It's not enough to monitor our energy use. We don't really care about that unless it does something to change our lives or save us money. So, let's put a solar system on the roof. Now that can do both of these things and should attract our attention. But let's take it a step further. With that solar system there is a new variable in the mix --- FREE CLEAN ENERGY. What can and should we do with it.

On Energy Management, Manufacturing and Factory Automation

Bob Hetherington | HomeToys

October 2011

On Energy Management, Manufacturing and Factory Automation

Author: Bob Hetherington

It's not enough to monitor our energy use. We don't really care about that unless it does something to change our lives or save us money. So, let's put a solar system on the roof. Now that can do both of these things and should attract our attention. But let's take it a step further. With that solar system there is a new variable in the mix --- FREE CLEAN ENERGY. What can and should we do with it.

Well, I've had an interesting few weeks --- almost eerie in fact.

First came CEDIA 2011 where I decided it was time to get on the Energy Management bandwagon with the folks that I visited while browsing their wares. While impressed with some of them, I must admit some disappointment in the fact that no-one is really addressing the issue of actually managing the energy. Instead most are simply offering nice interfaces in which to monitor energy consumption in the home and or business.

The energy questions interest me because of our Alternative Energy eMagazine --- Blatant Plug!

More on this later.

During the course of the last weeks I have also read 2 books which gave me some new perspective on the state of manufacturing and automation in this country:

  • The Lights in the Tunnel; Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future by Martin Ford
  • Make it in America:The Case for Re-Inventing the Economy by Andrew Liveris

Briefly, Martin Ford goes into how automation and robotics will change the future by doing away with many of our jobs --- and not just factory jobs either. His solutions boil down to a new government philosophy necessary to keep us all active doing stuff that matters even though many of us do not have or need jobs because the world has changed and we support each other in different ways.

Andrew Liveris (CEO of Dow Chemical) on the other hand discusses how to get the modern manufacturing industry back to the USA. He also supports a more active government especially in the role of referee to level the playing field with our global competitors by offering incentives to manufacturers.

These 2 books interested me because of our new website --- Another Blatant Plug!

Perhaps nothing is more important in our society than to understand and get these concepts right.

And then, to further drive home some points to me, I had the opportunity to visit the head office, research and manufacturing plant of Crestron in New Jersey where a bunch of really smart engineers guided me through their world of cutting edge research, development and production. For those unfamiliar with Crestron, they are one of the best known manufacturers of automation and control systems for homes and businesses throughout the world. Needless to say, they also have just introduced a new Energy Management line of products.

Of course I'm interested in this stuff for various reasons, but Crestron is a client so that is how I managed to get invited to their facility. --- Yet another Blatant Plug!

How does all this gibberish fit together and make me write this article?

I just needed to rant and spew a bit so here it is.


Alternative Energy Management

It's not enough to monitor our energy use. We don't really care about that unless it does something to change our lives or save us money. So, let's put a solar system on the roof. Now that can do both of these things and should attract our attention. But let's take it a step further. With that solar system there is a new variable in the mix --- FREE CLEAN ENERGY. What can and should we do with it.

Let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the utility companies will really give us back fair value for the extra energy we pump back into the grid so I think it would be better for us to use the energy we produce --- while we are producing it.

How about having our energy management system set up what I would call an energy queue --- just like an ipod music queue. High energy using tasks such as drying the clothes, washing the dishes, cooling down the house etc. would be initialized (placed in the queue) by the homeowner but would not run until the system was getting FREE ENERGY, perhaps while they are at work or out shopping etc.

Imagine extrapolating this idea to commercial buildings. I think we could save a lot of money and grid energy with a little common sense and some smart energy management systems. Of course, the manufacturers of energy using appliances would need to get on board too but it seems to me that if they can program a dryer to measure the load size etc. then they could easily incorporate themselves into the energy queue concept using a wireless protocol.

