San Jose-based Echelon Corp. may not be a household name, but its technology and networking gizmos are likely the brains of a building’s operation somewhere near you. From smart meters to embedded sensors to routers, Echelon makes more than 90 products that reduce energy consumption and link complex network tasks for buildings and transportation and utility systems the world over.
Founded in 1988 by Mike Markkula, former president of Apple Computers, Echelon’s control technology is found in diverse locations ranging from the New York City subway system to the Louvre in France to more than 25 million energy-smart homes in Italy.
Barry Haaser, 48, Echelon’s senior director of LonWorks Infrastructure Business, talks about how the firm’s products benefit buildings, consumers, investors and industry at large.
NREI: Would you tell us about your company’s vision?
HAASER: Mike Markkula founded Echelon to fulfill his vision of electronic devices that could communicate and inter-operate, despite being made by different manufacturers. We’ve built our technology around that philosophy. Only recently have people started to fully appreciate the power and economies they can enjoy from this approach as we’ve all had to face energy shortages and a growing need for safer and more efficient work-and-home environments. Our products vary widely and range from engineering-development tools to products that connect devices to the Internet to transceivers for communication between sensors and databases to software used for energy-management networks.
NREI: The New York subway system uses your technology. Who are some of your other prominent clients?
HAASER: Enel, Italy's largest power company and one of the largest utilities in the world, has inserted our power-line chips into every one of their [utility] meters. That data is sent back to them directly. Just about every electric meter in Italy is now linked. In fact, it is a system that is used in utilities all around the world. We recently shipped our one-millionth meter!
Building-automation companies such as Honeywell Lighting Systems and Hubbell Automation have large integrated control systems that use Echelon. The New York City public school system and NASA are also big users. In retail, clothier Eddie Bauer uses our technology to manage store controls. We’re working with McDonalds to implement the “kitchen of the future.” They’re installing power-line chips in all their kitchen equipment and will network those. We’ve also been working to network 7,500 7-Eleven stores in Japan.
NREI: How much do your products cost?
HAASER: That’s tough to gauge because of the nature of our business. Our LonWorks control-network tech products are typically incorporated into systems by various manufacturers. So based on the complex nature of our products, there really isn't an average cost. It varies greatly depending upon product complexity and volume. However, consumer products are considerably simpler and cheaper than our more sophisticated business solutions. Echelon's contribution to [products] can cost as little as a couple dollars per unit depending upon the application.
NREI: What about your energy- and resource-management systems for buildings?
HAASER: The building industry is one of our largest markets. Buildings can be much more cost-effective and energy efficient if they have controls that can integrate heating systems, sensors, thermostats and other elements. In our building, we have an occupancy sensor that knows when you come and go and sends a message to the network so your lights are adjusted accordingly. Or the system can adjust to give you 50 percent lighting if you have natural light. Controls will change building settings as the sun moves across the sky or adjust outside lighting if snow provides more radiant light. They also make sure you aren’t heating or illuminating unoccupied space. As a result, you typically save 30 percent or more in energy costs - sometimes up to 50 percent. We also have strategies for optimizing hot-water use. All these devices speak the same language because we’ve created a common standard. That means you aren’t forced to buy [systems and components] from the same vendor along with their control software and maintenance agreements. You get to pick and choose the best.
NREI: Are developers and owners starting to grasp this kind of technology?
HAASER: To a degree. However, most of the people in the real estate sector have no idea how their buildings are constructed and designed from a systems-control perspective. They don’t always realize there are much more efficient ways of building and managing them. A lot of decisions made in the construction process today don’t necessarily represent the interest of the building owner. We’ve had tremendous success in Europe. Hardly a building goes up there that doesn’t have our technology.
NREI: How does your technology benefit real estate investors?
HAASER: They’re able to pass the savings to tenants and have a better product to sell. Our solutions create a more durable and competitive environment for users, who get the freedom to use multiple service providers. You can add and remove walls and it’s simply a matter of adding more intelligent devises to the network to adjust. As for return on investment, the ROI happens in 7 to 10 years or sooner. From the perspective of a LEED green-building rating system, you can add up to 21 LEED points by using these controls and jump up a level in certification.
NREI: We’ve talked about your LonWorks line. What about your new Pyxos platform?
HAASER: LonWorks networks connect boxes. But our Pyxos Embedded Control Networking Platform puts the thinking inside the box, we like to say. It puts the power of LonWorks into the smallest devices, even sensors and actuators inside machines. Through Pyxos, new applications once unimaginable can be created such as smart carpeting, which tracks traffic patterns so cleaning crews can be directed to those areas that are more heavily trafficked. You can also have smart uniforms, smart furniture and other new applications.