Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
When California was in the throes of its energy crisis two years ago, state agencies did everything possible to conserve energy immediately. Employees unplugged coffee pots and refrigerators and even worked in the dark with flashlights.
That couldn't go on forever. The state now has a better way to save energy without giving its workers caffeine headaches: a system that monitors via the Internet what's happening with HVAC systems in state buildings, and intelligently adjusts controls. Heating, air- conditioning and ventilation systems were targeted since that's where the biggest energy savings in buildings can be found. "There's only so much you can do changing a 60-watt bulb to 40," says Dirk Mahling, chief technology officer of WebGen Systems, which ifnstalled and maintains the network-based energy management program.
In place at 65 state sites, the system monitors building temperature, the weather forecast, lights and what fans are running, and then makes adjustments accordingly. It might throttle back a heater here, clip a few kilowatts on air conditioning there.
Previously, California had to rely on utility bills, which arrive 45 to 60 days later, to figure out what was going on in buildings. Now energy managers can monitor and fine-tune energy use at any time. "We wanted automated control systems to monitor the building and squeeze out whatever energy savings are possible," says Randy Ferguson, chief energy manager for California's Department of General Services.
Implementation was not a breeze because California had to overcome infrastructure deficiencies in many buildings before the system could be used. The jury is still out on how much the state saves. A report on the two-year pilot is due in October.