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Rising to the Challenge: CALM Energy

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By Royce Gene, Intern, Urban Innovation & Sustainability, Center for Economic Transformation 

New York’s power grid is old, unreliable and increasingly more strained–and it doesn’t take a Superstorm Sandy to prove it.

On hot summer days in the city, the vulnerability of our system can be just as apparent.

NYC-based smart grid company CALM Energy has developed a product that can help address this challenge, without requiring billions in capital investments to the grid.

Their product, Energy Watchdog, is an effective solution for both customers and local utilities. It enables communication between buildings, backup power supply, and the power grid to synchronize management of building loads in response to power disruptions and other stresses on the grid.

When conventional power supplies are down, Energy Watchdog can quickly curtail a building’s energy consumption by shutting down ancillary building functions to prioritize critical uses, as well as bringing backup energy sources online. This smart building systems controller ensures that a building’s important functions are kept running during an emergency, while also providing automated peak load shaving and improved energy efficiency during normal operations.

As one of 11 winning teams in NYCEDC’s RISE : NYC competition, CALM Energy, Inc., will share up to $30 million with the other winners to install the Energy Watchdog at Sandy-impacted small businesses across New York City. We spoke to the team about their plans.

Basic Facts

Company: CALM Energy, Inc. 

Name of Winning RISE : NYC Technology: Energy Watchdog, Smart Node Controller with Standy Power Generation

About: Energy Watchdog provides sophisticated energy management to small and midsized commercial buildings. The system allows a building owner to monitor and control energy use, and to curtail load or activate backup generators when needed. 

Benefit: Energy Watchdog improves the resilience of buildings where it is installed through the integration of backup energy supply controls. 

It also interfaces with the utility’s control systems to allow buildings to participate in Demand Response and improves the reliability of the electric grid, especially during times of peak demand. By using an intelligent system, the controller is able to observe and “learn” the characteristics of a building and its energy consumption patterns. This machine-based intelligence allows for highly advanced onsite energy management. 

The Energy Watchdog brings sophisticated building energy management to small and midsized commercial buildings, which have historically been underserved due to the cost and complexity of deploying energy management systems typically designed for larger operations.

Technology Category: Energy, helping businesses and buildings manage their power consumption and generation when the traditional electricity grid is strained.

An Interview with CALM Energy

When and how did you get the idea for Energy Watchdog?

Energy Watchdog uses several core ideas, for which patents have been issued or are pending.

Given the large amount of energy they use, big buildings can afford to build sophisticated thermodynamic and energy use maps of the building, and then use that map to control heating and electricity systems. For smaller buildings, this isn’t cost-effective.

We realized that by using machine learning, the same techniques could be applied to individual buildings.

Thinking about load limiting from both the utility’s perspective and from the perspective of the building operator led to a new model: instead of simply extending the traditional utility control model to encompass equipment installed at the customer’s site, we provide a mechanism for automatic negotiation between the utility and the customer. 

For example, instead of the utility telling a building to “turn off the 4th floor HVAC unit,” or “turn on the generator,” the utility can say, “give us 50 kW in power reduction,” and the Energy Watchdog determines how to achieve that 50 kW reduction, given the unique combination of current conditions and the building operator’s business and occupant needs.

What mechanics went into developing your technology? 

Energy Watchdog has been developed in part as an R&D activity funded by NYSERDA (part in conjunction with Con Edison’s role in the Department of Energy-funded Smart Grid Demonstration Project), and in part as a logical extension of work we had done earlier.

Development of the product has taken three years.

What does your technology achieve?

Energy Watchdog reduces the risk of business interruptions through automated management of backup energy sources and decreases cost through reductions in overall energy consumption and peak power demand.

It also increases occupant comfort and operational quality through better monitoring and control. Finally, it offers the community and the utility the benefits of a more resilient electric grid, by enabling targeted automated demand response.

What type of small businesses/buildings will benefit most from your technology? 

Commercial buildings 10,000 sq feet to 200,000 sq feet will benefit most from the technology.

How do programs like RISE : NYC support innovation and climate adaptive technologies like yours? 

The RISE program is an enormous opportunity for us to go beyond a few commercially deployed systems and begin large-scale deployment.

The information gathered, lessons learned, and organizational capabilities developed over the course of this project will significantly contribute to the growth of our local business. 

Learn more about CALM Energy here.


About the Rising to the Challenge series: Eleven innovative resiliency technologies are helping to build a stronger, more resilient New York. What are they and who are the companies behind them?

This blog series shares the stories of each of the winning RISE : NYC technologies and the impact they will have on businesses and communities in New York City. Read all profiles here

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