Energy Management - The Fundamental Problem

Energy management is a fundamental problem at many levels for society, as we have to live somewhere, and "somewhere to live" is a fundamental human need, but what relates the problem and need ?

"Somewhere to live means" buildings, but also means an environment. Homes and offices, schools and hospitals all keep the weather out.  Since we do work (Ancient. Gkenergos)  precisely to keep the environment out  it is hardly surprising that this hurts the environment !
Note:  buildings consume 40-45% of all human serving energy

Tensions grow more heated as they become more personal - so I'm afraid we are going to get personal - lets move on (yes it's horrible).

Parents generally love their children, and so do Russians as Sting hoped with chilling irony during the Cold War.

It's a safe generalization, we know what we want "here and now"

but we can only guess at what our children will need "there and then"

Since we don't even know what they will have to tolerate - or whether they will be able to, and we may not be here to worry about it we overlook it - Here's how ...(Is that is enough to make you feel uncomfortable before we really begin? - sorry)

So parents have problems with our value systems of "now and then" ; there is a word for deferred gratification and how humans handle it  Hyperbolic discounting and it isn't rational - because we aren't - a brief look at climate change politics makes that clear.

We also measure personal success in black and white terms - I makes money / I loses money. And clearly businesses measure success in terms of money.

Therefore, naturally there is a push for investment in "Cleantech" - not because survival matters , but perhaps because life or death of everyone is a really exciting monetary proposition;  am I being cynical or should we hedge our bets ?

However, investing in a market you do not understand and cannot measure is risky - it is not so obvious how or whether we can actually measure energy management success (in so far as it applies to the individual and our children).

Consider the position of an energy manager - rather than making money, his or her first success metrics are a dynamic combination of:

Energy Purchases not price sensitive because of automation
Very Low Demand Elasticity
Controls are not market sensitive
  1. Comfort and discomfort (non-linear, highly subjective, volatile)
  2. Weather response (entirely arbitrary, external, unpredictable, demand driver)
  3. Carbon emissions (not linear to energy use or efficiency, fuel-type dependent, political and legislative constraints)
  4. Energy (usual metric for savings, but not linear to any other success criteria)
  5. Money ( consumption is automated this results in zero elasticity of demand - in short term markets)
This means we business and consumers alike are price takers - our building controls make us perfect hyperbolic discounters of money - because we value comfort !

In other words, our behaviour is fully consistent with children who cannot defer gratification, addicts and people who really care nothing for their future or that of their children.

So, having considered that the energy manager does not even have a single success criteria (hardly surprising that everyone loves to hate the building services engineer) , let us consider  the most bizarre fact of all.  

A great novelty in this massive Cleantech market is Smart-whatever. We have smart-grid, smart-meters, smart-buildings, and even (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology - which is fairly uninspiring;).

None of these "Smart" devices actually share a common yardstick or success criteria, they do not interact by a common protocol (other than IP ) and they do not share objectives!

To be clear, not only do they not share pricing objectives, but they so not share any other single common measure.  

So we will look at these "success" markets in terms of the money market, because it is the most familiar, but do not forget that there is an equally valid demand for heat and supply of clothing (and these are no less arbitrary measurement units if the primary role of a building is  comfort "at any cost")

A corollary of this is that in the large (there are minor exceptions) - energy demand does not respond  at all to energy pricing in the short term. That's right, if the spot market price of energy double, the rate of consumption does not waver. 

However the supply side market does - because they are free to speculate !

This is my claim all short - term energy trading volume statistics are determined purely demand side, whereas all market price movements are made by the supply side.

How  can we be sure of this :

If the weather gets cold (all other things being equal), thermostats and building control systems turn on and create heat demand - thermostats are unaware of price (though they do have meta control-systems that react to long term market trends - i.e. people) so in the medium term marginal demand is unaware of price  (this defines price in-elasticity).  If human heating preferences change in response to price 1% per annum (they do not) we can be sure of our assumption.

However heat can be conveniently stored extremely efficiently as gas or wood or as heat ( I am thinking heat pumps here).  

Now the extra-ordinary thing.  The instantaneous market need for heat in buildings is always zero !

This sounds like a crazy statement, but if on a winters day you go into the average 5* hotel, palace, or a stock-brokers skyscraper and turn off the boilers, no-one will notice for a few hours.  I have done it !

Eventually they will notice (if it really is winter - but not so much otherwise - One 5 star hotel I know of in the UK in November risked having no heating facilities for three days - the engineer did not mention this to the GM because he wanted the refit to go ahead ).  In most buildings, particularly larger ones cooling will take a period of hours rather than minutes (and not the micro-seconds of market trading opportunity).

Note to Keith - You know who you are - a real engineer !

There is therefore exploitable market potential in deferring heat, and if heating is deferred less is used !

Why? - if you defer heating, when supply is resumed the load is greater and with greater load, efficiency is higher.

As a result, there are numerous Gizmos that disable boilers or delay firing, and they do save money - they simply do not save as much as a properly configured control system.

Finally, these flaws in the market (for success - however it is measured) can be identified by watching energy consumption data and weather. 

All "market" anomalies have distinctive profiles that can be recognized - this leads to sophisticated or simple improvements - like "hey it's Sunday, New Years Day and your chiller compressors are running" - as we saw in a number of client buildings !

Both data sources should be acquired independently from the system that controls the building (just as you don't let a child take his own temperature - there is no knowing where he might stick the thermostat to get a day off school - buildings sensors are equally untrustworthy!).

A convenient place to bring them together is in the cloud, where independent and objective analysis can be conducted scalably, remotely and non-intrusively.  

All we need to do now as a society,is to agree when we should do what - or whether we actually do love our children - The choice is ours - lets make it ! 

PS Why do we call a thing that knows nothing of prices, our comfort, carbon or consumption a building control system ?

PPS - And why are we renaming them to Smart Buildings and data-logging facilities to Smart Meters ?