IoT: Smart Connected Planet

San Diego Port Authority Gets Data Tech Smart

A busy California port turns to the Internet of Things to reduce its energy consumption.

Bob Nelson drives his gray Tesla Model S along the San Diego Bay several mornings each week. Jutting into the Bay, a strip of land called the Silver Strand shelters the 33 miles of shoreline and 5,400 acres of tideland that comprise the city’s port.

He pauses in the lobby of the administration building to scan a display of energy-use statistics.

As a commissioner of the Port of San Diego — home to the West Coast’s largest ship builder, 15 hotels, more than 30 restaurants, and countless cruise and cargo ships — Nelson is in charge of meeting California’s ambitious environmental mandates. The port’s plan: emit 10 percent fewer greenhouse gases than its 2006 baseline levels by 2020 and 25 percent fewer gases by 2035.

“When I was a child, conservation meant my father would fine me 25 cents when I didn’t turn a light off,” said Nelson, 64. “In today’s world, it requires a much more robust and intelligent solution.”

The Port of San Diego’s effort is one of many around the globe. Cities such as London and Dublin are studying how Internet of Things (IoT) technologies might improve air quality or respond to climate change. Others, like Barcelona, which has installed sensors in waste bins to alert collection services when full, are using IoT to improve day-to-day life.

When researching ways to meet the goals of the port’s Climate Action Plan, Nelson met with Cleantech San Diego, a trade association focused on business opportunities created by sustainability policies. Jason Anderson, the association’s president, brought together several IoT contractors to develop a system of sensors and data analytics that could eventually track energy consumption across the port, revealing ways to reduce waste.

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As a proof of concept, Anderson and Nelson decided to deploy an IoT system in the port administration building. In 2014, they oversaw the installation of sensors along the building’s HVAC system.

The system works by chilling water in the basement, pumping it through pipes, blowing air over the pipes, then pumping the water to rooftop cooling towers before eventually circling it back to the basement.

Photo courtesy of Anshel Sag.

By adding gateways — intelligent systems that coordinate and communicate with sensors, including a current transducer on the cooling tower, a pressure gauge on the basement chillers and temperature gauges at both sites — the smart system collects data and sends the information to the cloud via the internet. These sensors track the usage of the subsystems that translate into energy expenditure, said Nick Ong, a technical account manager at Intel.

Every 15 seconds, the gateways gather and normalize sensor data to reduce data transmission and storage. Ong said that without the gateway processing, the data would need to be stored in the cloud before finding a desired measurement.

The resulting information is then stored in a centralized depository where the engineers can access the real-time data.

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It wasn’t long before the data revealed an anomaly. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, when the administration building was closed, daily HVAC energy expenditure should have dropped by 100 percent. It appeared to drop only by half.

The IoT system showed that although the pumps and blowers were turned off, the chillers continued to run, Ong said. This prompted building managers to reprogram them to turn off completely during holidays, alongside the other HVAC elements.

Photo courtesy of Anshel Sag.
Photo courtesy of Anshel Sag.

“The bottom line is we were able to identify an issue that went beyond the smart meter,” Ong said, explaining that the new system identified a problem that the engineers were able to see and resolve.

According to Commissioner Nelson, this relatively minor adjustment led to a bigger policy change: The administration building, which was open 12 or more hours every weekday, now is shut down every other Friday. Having people make up those hours throughout the rest of the pay cycle has reduced building energy expenditures and emissions.

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Cleantech San Diego’s Anderson hopes that the system will help others “see the value in integrating these somewhat-inexpensive technologies to really start to better understand their energy usage.” He anticipates that this project will lead to something much bigger, potentially involving the installation of hundreds or thousands of sensors across the port.

Photo courtesy of Anshel Sag.
Photo courtesy of Anshel Sag.

For now, Nelson hopes that the administration building tenants who stop to read the display like he does will see the energy-saving data and gain a better understanding of the benefits of IoT monitoring and support a larger program.

“It just helps you think differently,” Nelson said. “When you start measuring things, you start thinking, ‘if this, then that.’”


This article was adapted from an original story Heather Sparks. For more photos by Anshel Sag, visit his set on Flickr.

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