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back to article Schneider moves into Cisco's Olympics crib, dims lights

Schneider Electric has packed up its bits and moved into Cisco House, the mega-marketing mansion looming over London's Olympic Park, where it is partnering with the networking giant on a demonstration of its SmartCity technology. Schneider's SmartCity provides systems that help urban infrastructure components – everything from …

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I'm a sceptic here.

The reason I plug something in is because I want it to consume electricity. The reason I put a light on is to see. The reason I put the heating on is because I'm cold. At which point am I required to suffer for the sake of energy efficiency? Just how many people leave their TV's in "eco" mode all the time compared to how many want to view the damn bright TV they bought based on the picture quality they saw in the store?

Now, of course there is some waste - people leaving lights and heating on and leaving the room, but no amount of computer intelligence can tell you why they did that. Maybe their room is fricking freezing and the budget for heating is separate to the budget for repairs despite their protests? Maybe they are going to be back and forth a lot. Maybe they have wedged to door open so they can see to change the bulb that blew in the other room.

Even on a larger scale - if you turn off motorway lights at night, yes, most of the time you save. Because it was always such an inherently wasteful exercise to have them all night. But beyond that, if you don't turn the lights on, you might as well not have them in the first place and have cars use their power to supply light. You'd save more by knocking the lights all down, disconnecting them from the grid (and thus removing lots of cable loss) and melting them down for cash. They were on, not because we couldn't put a strip in the road and only turn on when they detect that a car is approaching, but because the cost of switching them on/off all the time and installing and maintaining the systems to do so (and the associated strains on the power network) cost more than just leaving them on.

As soon as you scale city-wide, the problem worsens. More controls, most of them idle or never switching (because the area they monitor is just that busy), more data to process, more cables and installation to handle them all, more tough decisions to make, and more people affected by a "global" decision that has nothing to do with their demands/uses/personal habits. Good for Cisco. Bad for everyone else.

Personally, I find even "traffic management" the bane of my life. I actually plan routes to avoid traffic lights and clever management systems (and whoever thinks traffic lights on a roundabout are a good idea should be shot). If the average switching time of a traffic light sequence is 30 seconds, say, I have to multiply half that (the average time I'll wait by arriving at a random time) by the number of lights I go through. Soon it adds up to the point where I actually get to work quicker by driving down backstreets and residential roads, over speed humps, through width restrictions, past speed cameras, and through twice the number of roundabouts to get to a motorway that goes miles out of my way to loop back towards my destination later. I actually use less fuel, less emissions and arrive at my destination quicker on on the same time (on average, of course), but I am working AGAINST every traffic management measure that exists and not improving the situation for anyone else.

The "intelligent" traffic management at South Mimms this morning kept feeding more and more cars onto a grid-locked roundabout despite having signals at every entry and at four points on the roundabout itself (and police cars on scene for over an hour). There is no reasonable explanation for that, no matter how removed from the jam you are when you analyse the data. An intelligent system would have blocked all the entrances in seconds, kept the roundabout on green and then fed in cars from entrances one at a time only when it was clear. Larger queue on the motorway for the exit to the roundabout, but a chance of actually NOT ending up in a deadlock situation. And nobody breaking down due to overheating just on their way off the roundabout blocking EVERYONE else, and no horrendous amounts of traffic fumes to crawl one inch forward every five minutes.

I don't see an intelligent city. I see a large contract for a sensor manufacturer and infrastructure companies. An intelligent city would build a larger damn motorway, extra motorways, underground motorways, better public transport, provide incentive to work from home, etc. Similarly an intelligent energy monitor would flash up "support nuclear fuel, scrap all the wind turbines".

It's an exercise in looking busy and spending money on a problem that could be fixed in a year or two by enforcing an unpopular decision.

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Holmes

You cannot control that which you do not measure...and vice versa.

I am in the Building Automation business of which Schneider Electric is now one of the largest players. Building Automation Systems are very IT intensive and Cisco provides managed POE switches that can be configured for the kind of IP traffic required by Building Automation Systems and Video Surveillance Systems.

One of the largest hurdles to a good control system is the fact that most companies have no idea what energy they are using on an instantaneous basis, they only see a monthly bill.

Electric power usage can be reduced significantly when there is a widespread power availability problem by knowing the instantaneous power usage in a particular building or grid and controlling that load, by shedding unneccessary cooling, lighting or heating loads.

BAS systems would allow each controlled building to respond to the grid power requirements. The grid itself must be "smart" enough to communicate to it's customers and vice versa.

