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Demand Management Technology Has Cross-Atlantic Reunion

Demand management vendors have traditionally specialized in either industrial or commercial spaces. That means few choices for industrial sites that want to automate their entire facility using a centralized system. A recent merger could eventually result in a new system that can manage both plants and offices. Will it have enough of an advantage over integrating multi-vendor systems?

Years ago, two companies in Europe co-developed a demand management technology. This year, their paths have converged again. The greatest beneficiaries may be industrial sites in regions with high energy costs.

Divergent paths reunited through acquisition

Diana Control AB is a Swedish manufacturer and distributor of intelligent energy management and building control systems. The company's main products, the ADP3000 Controller and DianaView software, are based a platform they co-developed with Powerit MIC of Sweden.

The fact that they're taking those steps makes perfect sense -- and perfect cents.
--Ron Zimmer, President, CABA

Powerit Solutions LLC is a Seattle, Washington company who acquired rights to that technology for North American distribution. The product, Energy Director, is a dedicated energy management system for reducing power demand and controlling energy costs in industrial manufacturing facilities.

Stay with me here, the story gets a little convoluted. Powerit Solutions (actually its parent company, Powerit Holdings, Inc.) acquired Diana in January 2007. The Malmo, Sweden headquarters of Diana -- where the development work takes place -- became the European operations for Powerit Solutions.

Now Powerit Solutions controls development of the technology for both companies. Powerit's newly appointed European president, Per Wannberg, comes from a manufacturing background.

Development plans: more options for industrial facilities

Claes Olsson, CEO of Powerit Holdings, says the combined companies will offer comprehensive centralized control solutions for both industrial and commercial facilities.

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"European Utility [Vattenfall] Expands its Automated Metering Infrastructure"
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One implication of such a centralized system is that it would make automation easier for facilities that are a mix of office and industrial space. That describes almost every industrial facility.

The office space in a typical manufacturing plant is not large enough to warrant its own energy management system, even though the load could be valuable in reducing energy costs, explains Bob Zak, Powerit's president. Later, when the facility begins to participate in demand response, the office space is left out. Powerit's comprehensive system could correct that omission.

"Plant managers could put a system in that adds value throughout the year by reducing peak demand charges," Zak says, "and that same system is an enabling technology for demand response when that comes to their territory."

Ron Zimmer, president of the nonprofit Continental Automated Buildings Association, says that the technology is available today from multiple vendors, and that the need for advanced demand-control innovation is rising rapidly.

"The fact that they're taking those steps makes perfect sense -- and perfect cents," says Zimmer. "Ultimately you'll see more utilities, and on the political side more state and local governments, start to put in play incentives to influence consumers in a way that will have a financial benefit, and will penalize customers who don't take appropriate steps. Any company on the forefront of that trend will be positioned well in the market."

Single platform could ease integration

A second implication of the merger is in system integration. Powerit's products embrace all the usual standard communication protocols, such as BACnet and Modbus, for building and industrial automation. Open systems, demanded years ago by industrial automation users, have made it possible for integrators to connect Energy Director to building control components from other vendors.

Integration issues could be further reduced if the company develops a single platform that handles both environments.

"Diana and Powerit share the same technology and the system solutions are built on the identical platform, so integration and support is straightforward," says Olsson, who was CEO of Powerit's European predecessor before taking the helm of Powerit Holdings.

CABA's Zimmer says integration is key: "No single technology can be the answer for every building. Each building is unique, it has its own purpose and its own constituents. But there's no doubt in my mind that we're not even coming close to using the technology that's out there and affordable today."

Possible port of entry for European practices

It will be interesting to see what practices Powerit can bring to North America from Diana's experience in Europe. Demand management is being adopted quickly there. Powerit plans to work closely with some of California's largest utilities, where new ideas could be widely tested.

An important difference Powerit faces in the U.S. market is that many European countries have an electric monopoly or oligopoly, and often the utilities are state owned. Technology deployments confront fewer obstacles because there are fewer constituents; in the U.S. there are some 3,000 load-serving entities.

In Europe, vendors work very closely with utilities. (It is relatively common for vendors to go to market with a new technology by using the utility as its distribution partner.)

Zimmer notes that Enel SpA, the dominant utility of Italy, has deployed smart meters nationwide; Sweden's Vattenfall AB is moving in the same direction. Smart meters are a critical component for demand response programs, allowing the utility to remotely set limits on the maximum load that a customer can demand.

What happened to Powerit MIC, one of the original co-developers of the technology? It's now a group within Scandinavian utility giant E.ON, which offers the technology as a value-added service to its large electric customers.


How is this different from having one of the major providers like Siemens or Johnson automate the whole facility?

The main difference is focus; the result is higher savings and better payback. Energy management, specifically demand management, is not easy to accomplish in a manufacturing environment to a level that is meaningful. Productivity disruptions alway limit savings. This is a system designed from ground up to create energy bill savings without productivity disruptions; it pays for itself quickly and is easily implemented. Much different than programming your resident PLC to also manage loads for energy reduction.

Amals question is well justified and the answer should be - none. A much smaller operation with only partial offering of what a large scale optimization would offer and well improved, "focused" results. Not likely, unless the technology offers new values (not disclosed).

The truth, as I discovered tells another story: It is interesting to note that the demand control system has been a failure in scandinavia and that the cite "Scandinavian utility giant E.ON" (German if you look it up) are dismantling Powerit Mic as a failure after according to sources the company itself was sold out to an automobile part distributor, where olson is still on the board. Success?