Smart Energy Geek Fest: Energy Harvesting Meets Demand Response

enocean1Here’s another reason to like energy-harvesting — technology that can capture and store energy from external sources like the sun and movement — it can help with utility demand response programs. This week Germany-based EnOcean said utility PG&E completed a successful study using EnOcean’s energy-harvesting technology for a demand response program involving wireless lighting controls.

Building-owners are turning to wireless sensor networks to help cut energy consumption in buildings, often starting with lighting. Wired solutions can be more expensive and take longer to install compared with wireless options, and companies like Adura Technologies are innovating with wireless lighting systems. But the drawback to having all those wireless sensors and devices throughout a building is that they require a whole bunch of batteries. That’s where energy harvesting can help, by adding free power to wireless devices with no batteries required.

A spin-off of Siemens, EnOcean makes ultra low-power energy-harvesting technology, which pulls energy from ambient sources (solar, light, cellphone towers, electrical cables) to power wireless radios and sensors connected to building automation systems. Canadian company Echoflex Solutions uses EnOcean’s technology to create wireless lighting controls for buildings.

In the study PG&E tested the Echoflex Solutions system’s ability to receive and respond to demand-response signals from the utility. The demand response signal was managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and sent over the Internet from PG&E’s servers to the building’s control system. PG&E’s demand response programs offer participants financial incentives to curb their energy use during peak times of day.

The result? PG&E gave it a thumbs up for its ability to receive and respond to demand-response signals “in seconds” and PG&E’s contractors called the system “easy to install.” The verdict is that Echoflex has an interesting product that can not only harvest energy (thereby reducing the amount of batteries needed) but also hold up under the strain of a demand response event.

Although EnOcean just started making U.S. headlines this year via the formation of the EnOcean Alliance and a public spat with the ZigBee Alliance over claims to an energy-harvesting standard, the company has been supplying its self-powered sensors, transmitters, receivers, transceivers, and development kits to the global market for over eight years. In an interview last month, EnOcean President Jim O’Callaghan told us that 80 percent of the wireless lighting products being demonstrated at the most recent Light Fair were powered by his company’s technology.