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Times & Trends: The Internet of Things and You

Oct. 14, 2014
Web-based control of virtually any electrical load or device sounds fascinating, but let’s not get too carried away.

EW’s editors are hearing lots of industry chatter about electrical manufacturers investing in software that collects information from electrical devices like lighting fixtures, circuit breakers and wiring devices.

As long as an electrical device has a node, it will have its own unique Internet Protocol (IP)  address, and that means you can communicate with and control it wirelessly over the web, often through a cloud-based network.  You can turn it on and off, get status reports on energy usage, or alerts about maintenance issues and other information.

For applications in the electrical market, this capability provides energy managers, property owners, C-suite execs and anyone else who has to sign off on a facility’s electrical bill with actionable data in customized reports, such as the potential for future energy savings and early warnings on operational issues. The software slices and dices the information and presents it in dashboards where users can see real-time data on their energy usage via their desktop computers and often mobile devices.

This year’s Lightfair was loaded with new lighting products and systems with these capabilities. Manufacturers of LED street lights and outdoor lighting fixtures marketed products that doubled as security devices, complete with video cameras, speaker systems and instant alerts when intruders cross pre-programmed boundaries. With lighting accounting for about 25% to 30% of the energy load in a typical C/I facility, and the desire by facility managers and utilities  to monitor the individual performance of every fixture they control, we will hear undoubtedly much more about this type of software.

The Internet of Things will affect our industry far beyond the lighting business. At a recent event at Schneider Electric’s new North American headquarters in Andover, Mass., company execs told attendees about how the billions they have invested in software for commercial, industrial and utility applications have dramatically expanded the company’s role in the energy market. (See article "Schneider Electric's Take on the Internet of Things").

All interesting stuff for sure, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves with the Internet of Things.  I think we are already seeing some signs of overdesign with the Internet of Things.  The Wall Street Journal published a recent review of the currently available wireless LED control systems for homes, and the writer was none too kind about the need for this type of residential lighting control. Yes, it’s very cool that you can control the light levels and colors of LED lighting fixtures in your home. But with a price tag of at least $200 for two of the systems (two LED bulbs and app included), it’s a bit rich for the tastes of most homeowners.

The Internet of Things is here to stay and it will dramatically affect how electrical loads and devices are controlled. But if you hear about an application using it that sounds a little far out, it probably is.


A consultant that counsels clients on the connected world/Internet of Things, Boston Technology Corp. (BTC), based in Marlborough, Mass., says by 2020 there will be more than 200 billion connected devices utilizing sensors. 

Traffic and parking control. The city of Barcelona, Spain, already has sensors embedded in parking spots that tell city managers when that space is vacant or in use. And California’s Department of Transporation reportedly has for several years had 27,000 sensors embedded in the highways of Southern California. But, alas, according to an AP report, at least a third of them are broken.

Health care. Ingestible sensors now send information to doctors about what’s happening inside your body. According to the developer of one such sensor,  Proteus Digital Health, “Your body powers the ingestible sensor. With no battery and no antenna, your stomach fluids complete the power source and your body transmits the unique number generated by the sensor.”