By Nicholas Catrone
From the December 2019 Issue
If you’re a facility executive, manager, or building owner operating in today’s built environment, then chances are you’ve been asked to consider smart building technology in one form or another. You are also likely to have a few questions yourself. What technically makes a building “smart” or “intelligent”? Where is this technology headed? And, most importantly, will the energy savings ultimately be better than with a standard building management system (BMS)?
Before we dive in, let’s take a look at what most of us believe the contemporary smart building is, how it came to be, and how it compares with a traditional BMS. Though no formal definition exists, a smart building has been described as — a building which uses Internet and transmission-based protocols to facilitate the analysis of aggregated data from multiple building systems, optimizing operational decision-making as guided by the goals of the facility. The smart building market is projected to reach $32 billion over the next two to three years, and technology in this space is progressing rampantly.
To grasp where we are today, it’s helpful to look at how we arrived at this point. Building automation and direct digital controls (DDC) have existed in the HVAC industry for approximately 100 years, and 35 years, respectively. We’ve seen the evolution of controls go from pneumatic to electric, and the internet to a cloud-based system. Now we’re witnessing the next big technological shift: from standard building automation to smart buildings.
While a standard BMS provides automation of the HVAC systems and implements control strategies which can reduce energy costs, it is no match for a smart building. Not only do smart buildings offer significantly more proactive decision-making and automation, they integrate cloud-based data analytic software, as well as advanced control strategies to boost energy savings.
Perhaps the most significant innovation to advance smart buildings to date is the groundbreaking technology known as Real Time Energy Management (RTEM), which the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) says “transforms the way you manage, consume, and buy energy.” By constantly sending a building’s real-time and historical performance data to an advanced cloud-based system where it is transformed into actionable insights for property owners, facility managers, and tenants, RTEM allows owners to reap the benefits of continuous system monitoring at both the BMS and utility levels. This information can then be used to discover optimization opportunities for the property’s energy usage. Various equipment, such as sensors and meters, along with data analytics and information services, demonstrate how a facility is performing at any given moment in real time.
The use of the RTEM approach is becoming more prevalent in cities around the nation, such as in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. Charlie Marino, a director with the Energy + Performance group at my firm, AKF, considers it a game-changer that should be viewed as a best practice.
“Real Time Energy Management is one of the best methodologies for a landlord presenting energy consumption in a meaningful, simple way to their tenants to initiate the conversation of where savings can be had between the two,” says Marino, CEA, LEED AP O+M. “Initiating these conversations is one of the last major hurdles in the energy efficiency world, and RTEM is the last best bet we have at being successful in any way, shape, or form.”
There are many RTEM service providers that utilize different data analytic software packages, and building owners have a multitude of options to choose from when it comes to appearance, functionality, and output. There are also specific energy and RTEM companies, as well as BMS control vendors, who identify as RTEM service providers.
Acceptance of change moves slowly in the built environment. As we embark on this new frontier, it’s critical to remember that smart buildings are evolving at a staggering pace. Cutting-edge technology may be obsolete tomorrow, and a smart building needs to be resilient and able to dynamically and efficiently respond to immediate and future needs of owners and occupants. This requires active dialogue between owners, operators, and occupants to define the goals. For example, in addition to reducing energy costs, your goals may include an end-user education strategy, which increases occupant engagement and provides facilities staff with information used for preventive maintenance. How these goals are defined will lead you down paths to specific solutions throughout the building life cycle, and allow a facility to adapt to meet the needs of stakeholders and inhabitants as technology evolves.
Where the smart buildings movement goes next and how it will build on recent breakthroughs such as RTEM remains to be seen. But at the very least, as BMS data analytic software and advanced control strategies continue to help building owners and managers save energy and improve operations, future building management systems will be much smarter and more efficient than those of today.
Catrone is a mechanical controls engineer at AKF, a full-service consulting engineering firm. He has a high-level understanding of control sequences and converged network systems integration that have been instrumental in developing the company’s Start to Smart service. Start to Smart roadmaps a pathway for clients to achieve smart building technology. Catrone’s knowledge of Division 25 Integrated Automation Specifications makes him an asset to smart building design and consultation.
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