An example would be large high rise buildings are in an area suffering an undervoltage (brownout) condition. The grid relays that info to each building and the corresponding lighting and airconditioning loads are reduced through discrete control in each affected building. Power monitors in each building allow the control system to discern whether the load has been reduced enough and provides the power company with feedback.

Generator systems can be turned on in each build for the critical loads that cannot be shed. UPS systems can be used to cover the transition period between main power and generator power.

Load shedding can bring power savings since the electric provider often reimburses the building owner for their cooperation through lower electrical costs.

Another example is occupancy based HAVC and Lighting control in schools and office buildings where unoccupied rooms have their lights and HVAC turned off until someone enters the room. This can even be done on a residential level with the right equipment but there is far less payback.

All of this control and resulting load shedding can provide more power availability to everyday consumers.

But it can only happen if both buildings and infrastucture are able to communicate with each other.

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Unhappy

Re: You cannot control that which you do not measure...and vice versa.

So, basically letting your electricity company survive a brownout by cutting off their customers at the time of a brownout? What problem have you solved exactly? Power savings? No, you were browning out anyway so there wasn't enough power to do what you wanted to. Angry customers? Yes. Hot buildings? Yes. More expense on infrastructure, generators, UPS backups? Yes. More environmental impact from all that extra equipment required in every tower block owned by a different company? Yes. Under-funded electricity network? Yes.

This isn't a "saving" for anyone except the electricity companies failing to provide adequate peak-time supply (which is something that I wouldn't want to encourage at all, and a severe problem). And that's more to do with planning than actual investment cost because they the National Grid already has capacity enough (and MUST have, by a significant margin, should anything go wrong) - it just takes a while and a lot of planning to fire it up at the right times.

And the end point is - people have their HVAC on for a reason. They are hot, or cold. Cutting them off isn't being responsible for your customers (who will resort to, for example, gas heaters, plug-in electric heaters that aren't monitored, or even fire-hazard paraffin burners for heat). And the first old lady that dies of heatstroke / exposure / having the wrong socket switched off at the wrong time (e.g. life support, etc.) and who's going to take responsibility? The building? The electricity company? The National Grid? And having all that equipment (including, what? Going to diesel, UPS, etc. like datacentres and hospitals ALREADY DO, but at significant expense elsewhere?) is going to be expensive, take more energy (so no longer "power-saving") and be worse environmentally.

We already have occupancy-based lighting / heating in most schools that I've ever worked in. We didn't need a smart grid to do so, and it's still a pain in the backside for edge-cases (i.e. teaching sitting at desk last thing at night to get reports done and the lights go out because he didn't move enough, going back and forth between rooms when moving heavy furniture and waiting X seconds every time the door opens before you can safely carry on walking into the room where X can be 20+ if the lights are flourescents or energy-saving). And, actually, you have to have a system monitoring all the time to decide to turn the lights on, which may not ever recoup enough energy on idle areas to warrant replacing a single switch (which, when it's off, incurs ZERO energy use).

I'd like to see what happens in a "smart" building the next time there is a heatwave or a cold snap. Do we suddenly just get to cut people off deliberately now, because they are using the product that companies claim to be supplying, against their will, without notice, for unspecified lengths of time and then just point at the T's & C's and say "Tough luck, matey"? Can't see you retaining customers for long with that sort of attitude when it comes to a utility. And how long before people start to wire the A/C into the lighting circuit to circumvent it?

It's good for companies that sell smart systems. It's good for companies in the infrastructure / monitoring business. It's good for the electricity companies with poor planning and/or extreme cost-saving. But it's not good for anyone actually consuming the product, or environmental issues, or "power saving", or National Grid provisioning. At all. In any way. In fact, it's a cost, a hassle and a downright danger in some cases (starting with privacy issues and escalating to more dubious scenarios).

And that's ignoring the fallacy in "Load shedding can bring power savings since the electric provider often reimburses the building owner for their cooperation through lower electrical costs." - it doesn't provide power savings at all, maybe cost savings and ONLY to the building's owner. Which is unlikely to ever be passed on to the consumer at all and would be on the order of pence per decade if you used the current electrical supply reliability as a base.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You cannot control that which you do not measure...and vice versa.

"Another example is occupancy based HAVC and Lighting control in schools and office buildings where unoccupied rooms have their lights and HVAC turned off until someone enters the room."

Ah I've worked in buildings that have this system. You need to stand up & wave your arms around every few minutes in meetings as the lights go out. Even better, you don't dare visit the toilet for a dump, or all the lights in THERE go out after a few minutes & you're left sitting in the dark fumbling for the paper - the sensors are in the main area & don't read movement in the cubicles!

