135: Honeybee-inspired energy reduction


Energy over-consumption in big commercial buildings makes a massive drain on electrical energy


Inspired by biomimicry, In 2005, Mark Kerbel and Roman Kulyk of Toronto, Canada studied the way bees communicate with each other.

There is no “topdown” management in a hive. They realized the ideal concept for their technology when they read Steven Johnson’s “Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software”. Emergence is how bees are able to operate an adaptive colonial group, despite lacking top-down management or “intelligence” in the human sense of the word. Using simple rules and communicating constantly with pheromone trails, each individual bee contributes to the hive-level goal of survival.

The phenomenon is called “emergence” because a complex system of communication and decision-making emerges from a large number of much simpler interactions.

Kerbel and Kulyk developed an algorithm called Swarm Logic that allows all pieces of building equipment to simultaneously detect each other, to red-flag unnecessary power consumption. Air conditioners, compressors, pumps and other building appliances constantly cycle on and off. The problem arises when they are ignorant of each other and turn on at the same time.

Co-founding Regen Energy, they developed the EnviroGrid Controller to connect to the control box on each piece of equipment, to function as a smart power switch. EnviroGrid Controllers could be installed on any electrical heating, cooling, or discretionary electrical load in approximately 30 minutes, resulting in minimal operational disruption.

Each device monitors its appliance’s energy use every two minutes and broadcasts its reading to all the other controllers in the system. Once several controllers have been activated, they learn the power cycles of each appliance and use a networking standard called Zigbee to communally negotiate the best times to turn equipment on and off.

Every node connected to the “hive” thinks for itself. Before making a decision, a node considers the circumstances of other nodes in the network. For example, if an HVAC unit needs to cycle on to maintain a minimum temperature, a node connected to another HVAC unit will stay off for an extra 15 minutes to maintain power use below a certain threshold. This results in up to 20% reductions in HVAC kW, KWh, and CO₂,

Following their 2005 start, Kerbel and Kulyk negotiated with both other California and Texas utilities to increase their presence in both regions. Their name changed to Encycle in 2013, Swarm Logic can now be connected via the cloud to an existing building control system, building automation system (BAS), connected thermostats, or IoT platform.

Swarm Logic dynamically synchronizes HVAC rooftop units (RTUs), transforming the RTUs into smart, networked, energy-responsive assets. Newer versions of the system focus almost exclusively on rooftop HVAC systems installed in medium-sized buildings. A typical building might have between 10 and 40 controllers working together to mimic the communications in a beehive, and the more nodes are linked to the system, the better it works.

Encycle has integrated Honeywell thermostats into its EASE (Energy as a Service by Encycle™) solution for a nationwide restaurant and entertainment business. With customer satisfaction being a top priority, it was crucial that Encycle’s solution lower electricity costs while ensuring patrons’ comfort.

What started out as a 6-site pilot program has now developed into a 17-site portfolio with over 300 thermostats. Encycle’s Swarm Logic technology is already in facilities in North America, including retail stores, grocery stores, shopping centers, restaurants, entertainment venues, offices, schools, distribution centers, and light/medium manufacturing buildings.

From August 2018 Encycle partnered with Lightstat of Barkhamsted, Connecticut to bring IoT-enabled thermostatic control into a networked, cloud-based system that allows commercial and industrial building energy managers to reduce their HVAC energy consumption and costs by 10-20%. They also partnered with Carrier Connect, makers of Wi-Fi thermostats.

What you can do: Tell local architects and builders about Swarm Logic

Discover Solution 136: Gravity based energy storage system

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