Datalogging equipment is at the leading edge of the move toward the Internet of Things.
The Internet is a massive place, linking billions of devices which share data that should exceed the zettabyte mark by 2016. Even as data transfer grows, the number of devices connected to the Internet will soon experience a geometric rise as well. This transition has been termed the “Internet of Things” (IoT); and it reflects the ability of an increasing number of small or portable electronic devices, many of them with specialized purposes, which will hold unique Internet protocol (IP) addresses so as to communicate with other devices.
As computing continues its slow transition away from centralized assets, such as server farms and PCs with hard drives, less complex devices will flourish. Measurement and verification (M&V) tools, such as dataloggers, are in a position to directly benefit from this transition. The focused workflow of dataloggers lends itself to integration in standardized frameworks.
Barriers in the energy market
The demand-response energy market is one of the major users of interconnected M&V tools, which can closely track energy-use characteristics and trends, helping to identify and respond to changing energy needs. An integrated approach for tracking, monitoring and verifying energy consumption and implementing cost and carbon footprint reduction has been a long-sought goal for business-to-business (B2B) and energy service companies (ESCOs).
It’s no surprise Portland, Ore.-based startup 38 Zeroes has focused on this sector for development of its datalogging tools.
According to Scott Niesen, VP of communications at 38 Zeros, the high cost of M&V prohibits energy services from entering new markets. Conventional, site-deployed hardware is often costly and temporary, involving multiple configuration and collections steps and presenting compatibility and data integrity issues.
Niesen says the “low-hanging fruit” of long-term energy-savings strategies has already been plucked: Demand-side management programs that utilize lighting upgrades or variable-frequency drive conversions offered immediate profitability. But these efforts lack fine scale for large, energy-intensive facilities, and simply haven’t been economical for smaller companies.
According to 38 Zeros’ estimates, typical M&V hardware costs can reach $1,500 to $4,000 per data collection point. Skilled electricians require up to five hours to connect hardware for a submeter installation. Many of these hardware pieces are made by different manufacturers. Another hurdle is the complexity of security, which is why datalogging solutions are often temporary and involve the use of trucks to transport data.
Niesen says the traditional mindset is to sample the data over a two- to four-week period to establish a benchmark and then to sample the data at three-, six-, nine- and 12-month intervals. The use of temporary dataloggers to establish energy-use benchmarks and implementation data requires the initial installation and additional expensive on-site visits to retrieve the data. Each stage forces a 90-day waiting period before it’s possible to know whether the steps implemented to cut energy use are working or not. And every 90 days a truck needs to roll to collect the data. With multiple sites under management, the cost of data collection gets expensive fast.
An additional hindrance can arise if industry-specific dashboards don’t readily absorb collected data. Custom software development is often required in these cases.
An integrated solution
In May 2014, 38 Zeros launched the CloudLogger, an integrated cellular-based hardware and software solution. The CloudLogger pairs data acquisition hardware with datalogging software and a cellular transmitter. The deployment sounds simple, but it’s the first fully integrated hardware and software solution on the market, and can replace multiple pieces of hardware.
It operates on a MODBUS communications protocol, as well as Ethernet, and has three pulse inputs. The software employs 38 Zeros’ proprietary two-way closed-loop packet delivery and acknowledgement system, which ensures logged data arrives to the cloud without gaps and spikes. This software, called PacketCheck, continually checks data accuracy to guarantee data set availability, which can always be accessed remotely thanks to cloud hosting. As part of development, 38 Zeros validated the CloudLogger data format compatibility, including CSV, HTTP, XML and JSON. The device can also be paired with major building data management solutions.
One of the keys to 38 Zeros’ technology is closed-loop packet delivery and acknowledgement software. Instead of the conventional one-way communication flow that simply collects data, 38 Zeros has developed a two-way communication method that improves the quality of data collected and expands the functionality of M&V equipment. With this approach, data is constantly collected on a schedule that can range from once a minute to once a day. Closed-loop packet delivery checks and rechecks data for accuracy, eliminating spikes and gaps and guaranteeing delivery to the cloud. Whatever data gets logged, gets delivered.
With this capability, intelligent controls can be sent down from the cloud. This innovation, says Niesen, presents new opportunities for service providers to deliver multiple new strategic energy services over a single, inexpensive data pipeline. Data which has been historically held hostage in proprietary environments is now liberated and can be put to use for numerous strategic energy products and services.
Dataloggers point the way
38 Zeros is particularly bullish on the future of IoT. The company’s name refers to the number of zeros in the theoretical limit for connected devices under the new IP version 6 (ipv6) addressing standard. That number is 340 undecillion, or 1 trillion cubed.
The CloudLogger is a small step on the road toward that number, but 38 Zeros claims that hardware costs from deployment of this solution can be reduced by up to 80%. This could substantially increase the capabilities of ESCOs, which depend on permanent datalogging fixtures to help customers manage energy and avoid backsliding.