How Circuit-level Intelligence Feeds IoT Success in Smart Buildings

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This is the second in a series of posts discussing the recent report from industry analyst Verdantix titled ‘Schneider Electric Innovates To Lower Cost Of Smart Buildings’. The first post offered some background on how the Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling new opportunities for facilities to improve operational and energy efficiencies.

In this post, I’ll talk about how the latest innovations in circuit-level energy intelligence and communications are the core ‘building blocks’ for a new level of operational intelligence in buildings, campuses, hospitals, and factories.

Verdantix recognizes that having an IoT platform across all energy consuming assets is a holistic approach that can “lead to larger than expected benefits as factors such as reduced equipment replacement and maintenance costs, and increased operational reliability and improved management of equipment capacity utilization …”

Having the right sensors and controls in the right places is the cornerstone of an effective IoT strategy. And as mentioned in the last post, the emergence of IoT technology is making it easier than ever before to position these devices wherever they’re needed. This is offering a conduit to highly granular data from previously untapped parts of a facility’s infrastructure. This can include occupancy and environmental sensors, security and access systems, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Just as importantly, it includes the power distribution network.

It is now possible to access timely information from – and have control over – the equipment in smart electrical panels and switchgear, as well as every electrical load from lighting circuits to outlets. This can extend to uninterrupted power systems, onsite generation, and energy storage. Every asset across an enterprise now has “a voice,” shedding light on every corner of operations.

As a common component of power management systems, digital meters have been around for many years. And they continue to evolve, with increasing levels of intelligence and connectivity. At the highest level of capability are multifunction devices, typically located on main power feeders or near critical equipment.

The compact, panel-mount PM8000 meter from Schneider Electric is a good example, analyzing a full range of advanced power quality conditions, plus measuring energy consumption with very high accuracy and detail. Continuously measured and logged data is transferred quickly and securely directly from the meter over the facility’s Ethernet backbone to the Cloud, mobile devices, and onsite workstations. In this way, operations or service teams can ensure equipment is performing within spec and be immediately alerted when something needs to get fixed.

To uncover ways to improve energy efficiency and cut costs, it’s important to get a complete picture of where, when, and how energy is being consumed across a facility or campus and a picture of the health of the electrical distribution. Just as occupancy sensors inform a building management system where and when to turn off lights and reduce heat or cooling, sub-metering every circuit and load can quickly reveal opportunities. Energy waste and faulty equipment can be identified. A load or process unnecessarily running at a peak tariff period can be rescheduled. Unused capacity and ways to rebalance the network can be discovered.

Up until recently it may not have been cost effective to sub-meter every point, but recent trends in technology are making this possible. The first is the emergence of smart communication gateways Enerlin’X (such as Smartlink, IFE, COM’X). Power and energy data from small, DIN-rail mounted meters on individual circuits or embedded breaker metering within a switchboard is centralized and transferred upstream to the facility management system and the Cloud, as well as being mobile accessible through on-board web pages. A wide range of devices within theSchneider – Electric digital switchboards called Smart Panels can be connected for data access and control

The second trend is in wireless connectivity, making it more affordable than ever to gather data from more final distribution points. PowerTag from Schneider Electric is a series of extremely small energy sensors that install quickly inside new or existing electrical panels, without any wiring required. Power and energy data are wirelessly routed through the SmartLink gateway, which also sends alerts to mobile devices in the event of issues.

Finally, there is a continuing convergence of metering functionality being embedded within circuit breakers. The MasterPact MTZ from Schneider Electric goes even further. Class 1 energy metering and extensive on-board diagnostics are locally accessible using a smart phone app over a secure wireless connection, or via Ethernet through the facility’s network and the Cloud. In addition, simple upgrading of functionality using downloadable digital modules helps ‘future proof’ the product line. These types of capabilities take circuit breakers well beyond their traditional protection roles to enabling facility teams to stay on top of the health of each breaker and the system as a whole, anticipating and correcting problems before they happen.

As facility teams consider how to leverage the best of IoT technology, it’s important that there be a logical and manageable path forward for legacy infrastructures to transform over time. Schneider Electric is making sure that new offers provide plug-and-play compatibility, in terms of physical and functional fit. For example, newer models of circuit breakers will rack into the same chassis frame as previous models, helping cut retrofit time. And gateways automatically detect and recognize new devices to make communication configuration as fast and seamless as possible.

Such innovations are at the heart of Ethernet-ready Smart Panels.

As you can see, the proliferation of connected devices at the circuit level is reaching more assets and delivering more data, more quickly, to the people that need it. That data, in turn, translates to better responsiveness to conditions and actionable insights that drive improvements in efficiency, maintenance, and performance.

In the next post in this series, we’ll take a closer look at how IoT is supporting a new generation of services that help facility teams get more from their equipment and resources.

For more information on buildings and IoT, read this blog series.


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