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Green Intelligent Buildings...What's Next?

May 4, 2009
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An argument could be made that our preoccupation with intelligent buildings has been very focused on plumbing. By that, I mean the underlying communications architecture that has been the price of entry for buildings to truly become both intelligent and green. In fact, new technology just hitting the market for “energy business intelligence” will truly transform our industry.

For nearly a decade, the buildings industry has talked of convergence and intelligent buildings. My first article on the topic was in 1984 and my first book in 1993. However, I would argue that in spite of many developments, the paradigm in our industry has not been shattered. That paradigm has to do with people. We have been preoccupied in the buildings space by standards like BACnet® and LON® and operator interfaces like browsers, but the fundamental fact remains: these tools are only intelligible to people who know buildings. In short, all of the effort has been on the plumbing that carries data, but there has yet to be a fundamental sea change in the way that buildings and systems are actually controlled

Poised For The Future

Over the most recent decade, my emphasis has been on buildings, and many of my articles have pointed to the importance of efficiency, demand response, and the smart grid. The timing is now for these ideas to be the emphasis in buildings. Of course, with the American Recovery and Rein-vestment Act, there are 767 billion reasons why that is true. An army of companies are poised to build their entire business model around opportuni-ties presented by the stimulus bill, and that makes sense. However, it is also the right time to do this, and it is the right thing to do. My personal belief is that no one is better positioned to seize this opportunity than the integration community. With the downturn in new construction, many buildings professionals are scrambling to redefine themselves. At a recent contractor conference, energy was seen as the most important business opportunity for the next three to five years, but the question of how to pursue it remains.

The next frontier for integration will look like a variation on energy services and will be built around the idea of bringing value propositions to own-ers. At the heart of that offer will be a hot new technology that might be called enterprise energy management on steroids. Energy business intelli-gence will be to buildings what the iPod was to music. Consider the iPhone and those catchy television commercials we have all seen talking about “apps” (applications), such as calculating the calories in your lunch or finding your car. For all the intelligence that has been put into buildings, at the end of the day, an engineer can truly only diagnose and troubleshoot a BAS.

What about the green in the title of this article? Only an energy engineer can measure and verify the effectiveness of building system? The idea of energy business intelligence won’t transform our industry on day one, but its impact will be unquestioned.

The GEMS Web portal in use at the University of New Mexico publishes energy data in real time.

A Gem Of An Idea

So what is energy business intelligence? Well, it is a Web portal with data warehouses, online analytical processing, and service-oriented architecture (SOA) Web services. These functions overlay applications like key performance indicators (KPIs), what-if decision support systems, geographical information systems, and business processes onto building systems to create an enterprise resource planning and financial management tool for en-ergy as well as a real-time management and energy policy enforcement tool for the building owner.

The first tool of this type is called global energy management for sustainability (GEMS). The GEMS Web portal allows owners to manage campus sustainability in real time. Converting terabytes of energy and building information is a major challenge, and this tool is designed to change data into knowledge.

For example, at the University of New Mexico, this GEMS Web portal publishes energy data and carbon footprint in real time. Managers establish KPI to assess effectiveness of facility operations campus-wide or on a building-by-building basis.

Operators use the Microsoft® Virtual Earth® tool to zoom in to the campus from space. Once a 3-D campus map comes into view, the user can chose to select KPI icons, time periods, or a host of other metrics. For example, if an indicator like “energy cost per square foot” or “carbon foot-print” is selected, campus buildings change color based on performance against a predetermined metric. A building in red needs attention because it is consuming too much, while those in green are in the zone. GEMS users can drill down into the automation system to troubleshoot problems, but the preferred approach will be for this to happen automatically. It will be possible for systems to be integrated and programmed to execute self-learning applications and optimize energy performance to achieve new levels of sustainability.

Central to this idea is making building systems smarter. It is one thing to tout the use of systems to make the building intelligent, but the driving fac-tor for the integrator and the owner is the human cost of making sure the technology delivers its promise. Using an energy management Web portal and Web service like GEMS is really just taking another page from the IT handbook on how to use systems to their full potential. Companies like Oracle and SAP have built very successful models around this idea of using computing power to point to our problems and highlight where perform-ance needs to be improved.

The buildings industry has spent the better part of the last two decades trying to wring engineering and implementation labor and cost out of system installations. Now it is time to wring labor out of the day-to-day tasks associated with assessing the effectiveness of building operations.

First and foremost, this is about recognizing that trend logs and alarms do not improve performance, and in many cases they are not effective at pointing out opportunities for improvement. Leveraging a tool to highlight areas for concern is the first step in creating intelligent building manage-ment tools that provide an easy intuitive way to see what is happening in the building or on the campus. Once this tool exists, it can be the focal point for adding the kind of artificial intelligence that can make buildings not only smart, but self-learning. When buildings are not just dealing with com-fort and energy but cap-and-trade on carbon, this type of tool will be invaluable. GIB

Recent Articles by Jack Mc Gowan, CEM

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