Insights from industry

Communicating Thermostat Solutions as an Energy Management System

Jerry C. Drew, President, Network Thermostat, talks to AZoSensors about communicating thermostat solutions as an energy management system.

Who is Network Thermostat?

Since 1995, Network Thermostat (Net/X™) maintains the position of industry leader in providing commercial grade communicating thermostat solutions. Our award winning products and technologies give simple, reliable HVAC controls, anywhere and anytime, to maximize energy savings while providing comfort to the occupants. With 18 platforms and connectivity solutions, we understand the different needs of each market segment and supply best-of-class solutions and flexibility for each.

NetX-IP Software Status Update Description.

NetX-IP Software Status Update Description.

How is a Network Thermostat Energy Management System different from a programmable thermostat?

A standard programmable thermostat can only manage a simple 7 day, 4 events per day/ weekly schedule with a possible “hold” feature to maintain temperature at a set level while on vacation. Traditional programmable thermostats can only be set from the front panel of the thermostat.

A Net/X™ Energy Management System uses communicating thermostats as the basis for each platform. Our four unique communicating platforms provide simple, flexible integration into HVAC control systems. Programming can be done locally at the thermostat site or remotely over the Internet.

The indefinite “hold” button has been replaced with a required end time and date to eliminate HVAC equipment from running constantly, uncontrolled.  All four Net/X™ EMS communications platforms (Ethernet, Wi-Fi, StrongMesh™ and XBus™) include the powerful Net/X™ Command Center Software for managing multiple thermostats and multiple locations, an Advanced Remote Sensor Bus, alerts for temperature & equipment status and thermostat lockouts with override and control permissions.

Why use an energy management system over a programmable thermostat?

A Net/X™ Energy Management Solution can save up to 35% on utility costs, prolong the life of the HVAC equipment, and provide alert notifications which can save on costly equipment repairs.  Energy saving features include algorithms for Efficient Equipment Restart to minimize multiple HVAC units turning on simultaneously and Smart Schedule Recovery to intelligently ensure that rooms are at the appropriate temperature at the programmed time.

The Net/X™ thermostat lockouts with programmable override control ensure overrides are temporary, not permanent. With a traditional programmable thermostat, it is a constant problem for facility managers to monitor for HVAC equipment that is unnecessarily running because an occupant left the area and forgot to return the thermostat to setback temperatures.

Equipment saving alerts include an Inefficient Equipment Run that notifies when HVAC units are running but not controlling the climate in their respective area, remote sensors that are prompt notifications for condensate collection in drip pans, supply or return air temperatures to help pinpoint the location of an HVAC issue and even time change alerts for filters, humidity pads or UV lamps.

What sort of applications use Net/X products?

Net/X™ solutions are ideal for any application looking to save on utility costs and/or for saving on the time (and costs) necessary for proper HVAC management as well as the associated convenience of world class management software. Our energy management systems are most frequently used in industrial, commercial and high-end residential properties where remote access and multiple thermostat control are desired.

Some of the commercial applications we serve include worship facilities, schools, correctional facilities, office buildings, food service, property management, retail facilities, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, senior housing, and public service building.

What is the remote sensor bus and how is it advanced?

The Advanced Remote Sensor Bus is a proprietary communications protocol for Network Thermostat products. This robust, yet simple auxiliary communications bus allows for communications between thermostats, controllers and remote sensors.

Can you explain more about the remote sensors and how they contribute to the energy management systems?

Remote sensors complete the energy management system.  Up to 6 NT-TEMP remote indoor temperature sensors can be averaged together to provide a more uniform climate for thermostats that manage the temperature in multiple rooms or very large areas. But, it doesn’t stop there.

Three additional NT-TEMP sensors can be added to the remote sensor bus in combination with other temperature probes so they can be used for monitoring items such as supply or return air sensing or for monitoring walk-in coolers or freezers, outdoor temperature, and even in-pipe water temperatures for any application.

Using a remote sensor to monitor coolers & freezers can save money by sending alerts when the monitored temperatures rise above set levels.  This allows for freezer or cooler products to be moved before they spoil. Net/X™ Occupancy Sensors, when combined with the Net/X™ thermostats can also be used to control HVAC equipment.

Using occupancy sensors in one or more areas allows for pre- conditioning of the space, and if no occupancy is detected within an adjustable time out period, the HVAC is placed in set-back mode to save energy until occupancy is detected or a new schedule is initiated.

Most versions of the Net/X™ thermostats also have two digital inputs that can be used for monitoring and email/text alerting for condensate overflow, equipment faults or any other digital event (via a simple contact closure). Other remote sensors include humidity sensors and flush mount sensors for maintaining room ambience and aesthetics.

What is the Command Center Software and why is it important to the Net/X™ Energy Management System?

The best in class, award winning Net/X™ Command Center Software is exclusive to Net/X™ Energy Management Systems.  It simplifies monitoring and controlling multiple thermostats and multiple locations from a single screen on a PC.  The Command Center Software can be used locally and/or accessed remotely.