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Holmes

Re: You cannot control that which you do not measure...and vice versa.

Then you have the wrong kind of motion detector... if the detector is single technology (the least expensive type) that will happen. The location of the sensor also matters. Straight down ceiling mount type are more problematic than wall mount type.

But if you use dual technology occupancy sensors (Both Infrared and Ultrasonic) then the switch senses body heat as well as motion thus solving your problem. They still need to be aimed properly.

Someone also might want to look at the DIP switch settings as they are adjustable for time and sensitivity.

I think you just have a situation where you experienced a vendor that installed a product that met minimal specification and walked away from the job without proper setup and tuning.

Sometimes..you get exactly what you DON'T pay for.

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Holmes

Quite Testy aren't we Lee?

Large Building owners and operators are very receptive to this technology and most have these load shedding agreements already in place with power aggregators who buy power from many sources to provide lower rates (including National Grid who has significant operations in the USA).

I am not going to defend the power companies behaviour as i believe they have not properly spent the line repair tarriffs we have been paying for 80 years. They are also too top heavy with management and salaries and don't spend on maintenance unless absolutely required. I have National Grid here in Niagara Falls NY so I can comiserate with you folks in the UK.

Power companies should be directly paying for most line and grid enhancements from their own pockets without gouging their customers for needed improvements as they have already collected billions in line fees.

Reducing or shutting off the non critical systems in a power emergency can help keep your building running during a brownout because the whole grid does not go into a blackout. You cannot control those systems without Building Automation systems.

One blackout can cascade throughout the entire grid as it did during the 60's across the Northeast of the USA. The people that were stuck in elevators in NYC back then would be quite happy to have lost the cooling in the building rather than the elevators. Things will only be worse in the next big blackout as there are more large buildings and even higher power usage.

Temperatures do not absolutely need to be in the "comfort" range either so if they can be temporarily adjusted during the power emergency then critical loads can be kept running, like traffic lights, hospitals & water and sewer plants. I suppose you'd like to be 65F during the heat wave rather than have elevators, water and sewer.

These load shedding agreements are also VOLUNTARY not mandatory. I said NOTHING in my comments about residential systems although there are pilot programs here is the US (California) where you agree to power company control of your HVAC thermostat in return for (wait for it) Lower Electrical Prices. How do you spell "Savings"? The grid is using less power and the end user is paying less for their everyday cost.

It appears that you do not understand that the availability of full voltage power at peak demand times is ALREADY an issue in many countries and even in the US and UK. Rotating blackouts will become quite common if the primary grid does not become smart(er) and able to shunt power around from many different sources to accommodate many different types of demand. Smart grids are especially important when combining sources of electricity like coal and wind and hydro. Each powerplant needs to be operated in different ways and produce power differently so tying production to usage patterns is important technology. Wind is especially problematic as it can drop out with a simple change in wind direction and speed. That capacity has to be replaced from somewhere and the smart grid will allow the power to switched from location to location and properly billed and accounted for.

You also do not understand that Building Automation is only one aspect of this type of smart grid system and BAS are not used much in residential applications at this time. In most cases, the savings that are provided by BAS and Lighting control systems typically are up to 25 to 30% for schools and other large buildings. No the payback for residential compared to a programmable thermostat would not allow their use but for large buildings, BAS makes great sense (cents)!

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Anonymous Coward

I build stuff at work, some of that stuff used to be from companies that Schneider have now bought.

We used to be able to get stuff reliably and promptly, since being bought by Schneider that reliability has reduced hugely. And it's not just one line of products either, it seems to be pretty much across the board of things we buy.

It seems to be luck of the draw whether the cases we order will arrive as landscape or portrait. Of the last 7 we've had, the first two were portrait, the middle four were landscape and the last one's portrait. They've all got the same numbers on them.

Excuse me whilst I'm suspicious about Schneider improving something.

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Anonymous Coward

Why is that all that different from any large multi-national corporation?

I feel your pain but that experience comes from any multi-national merger and acquisition. Even large companies can get "lost in the sauce" when there are mergers and acquisitions.

I once sold a line of strain gauges where the new owners decided they wanted to merge factories and didn't even remotely consider that 26 week leadtimes would inconvenience their customer base.

That soon became "what customer base".

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Facepalm

Not true.

"The problem we all face us that demand for electricity is rising"

Ignoring the typo, that statement is not true. In the part of the world I live (SE Australia) electricity demand is declining and has been for several years. This is mainly because people are more conscious of avoiding waste use (basically doing a Smart City thing but without Schneider's help) and partly because of the rise of rooftop solar PV.

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