Intelligent buildings today are incorporating sensors everywhere
Published on : Saturday 07-10-2023
Larry O’Brien, Vice President, Research, ARC Advisory Group.
Estimates vary, but buildings account for 30-40% of energy consumption. How does building automation contribute to energy efficiency?
According to the EIA and EPA, buildings are the largest consumers of energy and one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In the US, buildings account for approximately 70 percent of electricity consumption, approximately 40 percent of total US primary energy consumption, and about 30 percent of operational GHG emissions. At the same time, about 30 percent of the energy put into these buildings is wasted. Modernising an out-of-date building automation system is the single biggest thing owner operators can do to improve energy efficiency, reduce overall energy consumption, and provide a healthier and more sustainable space. The installed base of older BASs that need modernisation is considerable. Like many industrial and critical infrastructure systems, BASs have a long lifecycle of 10-15 years or more.
What are the specific building automation technologies that help optimise heating, cooling, and lighting systems for energy savings?
All major BAS suppliers are incorporating the IoT suite of technologies to create the next generation of systems, including cloud and edge computing. This includes cloud computing, edge computing, industrial IoT protocols such as MQTT and AMQP, machine learning, analytics, virtualisation, and digital twins. All these technologies are being adopted by leading BAS suppliers as part of their next generation integrated building automation systems. It is this incorporation of IoT technologies that enables the ‘system of systems’ approach that allows users to easily integrate new capabilities with the installed base to create a single system of reference and a holistic view of all operations in the built environment.
As a ‘system of systems’, integrated building automation systems enable the many functional silos of the built environment to be connected and work together in a common environment. No system or function exists in a vacuum. More end users and owner-operators are starting to realise the value of integrated building automation systems. These can provide seamless access to data across multiple systems and operating domains to create a unified and holistic view of the overall performance and state of the built environment and its various functions.
Integrated building automation systems perform many functions. These include analytics, remote asset monitoring, performance management, decision support and/or presentation support. At its core, integrated building automation systems should include a common environment for visualisation, advanced applications, analytics, and contextualised data.
Many BAS suppliers also have a large installed base of knowledge among their engineers and personnel when it comes to the performance of key assets in the built environment. Some suppliers have deep knowledge around HVAC assets; some are experts on the electrical side, and some offer expertise in security, fire systems, and other domains. Suppliers can leverage this expertise to create better asset management and maintenance solutions, improved operator visibility into potential problems, and this knowledge can also be used to train AI and machine learning-based solutions in order to automate or optimise certain operations. Having the expertise is one thing but leveraging it into solutions that provide customers with the ability to make actionable decisions is another.
How does the integration of sensors and smart controls in building automation enhance indoor air quality and occupant comfort while still maintaining energy efficiency?
Today's intelligent buildings are incorporating sensors everywhere. This includes the new generation of multivariable measurement sensors that can sense room temperature, occupancy, indoor air quality, and more. You cannot control what you cannot measure, and more sensors means better control of heating, cooling, air quality, and lighting both to create a better environment for people and to provide enhanced energy efficiency. By directing energy only where it is needed for the time period it is needed, end users can achieve considerable energy savings and see great energy efficiency improvements.
What are the challenges that organisations face when implementing building automation for sustainability, and how can these be overcome?
While sustainability related metrics can provide much of the business value proposition for the installation of a new building automation system, many end users and owner operators do not develop sufficient KPIs and metrics to measure the impact on sustainability that new BASs provide. Establishing sufficient baseline performance measurements and appropriate KPIs is essential for success.
Building automation end users also have a reputation for being cost sensitive, and in the past have treated BASs as a commodity. End users and owner/operators will benefit from taking a more considered approach to supplier selection, one that includes price, but is more geared toward choosing a system that can accomplish the business and operational goals of the organisation. Users must look at an increasingly complex and sophisticated spectrum of functionality, new system architectures, and things like AI and machine learning capabilities.
Many end users and owner/operators purchasing new BASs give insufficient consideration to the work processes and new ways of completing tasks that may not be optimal for today’s new systems. Many new systems feature the capability to automate certain procedures and processes in the built environment, saving much time and money. Other systems can provide improved guidance for other procedures. AI technology also holds great promise for automating rote, repetitive procedures and tasks within systems.
What is the potential for renewable energy integration within building automation systems, and how does this contribute to a building's overall sustainability profile?
Most modern integrated building automation systems today provide for integration of on-site renewable energy. This is also an area where BAS suppliers who have considerable expertise on the electrical side can provide significant value because of their knowledge of power management and electrical integration. Several suppliers today can offer systems that will provide an integrated environment for power management.
How do building automation systems facilitate the collection of data related to energy consumption and environmental impact, and how can this data be used for continuous improvement?
If the age of digitalisation has provided us with anything, it is lots of data. Millions of data points from millions of sensors are connected to an increasingly wide range of systems and applications. Turning all this data into useful information is a tremendous challenge. Data comes in widely varying formats, with different vendors handling and expressing data in different ways. Different protocols also have different ways of expressing data, and the lack of a single standard protocol in smart cities and building automation compounds the issue. Providing common context to the huge amounts of data being generated by various vendor systems and the new generation of IoT enabled systems is going to be necessary to extract value from the data and turn it into useful information.
There are several open industry communication protocols and open data initiatives that can help end users create a common, integrated environment for contextual data. These include networking technologies like BACNet, MODBUS, and OPC UA. For open data standards, there is the Haystack standard. Project Haystack is an open (and open source), vendor-independent initiative to provide contextualisation to the large amounts of data being generated by operational technology (OT)-level systems in the building automation and smart cities space. The Niagara Framework is a universal software infrastructure that allows building controls, integrators, and contractors to build custom, web-enabled applications.
(The views expressed in interviews are personal, not necessarily of the organisations represented)
Larry O’Brien joined ARC in 1993 and has an extensive background covering control systems, networks, sensors, and software for the industrial and critical infrastructure segments. In addition to over 30 years of market research experience, Larry has participated in many custom consulting engagements with end user and owner/operator clients in these industries, ranging from large scale supplier selection projects to controls strategy development, technology evaluation, custom surveys, and benchmarking.
For the past three years, Larry has been part of both the cybersecurity and smart city practices at ARC and has authored a number of research papers, market reports, and articles on ICS/SCADA cybersecurity and smart city technologies, applications, and best practices. Larry has also made numerous public speaking appearances as both a presenter and MC/moderator for these topics at events such as the ARC Industry Forum, ABB Customer World, Honeywell User Group Meeting, ICSJWG, and ICS Cybersecurity conferences.