The Command Center features drag and drop updates across multiple thermostats with duplicate information for anything from schedules to alert settings to lockout and override parameters. The Command Center also makes it simple to set global schedules, vacations, overrides and sync thermostat clocks.  The software even data logs all the useful data from the thermostats as frequently as every 10 seconds, providing all the relevant information needed for sophisticated spreadsheet and graphical analysis.

The data is stored monthly in a .csv file that can easily be exported to Excel or other spreadsheets for manipulation.  From this data it is possible to obtain equipment run time and do HVAC trending.

Each platform type has its own Command Center Software.  The proprietary XBus and StrongMesh platforms use the Net/X Command Center, while the Ethernet and Wi-Fi platforms use the Net/X-IP Command Center. The Net/X-IP Command Center can display and give a window for control of any Internet ready electronics (i.e. security cameras, sprinkler systems, lighting controls, etc.).

Can you explain the difference between the various energy management platforms?

Network Thermostat has four unique energy management platforms. The wired XBus™ and wireless StrongMesh™ systems use a central controller for event scheduling. All schedules and data are stored in the NT-IPXB Network Controller (Ethernet- based). Alternatively, there are stand-alone wired Ethernet and wireless Wi-Fi platforms. These stand-alone systems integrate all the schedules, alerts, overrides and permissions right in the thermostat.

Solutions Differentiator
XBus™/StrongMesh™ Ethernet/Wi-Fi
Multiple Calendar Date Vacation Schedules
Single Calendar Date Vacation
Up to 6 events per day Up to 4 events per day
System Programmable (NT-IPXB stores schedules and sends to thermostat)
Integrated Web Server
2 sensor types & up to 7 remote sensor Schedules programmed direct to thermostat
Requires NetX-Web cloud service for notifications & alerts
Cloud free/fee free remote access
Remote access via remote log-in to PC software or NetX-Web 6 sensor types & up to 11 remote sensors with 16 alerts
Single IP address/32 units Notifications & alerts sent from thermostat
-40ºF to +119ºF read out
Integrated Weatherbug (eliminates outdoor sensor for heat pump balancing)
IP address for each thermostat -40ºF to +200ºF read out

The NT-IPXB Network Controller.

The NT-IPXB Network Controller.

What is the difference between the wired XBus/Strongmesh systems and the Ethernet/Wi-FI systems?

The XBus system uses the proprietary long-haul communications bus (using CAT5, but not as Ethernet) to communicate with the NT-IPXB Network Controller. Up to 4,000 feet of cable can be connected to a single NT-IPXB and only one IP address is required for communications with up to 32 thermostats.

The Ethernet/Wi-Fi thermostat systems include all schedules, alerts, permissions and web pages integrated right into each thermostat. Because these versions sit on the building’s LAN, each thermostat uses a unique IP address on the network.

What is the difference between the wireless StrongMesh and Wi-Fi systems?

The StrongMesh and Wi-Fi systems utilize two entirely different wireless protocols. StrongMesh is based on the 802.15.4 wireless standard.  StrongMesh is a very powerful self-healing mesh network without the complications that are typically found in other mesh networks.  With StrongMesh™, each thermostat is a receiver, transmitter and repeater.

When used in conjunction with one or more wireless coordinators, the self- healing mesh communications network is formed.  The wireless communications distance between the coordinator and a thermostat is 3000ft (line of sight) and communications between each thermostat is 1000ft (line of sight).

It’s not unusual for us to see customers with distances of several hundred feet between StrongMesh thermostats. The NT-IPXB (the StrongMesh system’s Ethernet gateway) uses the StrongMesh network to transport set points to the thermostats in real time.

The Wi-Fi thermostats are based on the standard point-to-point 802.11b/g wireless protocol. Depending on router strength, typical wireless communications distance ranges from about 60ft to 100ft before an additional Wi-Fi Wireless Access Point is needed. The Wi-Fi systems include all schedules, alerts, permissions and web pages integrated in the thermostat.

How does one know which system to use?

There are several factors that determine which Net/X™ Energy Management System is best for a facility. The first step is to determine if a wired system or a wireless system is to be used. A wired system is usually easiest to implement at the construction stage of a building or in buildings with drop ceilings.

If a wired system is desired, then it is a case of determining which features are most important from the list of differentiating features. An IT department can also influence which wired system is used based on the number of IP addresses that can be assigned.

If the desire is to go wireless, it is necessary to determine RF reception at each thermostat.  For facilities with an already established Wi-Fi network (or easy to install), a Net/X™ Wi-Fi solution can be a very simple installation. Facilities with weak Wi-Fi or incomplete Wi-Fi coverage, the Net/X™ StrongMesh™ system might be the better solution.

Large warehouse and manufacturing facilities where Wi-Fi is not available are perfect applications for StrongMesh, as are locations where Wi-Fi is not allowed by corporate policy (such as retail stores that don’t allow Wi-Fi on their networks due to the potentials of hacking.

While the Net/X™ Wi-Fi solutions provide all of the industry standard security measures, the Net/X™ StrongMesh solutions remove the ‘hackability’ of the customer’s Ethernet network because the only data that is on the wireless StrongMesh is thermostat data.  Therefore, even if a hacker got past the StrongMesh AES encryption, they have nowhere to go upstream on the network because the NT-IPXB network controller doesn’t understand anything except the thermostat data.

