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Smart People, Smart Grid

Smart People, Smart Grid

An intelligent energy system at the University of New Mexico proves electric systems can be designed to be more reliable and efficient.

Should there ever come a time when cities of the future are powered by “smart grids,” projects such as one undertaken by Energy Control, Inc. (ECI), at the University of New Mexico (UNM), will be looked upon as one that led the way to that future. For the present time, we gladly award this project with a 2009 Design/Build award.

For those not familiar with the concept of the smart grid, Jack McGowan, CEM, CEO of ECI, is happy to provide a brief primer. After all, he was a founding member of the U.S. Department of Energy GridWise Architecture Council, and served as its chairman for two years.

“August 14, 2003, when the eastern seaboard of North America went dark, was a significant date in electric industry history that captured the attention of both the media and Capitol Hill,” McGowan says. “It quickly became evident however, that the blackout was a symptom of a much larger problem, which many have begun calling the ‘energy perfect storm.’ This problem begins with an aging electric infrastructure that has not had major technological advancement in a nearly a half century. It is exacerbated by a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-projected 40% increase in electric demand over the next 20 years that will cost utilities a projected $3 trillion. That includes the impact of cap and trade, which is part of the third element of this perfect storm: climate change.”

Thus was born GridWise™, an initiative created under the DOE Office of Electricity and Energy Reliability. The focus of GridWise is on stimulating the development and adoption of an intelligent energy system, or smart grid, to make the U.S. electric system more reliable and efficient.

UNM was an ideal site for a GridWise project because of ongoing technology investments the university had made. UNM had built a mechanical engineering building in the 1980s equipped with solar thermal and thermal storage, but the systems had fallen into disrepair and were not operating. In fact, Andrea Mammoli, Ph.D., associate professor of engineering at UNM, stepped up to lead a team of academics and facility engineers to work with ECI on the design and construction of this project. The university had also invested in a smart meter system, a district heating and cooling plant with power generation capability of eight megawatts of combined heat and power, and numerous automation and integration technology projects over several decades.

The advent of smart grid, according to McGowan, presented an opportunity for a truly cutting-edge Design/Build energy project, and the ultimate Green Building system. Using this rationale, ECI was successful in acquiring around $600,000 in pre-stimulus DOE funding, partially matched by UNM and the state. “This was a perfect example of the type of design/build shovel-ready projects sought under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act,” McGowan says.

“This unique Design /Build project leveraged wide ranging relationships and skills,” according to McGowan. “ECI has had a strong presence in building automation and in the smart grid market since its inception. We recognized the connection between smart buildings and smart grid, and saw how this market offered explosive opportunity for design build solutions that blend automation, system integration, mechanical/renewable energy systems, and efficiency.”

An Intuitive Tool to Understand Energy Use

This Design/Build energy technology project leverages existing technologies that have been implemented at UNM, with new technology and Internet-based web services. The project touches many campus buildings with automation, metering and integration. In addition, an “energy business intelligence tool” from Hunt Energy IQ, called GEMS (Global Energy Management and Sustainability) provides full information for more than 100 buildings. Energy data from the mechanical engineering building is reported in real-time through an integration using Tridium Java Application Control Engine (JACE) and Delta Control technology. Energy data from 84 other buildings is reported in less than 20-minute intervals and can be displayed in key performance indicators such as energy consumption or cost per square foot.

“This system provides an intuitive management tool for building owners to understand the impact of energy on their business and to provide for real-time manage of building performance,” McGowan says. “The system also integrates multiple BACnet and legacy automation systems to provide seamless interface to building operations. This smart campus can use this tool to manage energy use, energy cost, and its carbon footprint.”

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ECI worked with Hunt Energy IQ, and Delta controls to deploy a seamless BACnet integration between the BACnet systems in more than a dozen campus buildings and GEMS. A similar integration was executed between Tridium JACE and GEMS to access Btu energy data from systems that pick up this data from industrial controls on HVAC.

The project deploys automated demand response. This integrates utility systems with home and building control and energy information systems. Technical development and software programming at each customer's site may include a smart thermostat or a building automation system programmed to shut down equipment and reduce electrical demand if it receives a signal to do so. Or, the thermostat will signal a start-up of the CHP system to generate power on campus when the utility grid can't keep up with demand.

“The UNM project was designed to show how this level of performance data could be combined with automation and energy technology to provide a new generation of smart green building. We believe that smart buildings use energy in a clean and efficient way, to become green buildings,” McGowan says.

The site's “ultimate” green building is — not surprisingly — the mechanical engineering building. As part of this project, ECI's team rebuilt the solar thermal system with vacuum tube collectors and 400,000 gallons of thermal storage in the building. The project completely upgraded the system, added a 200-ton absorption chiller, and connected the building to the campus chilled water loop. As a result of the work in just this one building, the project can actually take the entire building “off the grid” for cooling, with the exception of some fan and pump loads. Centennial Engineering, the newest building on campus, was designed for optimum energy performance including a connection to the thermal storage loop from the mechanical energy building.

“The total campus project shows the next generation of smart building/smart grid strategies for energy management and load management, to support the power grid. It provides a great example of optimized Design/Build delivery,” McGowan says.

Inspiring Future Generations

Mammoli says working with McGowan and the team from ECI has helped him see the real-world, practical applications of the theories that underlie the smart grid. And while no one really knows exactly what a city-wide smart grid is going to look like, or how it will ultimately function, putting one on a college campus is the right thing to do.

“The campus is like a small city, so it's very exciting to look at the potential of smart grids, and to think that someday we'll say this is one of the places where it all started,” Mammoli says.

Mammoli is not the only one excited by the technology. “One of the things I really enjoyed about working with ECI is that doing practical things like this on buildings and energy systems really fires up students,” he says.

“There are a lot of students that are really interested in this topic, and I think the interaction with ECI has been instrumental in sparking that interest. This is where the people who are going to be doing this type of work in the future are going to see it.”

Winner at a Glance:


Energy Control, Inc.,
Albuquerque, NM


Smart grid project,
University of New Mexico,
Albuquerque, NM


$1.2 million


  • Hunt Energy IQ GEMS web service
  • Delta Controls DDC control for 26 buildings with HVAC and energy control
  • Tridium Java application control Engine (JACE), Green JACE, Vykon, and AX integration components
  • Cimetrics BACnet-to-SOAP interface for web services; vacuum tube solar collectors for solar thermal hot water
  • Yazaki 200-ton absorption chiller for solar thermal cooling
  • Samsung touch screens for web interface
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