Feeling lost in a confusing world of issues like interoperability, wireless, and security, or just exactly how building automation ties into sustainability? You are not alone. But out in the desert, insights and discussions about these topics and many more were bountiful when BACnet® and ES teamed up to create a three-day oasis of answers and networking at our fall conference. By Robert Beverly

“If I had to describe one word to describe the state of the industry, I’d pick ‘excited’,” said Andy McMillan, president and CEO of Teletrol and president of BACnet® International. This was in a roundtable discussion at the end of the first day of the fall Building Automation & Sustainability Conference held by ES and BACnet® International in September.

That much sounds a little clichéd, perhaps. But consider the context - at the end of a day packed with automation topics ranging from the fast progress of Zigbee on the wireless side, to Web services to security and life safety components, and even elevators - and you’ll understand why the room laughed when he continued, “And I’d pick ‘excited’ … even considering the trepidation of not being exactly sure what industry we’re in.”
Indeed, this isn’t your father’s controls industry - maybe not even your older brother’s - whether you’re talking about BACnet specifically or the building automation world in general. Lines between individual building systems get blurred in the name of greater efficiency. Relatively speaking, the electrical grid suddenly matters. Working with IT folks matters.

Those shifts and McMillan’s quote above are both just a natural extension of a conversation BACnet Committee chairman Mike Newman of Cornell had years ago, a chat he recounted from the audience during the roundtable’s Q&A period. Someone would ask him, “What is this BACnet, anyway?”

Newman would respond, “It’s an enabling technology.”

Then the inquirer would predictably ask, “What does it enable?”

Newman would answer, “I have no idea!”

So the tension that exists at a gathering like this conference becomes the tension between the status quo and the power of momentum vs. latitude for creativity using new technology to get the most out of even old buildings. The uplifting thing is that the tone was consistently optimistic throughout the room, from the larger gatherings to smaller track sessions. Crowds like this - an influential and healthy mix of owners, consultant, contractors, and suppliers - are perpetually grounded in reality and its constraints, but the feel was that real progress is attainable in many, many circumstances.

Maybe part of that energy was emblematic of another thing McMillan reports finding in the course of doing business. Sure, new business model opportunities are exciting along with product/service opportunities, he said, but “for the society at large, the customers we’re talking to day to day, it’s also about doing some really important things that need to be done associated with energy security, sustainability, and environmental responsibility.” Maybe that tension isn’t just between standard procedure and new ideas, but between standard procedure and a new urgency to move beyond it.

Going Clean To Get Green

Indeed, Jack Mc Gowan,ESadvisor and president of Energy Control, Inc., later painted the picture with some numbers. An expected 40% increase in electricity demand in the next 20 years. About 39% of greenhouse gases coming from the power generation sector. The real shocker: “Ten percent of the current electricity structure (representing billions of dollars) is built to meet the need of one percent of the time (about 100 hrs/yr).”

Can we, he wondered, get people to think about building efficiency when they think of energy, the same way they think of energy when they fill up their gas tanks?

That’s yet to be seen, but Mc Gowan sees progress in developing control sequences to manage not just HVAC but lighting from the standpoint of daylight harvesting. And a system that receives and acts on XML-based messages from a utility’s Web service, “allowing the owner to create a balance between what it costs to operate the building and what creates comfort” for the occupants.

Mc Gowan reported that his new mantra is, “Smart buildings use energy in a clean, efficient way, and therefore become green buildings.”

Those will also be profitable buildings. He expects the demand response market to be a $6 to $7 billion market, “and that’s largely in the form of checks that utilities will cut to owners.” Even if owners use only part of that money to reinvest in better BAS equipment, those numbers are likely to earn a new degree of attention for intelligent building strategies related to GridWise and beyond.

Keynote in a Nutshell

The conference focused on opportunities created by connections between topics that used to seem totally disparate: The national electricity distribution infrastructure and my building’s bottom line? My BAS and environmental responsibility? Enterprise management and national security? Huh?

But in late 2007, it is no longer farfetched to connect the dots between environmental health or even foreign policy and smart controls. Indeed, Paul Ehrlich, anotherESadvisor and president of Building Intelligence Group, spent the first part of his keynote address laying the foundation for exactly that line of thought. Climate change, the concept of peak oil, carbon dioxide emissions per capita … again, not typical subject matter at HVAC seminars.

Those birds-eye-level topics only come into full focus when we translate concerns into what we can do to influence the course of events. So, Ehrlich asked, how do we deliver? He listed the following five tactics for the industry and our facilities.
  • Optimize. This applies to demand control ventilation, pump/fan optimization, daylighting, chiller plants, and beyond.
  • Only run equipment when needed. Wise BAS, metering, and sensor use come into play.
  • Become highly usable. (How many facilities use less than half of their BAS’ true capabilities?)
  • Get connected to business enterprises and utilities.
  • Create systems that are sophisticated, yet easy to design, install, and operate.

Topics on the Upswing

Ken Sinclair provides his own perspective on the event at AutomatedBuildings.com, and in his editorial there, he lists the new “three C’s” (conservation, connectivity, convergence) before emphasizing the key fourth one:

communication. From the BACnet-centric content of the first day to the more catholic array of topics the next two days, including a new half-day track on lighting control, it was an energizing event. The collegial sense of common purpose and desire to share knowledge, even just among the attendees, was encouraging. This article barely scratches the surface of what transpired, with no room to adequately address the multitude of presenters in the two tracks’ breakout sessions.

In addition to the still-growing popularity of wireless and the omnipresent topic of how to make the most of open systems, expect the spotlight to only get brighter on demand response, lighting controls, and of course, sustainable design and performance. The green content went well beyond LEED® in Phoenix; in fact, one session I moderated focused on an alternative, Dr. Harvey Bryan’s Green Globes scoring/certification system.

No matter the evaluation system, we have passed a tipping point with regard to general demand for sustainable performance, for a variety of reasons listed above. In that sense, the question for many owners and buildings is not “if” but “when.” And for people in business to provide these products and services, the good news is that this evolution translates to two more questions at the heart of these conferences: the professionally challenging question of “how” and its natural complement, the potentially profitable question of “how much.”ES