NT-IPXB network controller.

NT-IPXB network controller.

The world seems to be migrating towards cloud services.  How does this migration affect a Network Thermostat solution?

Network Thermostat has a very powerful ‘cloud’ offering for the XBus and StrongMesh platforms, giving customers an enormously effective tool for multi-user, multi-site environments.  It’s basically a cloud extension of the PC-based Command Center software, complete with data logging, trending, and email/text alerting.

Regarding the Net/X™ Ethernet and Wi-Fi thermostats, everything is already built into the thermostats, unlike nearly all other communicating thermostat platforms. We believe that the ‘cloud’ should be used as a connectivity tool, not as a requirement to make the systems work.

It’s Network Thermostat’s policy to always deliver a complete solution to the customer, sans ‘cloud’.  We see the ‘cloud’ as an additional option for connectivity, not as a required crutch because the thermostat platform doesn’t have enough power to work stand-alone.  After all, we would never want a customer not to be able to control their facilities.

Many of our corporate customers would never allow a thermostat or other device to be reliant on anything outside their own network, and with Net/X EMS solutions, they never have to worry about that.

Does Network Thermostat have any other products?

Network Thermostat also has an NT-RELAY Dual Programmable Relay that can schedule and control any electronics with an on/off switch. The NT-RELAY is a stand-alone product that can be used with the Command Center Software.  It is possible to schedule up to 6 events per day on each relay.  NT-RELAYs are used to control parking lot lights, signs, pumps, landscape lighting, etc.

Network Thermostat has recently introduced the NT-BAC/IP BACnet gateway for XBus™ wired and StrongMesh™ wireless systems, as well as the GE/HP thermostats with either Wi-Fi or Ethernet capability.  Simply add a NT-BAC/IP to the existing Net/X system for simple integration with the BAS system of choice communicating on the BACnet protocol.

Network Thermostat integrates seamlessly with your expansion decisions. The NT-BAC/IP includes powerful auto-discovery and point mapping of each Net/X device.  When integrating with the Net/X system- programmable XBus (Wired) or StrongMesh (Wireless) solutions, it’s as simple as plugging the NT-BAC/IP into the LAN, entering the IP address of the Net/X system scheduler (the NT-IPXB), and connecting the BAS via Ethernet.

The NT-BAC/IP does the rest.  Also, the NT-IPXB system scheduler includes a Net/X exclusive BAS system failsafe override. This feature will allow the BAS system to control the HVAC units unless the NT-IPXB does not receive a “BACnet active” response, whereby the NT-IPXB resumes as the primary HVAC scheduler and runs the HVAC systems accordingly.

NET/XTM IP Thermostats – 4 Commercial-grade Platforms.

NET/XTM IP Thermostats – 4 Commercial-grade Platforms.

About Jerry C. Drew      

Jerry C. DrewMr. Drew possesses over thirty (30) years of experience in business leadership and marketing management. He has consistently focused on technically oriented organizations in the multi-family housing, commercial electronics and controls, semiconductor and home automation industries. He has assumed leadership roles relating to business management, project management, product development and corporate development and has led the successful implementation of well-conceived business plans.

Mr. Drew began his career as an Engineering Manager at Trammel Crow Co. (TCC). During his tenure at TCC, he traveled extensively to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to develop a network of semiconductor and computer-related manufacturing facilities for the company’s technology division. He then transitioned to Texas Instruments, Inc. (TI) where he led the international strategic and tactical marketing efforts for field programmable gate arrays, and managed the TI-Weapon Systems entity’s electrical CAE software R&D deployment.

Over the past twenty years, Mr. has launched five successful businesses underneath J. Drew, Inc. The first of these businesses was Home Electronics Systems, a company that designed and installed customized controls that managed the operation of integrated high tech components. This company installed several $100K+ systems per year. The second was a consulting business that provided infrastructure design services to the multi-family housing industry. This company has consulted on dozens of projects over several years across the United States, including 22 projects in downtown Dallas alone.

The third is Network Thermostat (NT). Over the last seven (7) years, Mr. Drew has led Network Thermostat into forefront of wireless communications for HVAC control through redefining communicating thermostat concepts that he first conceived in the early 1990’s.  With more than seventeen years (17) of experience in communications based thermostats, Mr. Drew’s customers reach many markets, including product development and manufacturing for some of the largest building controls manufacturers on the globe and several vertical markets as well.

In 2006, Mr. Drew received Frost & Sullivan’s Entrepreneurial Company of the Year award for the North American Thermostat market.  More recently, Mr. Drew was specifically and singularly picked by Honeywell-Middle East to design and provide the integrated network thermostat system for the most impressive and tallest project in the world, the Burj-Dubai complex in the U.A.E., with more than 3,600 network thermostats in the single 160+ story tower.

He has also co-founded two other energy management and HVAC controls companies and served as their President during this time frame. These companies designed and manufactured energy management systems for the multi-family industry and forced-air HVAC zoning equipment, including electronic controllers and electro-mechanical dampers.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.


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