For the Mechanical Systems Engineer: Clean Technology is All About the Data

May 1, 2013
The "Enernet," a combination of energy technology and the Internet could be the "new information superhighway" of data that can help this country become more energy efficient and sustainable. The key is our ability to interpret the trillions upon trillions of terrabytes of data to make sound HVAC mechanical system design and relacement decisions.

These days, you hear this statement bandied about all the time: "We live in the age of clean technology or clean tech." This is all about renewable-energy technologies and is tied into the federal government’s push for energy and environmental sustainability.

But what does clean tech really mean? According to a group known as the Clean Technology Trade Alliance (—a non-profit trade organization that brings together buyers and sellers of clean technology around the world—it is “a broad base of processes, practices and tools in any industry that supports a sustainable business approach, including, but not limited to pollution control, resource reduction and management, end of life strategy, waste reduction, energy efficiency, carbon mitigation and profitability.”

The idea here is to find ways to limit wasting energy, and subsequently reduce the number of new power-generation plants we need to build.

But to cut energy, don’t we have to know how much we’re wasting?

Enter the smart meter plugged into the smart grid. Instead of taking just 12 readings per year (which standard electric meters have been doing for decades), smart meters can take upward of 35,000 per year and transmit that data via the Internet to utilities for interpretation.
And that is where proverbial rubber hits the road.

In the April 8th issue of Time magazine, writer Brian Walsh’s column entitled, “Smart Power” described this communication from meter to utility (or data crunching company) as the “Enernet.”

He says, “This combination of energy technology with the Internet is the hottest sector in clean tech, in part, because it relies heavily on relatively cheap scalable software, rather than expensive factories needed for, say, making solar panels.“

In other words, smart power is all about data crunching. If utilities are interpreting 35,000 readings per meter per year, that is a monumental amount of data that needs to be crunched.
What are some of the uses of this data? Think about the decisions facilities managers and engineers could make if they could compare their building’s energy use with similar buildings around the city?

What if they could pinpoint where most of their energy use was being wasted and at what time of the day? Couldn’t they benefit from up-to-date information on gas, electricity, and water consumption? Couldn’t they make better decisions on their energy use, their mechanical-systems maintenance, and even replacement options?

In the immortal words of Sarah Palin, “You betcha.”

From a utility perspective, smart power is a huge cost reducer—it enables them to better understand energy use in their service areas and can keep overloaded grids running without building more energy plants.

That certainly is good news for American plans to build a more sustainable nation and economy.

There is a lot of talk about how we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal. The use of smart meters combined with clean technology can put us on that target. It won’t be cheap—not by a long shot.

But, if we have a smarter, more reliable grid managed by the same technology as the Internet, providing the information we need to make smart energy-use decisions, well, the possibilities are amazing.

The good news for the HVACR industry is that we are in the thick of this. Our products, system designs, and applications play right into the clean-technology sector. The decisions we make will make a difference to our customers, our economy, and our nation.