's not occupied.
While there are a number of existing players in the enterprise energy management market, including Echelon's LonWorks platform and Tridium's VYKON Energy suite, Cisco's entry into the space, with its Network Building Mediator products, has sparked particular interest in the networking community.
Enterprise energy management systems and the smart grid network
Beyond the myriad of data collected at the facilities, the utility companies themselves are enabling enterprises to link their energy management systems directly to public smart grid networks. Smart grid networks, currently being rolled out in a number of communities, add a communication layer on what was traditionally a one-way power transmission by implementing IP-based smart meters in businesses and homes. These smart grid meters can inform consumers and enterprises of their current usage, rate information and the load on the overall power grid. Enterprises can then enact localized procedures based on these reports, such as dimming overhead lights or slightly raising building temperature in exchange for credits from the utility company. In a virtualized data center, for example, this integration could mean the ability to move virtual machines to a smaller number of physical servers, allowing idle ones to be spun down and powered back up as needed, depending on both the data center utilization and need from the utility.
Ultimately, enterprise energy management affords organizations the opportunity to maximize their energy efficiency and leverage many of the other network and management solutions in place to deliver a consistent policy and procedure of energy usage throughout their facilities.