Think about what you would do with FREE ENERGY if you had the means to do it. Perhaps your electric car is plugged into the queue. How about the swimming pool. And with some simple weather predicton software you could have the system heat up or cool down the house mass when no one is at home during the day. Businesses could use off hours during the weekend especially to do all sorts of energy intensive activities. And if wind energy is also harvested, then since the wind blows at night too, the options for the queue expand even further.

If you think this is a new idea --- believe me it is not. Large building automation systems have been doing energy predictions and management for many years and saving millions of dollars doing so. What I am trying to point out is that we should now be thinking of incorporating these concepts into small commercial and residential energy systems --- especially where Alternative Energy sources are available.


Handcrafted in the USA

Now to my next observation. While touring the Crestron facility in New Jersey, it was mentioned that they research, design, develop and manufacture everything in the USA. For those of you not familiar whith Crestron, here is how they describe themselves:

  • With over 40 years in business and 57 offices worldwide, Crestron Electronics is the leading provider of control and automation systems for homes, offices, schools, hospitals, hotels and more. Crestron provides the ultimate technology lifestyle. No matter where you are, or what you do, with Crestron you're always connected.

They make great stuff to control almost everything --- including a brand new energy management system by the way!

So I asked the founder and CEO, George Feldstein, how he managed to keep Crestron local. After a somewhat animated and lengthy response, I got the message that it is not an easy task to overcome mostly government initiated barriers to success. No it's not about the cost of labor or infrastructure. They feel that doing the development and manufacturing in country they are able to offset these incrementally higher costs with the ability to avoid costly production errors, delivery delays and installation bugs and problems thereby adding value to the brand name and market share.

This is the same message I got from the books mentioned above.

Now, you may argue that this only applies to high quality, high tech products. Perhaps true. But isn't that what we want to produce in this country! Whether it be high quality cars, wind turbines, solar systems, medical equipment, technology equipment, robotics, you name it --- we need to make it here. What we don't need to make here are haloween costumes and throw away birthday decorations. Leave that to those countries better suited to mass produce consumables.

Manufacturing is no longer defined by an assembly line of bored workers tightening bolts. Let the robots do that. They can do it better, faster and cheaper.

High tech, high quality manufacturing involves skilled workers developing, adjusting and assembling products that add value to our way of living. New products, methods and materials will define manufacturing in the next century --- and we need to adjust our thinking to take advantage of that. Here's an interesting fact for those who are skeptical about the numbers of jobs for the future - In 2009, there were 2.2 million green jobs in America, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By July of this year, the number was 2.7 million, according to the Brookings Institution. That compares with 375,000 jobs mining coal, producing oil and gas and turning fossil fuels into consumer products. And wait a minute --- which field would you rather work in anyway --- coal miner, oil rig, petrochemical worker ---- or solar system installer. Not a tough call if you ask me.

We need way more Crestron's in this country, and whether we like the idea or not the government needs to step up and start removing barriers and replacing them with incentives and boundaries.

Being a good Canadian engineer, I like to use hockey as my life model :-) Consider a free and open skating arena with players and pucks soaring around the ice. The players all have two common aims --- one is to score a goal --- and the other is to prevent the other team from scoring. Hence the free market.

But wait, there are boundaries, rules and regulations to this game or obviously kaos would prevail. Some are for the safety of the players (businesses) --- like pads and masks. Some are for the safety of the fans (the rest of us) --- like the boards and glass. And of course some are rules so that the game can proceed to an orderly conclusion. There is only one barrier --- and it's clearly right between the puck and the net. Everyone can see it and everyone can equally exploit it's weaknesses. And even it has rules by which it must abide.

The modern government must take a step back and re-define it's goals, rules and regulations or we are heading for a messy game outcome. Let the buinesses design and wear their own pads. Define the rules and regulations clearly so everyone is playing the same game. Keep and fortify the boards to protect the rest of us and keep the game on the ice. And most of all --- make sure everyone knows who the goalie is and what he is allowed to do to stop us from scoring. Keep him agile but don't let him grow to fill the net.

OK, sorry you had to witness that. Nuf said! Get back to work.


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