February 4, 2005 10:57 AM PST

Sensors drafted to turn off lights nationwide

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New tech consortium to focus on sensor networks

November 30, 2004
The U.S. Department of Energy is investing millions of dollars in one of Mom's favorite habits: turning off the lights when no one is in the room.

The Energy Department has linked up with sensor specialist Dust Networks and SVA Lighting USA on a program that, by 2010, aims to cut the amount of energy used to keep building lights on in half.

One of the first stages will involve creating a wireless, automatic lighting control system that can be inserted into buildings without expensive rewiring or remodeling.

Light in residential and commercial buildings accounts for about 30 percent of the energy consumed in buildings. Acutely tuning lights to when people actually need it could cut energy consumption by $8 billion a year, according to the Energy Department.

America?s buildings use more than 30 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs, or quads) of energy per year, department figures show. A quad of energy is enough power to run all the residential refrigerators in the United States for a year. Without energy conservation technologies, energy use could reach about 40 quads by 2020. The lighting project is one of 13 building efficiency-focused experiments at the Energy Department to be funded by $30 million from public and private sources.

The sensor systems essentially monitor activity and traffic in rooms. If people--which, to a sensor, are just blobs--leave, the sensors send a signal to the network to turn down or turn off the lights. Creating mesh networks for connecting sensors and integrating the sensors into existing building lighting systems are some of the technical challenges.

Rob Conant, vice president of business development at Dust, said the company hopes to have a working demonstration of a building that incorporates such automatic light switchers by this summer.

Researchers and futurists have predicted that sensor networks will ultimately become pervasive, serving to monitor building traffic, unclog freeways or aid security cameras. Commercial acceptance, however, has moved fairly gradually and has garnered criticism from privacy advocates along the way.

Earlier this week, Dust also announced that it has secured $22 million in venture funding, bringing the total investment in the Berkeley, Calif.-based company to $30 million.

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Sensors- tried it here, didn't work
They tried that here in Sacramento when they built the new federal courthouse building. Seems that when the judges were in their offices working at their desks for prolonged periods of time, the lack of movement caused the lights to go off. One judge had to resort to jumping jacks in the dark to get the lights to come back on. They had to removed the sensors and change back to good old-fahshioned manual switches.

I assume that this would apply in a home setting, as well. And what about homes with pets? If your dog is roaming from room to room while you are out for the night, you'd end up with lights going on all over the house. Where is the savings in that?

I don't think this is a solution at all. Nice idea, but it doesn't allow for real lives.

Just turn off the damned light when you leave.
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