Getting into the grid-to-device market with the LonWorks platform - Q&A with Varun Nagaraj, Senior VP of Product Management, Echelon

February 1, 2012 OpenSystems Media

3To achieve the highest level of energy efficiency in buildings and factories, energy awareness must be designed from the inside out by embedding energy control networking into every device, making the whole system responsive to real-time conditions on the local grid. Varun emphasizes the importance of interoperability in smart energy systems and explains how embedded designers can leverage the LonWorks standard to speed product development.

NAGARAJ: The market opportunity for smart grid-aware devices and services is rapidly growing worldwide. In the past, energy management and efficiency were the domain of only those countries that lacked their own energy resources. Today’s world is much different. Energy fuels GDP growth, with industrialized nations consuming more on a per-capita basis than ever before. While this puts a strain on our collective generation capacity, it pales in comparison to the strains that are coming.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that China’s energy consumption is expected to double by 2035 from its current position of parity with the United States, which is only expected to increase use by about 25 percent. The drive to supply electricity – especially in many fast-growth countries like China or India – puts tremendous global price pressure on raw materials like coal. For example, India will need to fuel the generation capacity required to add nearly a billion more people to their grid within the next 10 years – half of their population today.

What this all means is that we need to design products, systems, and services with an eye toward grid awareness and energy efficiency.

ECD: How can designers interact with smart grid technology to create new embedded products and services for customers?

NAGARAJ: One key aspect designers have to consider is that their products exist in a much larger context than their core function. Let’s say you designed a backup generator that’s highly efficient. Designers should consider the generator’s full business or value chain, which includes the utility, energy services companies, building automation systems, and smart devices.

In this example, many systems must interoperate to complete a cycle of smart grid responsiveness. The utility exercises its right to lower peak demand via contracts with the service provider; the service provider signals its building customers that their systems need to shed energy load by some percentage; the individual building systems broadcast rules that inform the smart devices to change to a low energy state; and the smart generator kicks in to help ensure that the tenant remains productive and comfortable.

None of this could be possible without open standards like ISO/IEC 14908.1, also known as the LonWorks standard (see block diagram in Figure 1). Without the LonWorks standard, we would not have a consistent way to communicate with or leverage the generator’s embedded intelligence.

Figure 1: The elements of the LonWorks platform – including a communications protocol, signaling technology, dedicated microprocessors, a network operating system, and more – enable devices to sense, monitor, and control energy usage.

In the previously mentioned example, a LonWorks-based network allows the building owner to react to energy cost in a way that will lower expenses. This knowledge is supplied to the building and owner in the form of a service from an energy services company. The cycle starts when utilities react to the availability of energy by balancing loads to keep up with the demand occurring on the segment that contains the building. Designing a LonWorks interface in the generator means it can join an existing building network. All of these networks (building, energy service provider, utility) come together to form the backbone of a more efficient and smarter grid.

ECD: What is the LonWorks smart energy control network standard, and how does it fit in the embedded industry?

NAGARAJ: The LonWorks standard for energy control networks is widely adopted in several key energy markets. It’s the leading standard used in smart street lighting systems, commercial buildings, smart homes, and a newly emerging control market for solar installations (see Figure 2). It’s also a global control standard (ISO/IEC 14908.1, .2, .3, and .4) that encompasses the communications protocol, twisted-pair and power-line signaling technologies, and IP tunneling. It’s important to realize that the protocol is a complete ISO seven-layer stack and that it provides a fully documented, freely accessed, comprehensive set of open, interoperable, and industry-accepted data types and profiles.

Figure 2: The LonWorks platform works with existing and emerging control and networking technologies, offering flexible implementation in a variety of smart grid applications, such as smart streetlights, solar installations, and intelligent building control.

This means that designers can focus on what they do best – their applications and solutions – rather than spend time on the nuts and bolts of communications and networks. So if you’re building a complete system, you don’t have to design signaling technology, tools for optimizing performance, or communications protocols. You can use the LonWorks standard or work with companies supplying LonWorks-based tools and technologies that can be easily leveraged to get products to market faster at a lower development cost.

ECD: What software tools and development aids are available for building automation and industrial management projects?

NAGARAJ: Echelon and other companies offer a variety of evaluation kits, development environments, test tools, network analysis tools, system software, and installation tools. Because the LonWorks standard is open, developers have several options to choose from.

Free software development kits and information on ways to kick-start development efforts are available at Another good place to start is the LonMark International website at This provides an overview of the application profiles available to help designers ensure a product works with other LonWorks-based products, as well as an indication of what’s on the market today.

ECD: What hardware/software educational events or online classes does Echelon offer to help embedded designers get started with its products?

NAGARAJ: Echelon offers a full curriculum of courses that can be presented on-site. These include:

  • 100: Introduction to the LonWorks Platform
  • 201: LonWorks Network Design
  • 301: Using the LonMaker Integration Tool
  • 320: i.LON 100/i.LON 600 Installation and Configuration
  • 401: LonWorks Device Development

We also provide an extensive eTraining catalog of courses in topics ranging from basic Neuron C programming (essentially ANSI C with some minor changes that support the event-driven communications paradigm of a LonWorks network) to full device development. The full list of courses is outlined at

Varun Nagaraj is senior VP of product management at Echelon.

Echelon 408-938-5200 Echelon-Corporation/117116285042073 @echeloncorp

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