Building Automation: Green Intelligent Buildings - A Brief History
Building automation and controls are a key part to any commercial building project. Within Engineered Systems, this is recognized with this column as well as a regular supplement titled Green Intelligent Buildings.
Looking Backward To Look ForwardSo what is a green intelligent building, anyway? It is interesting to step back and look at what has happened in the commercial building industry over the last 35 years. The original concept of energy management, which later became building automation, started in earnest as a result of the OPEC oil embargo in 1973. Up to this point, we gave little thought to the cost of energy or of the idea of sustainability. The dominant mechanical systems were constant volume with reheat and control systems that were primarily pneumatic. Building systems tended to be elaborate designs, often with large built-up air handlers and refrigeration plants.
At the time, buildings tended to be over-designed and over-ventilated, and energy efficiency was rarely an issue. Then overnight, the price of energy shot up, and we suddenly started looking at ways to reduce the sting of the monthly bill. Early attempts included placing plywood panels over outdoor air inlets. New companies sprang up offering a new product called an energy management system (EMS) that would schedule, cycle, and shut off equipment. These systems did result in a decrease in energy costs; however, it was often accompanied by an increase in equipment maintenance, a decrease in comfort, and in some cases, serious IAQ issues.
Over the years, the design and application of EMSs was refined, and with the advent of DDC in the early 1980s, these systems began their evolution into intelligent, sophisticated control systems. In the ’90s, we started moving toward open protocols, and now the use of building automation is an accepted part of most projects. But as these systems progressed, energy costs actually started declining, and interest in energy-efficient systems waned.
A Green Today And TomorrowToday, however, we see a new public interest in the topic of sustainability. Suddenly, green is the new black. This concept of sustainability is much broader than just the efficient use of energy; it covers everything from building sites to transportation, and on to water usage and material recycling. This is where the idea of green intelligent buildings comes in. It is the concept of a building that not only has a bike rack, green roof, and waterless urinals, but also the systems, controls, and automation needed to provide improved scheduling, coordination, optimization, and usability.
The sad truth is that many green buildings today are neither highly efficient nor particularly intelligent, and this is a missed opportunity. We have the potential to deliver green intelligent buildings that are sustainable as well as able to deliver high-performance, low-energy usage.
Where does this go from here? There are clear pushes to drive buildings to even higher levels of performance. Providing more sophisticated, connected, and optimized control systems will need to be a major part of that effort.
Recent work from ASHRAE has resulted in a series of new efficiency standards and Advanced Energy Design Guidelines (see www.ashrae.org/publications/page/1604).
The recently passed energy bill, titled the “Energy Information and Security Act,” includes programs for improved efficiency of federal buildings and schools, along with a new consortium on net-zero energy buildings. The good news is that this movement toward truly sustainable, high-performance buildings will open new opportunities for us to design and deliver intelligent building systems including optimized controls, integration, and connectivity. The bad news is that we are now tasked with understanding and delivering these systems!