Intelligent Building Integration
With the rise of connected systems, the future of efficiency is closer than you think.
BAS integration has long fed our hopes for a future with greater building intelligence. For me, an “intelligent building” is one that connects various non-HVAC systems and uses these connections for operational improvements that go beyond HVAC control. Many instances of BAS integration have become fairly commonplace (e.g., to VFDs, boilers/chillers, some packaged HVAC controls) and expertise with many protocols beyond the usual BACnet, LonTalk, Modbus, etc., is growing. So is now the time to finally see intelligent building applications becoming more widely used? Rather than dwell on this, I’d like to share some intelligent building ideas that might get us excited enough to affect this outcome.
Computerized lighting control systems are becoming more prevalent (and code-mandated due to 90.1). There are some obvious opportunities for intelligent BAS integration. First, both lighting and HVAC control use start/stop scheduling, so why not share the schedule between the two systems so that when a schedule change is made in one, it is automatically changed in the other? Second, lighting control systems use occupancy sensors for many areas in the building. Occupancy sensor information can be shared with the BAS so that this can, say, be used to switch conference room VAV boxes between the occupied and unoccupied modes.
One of the inefficiencies in (and part of the ineffectiveness of) CMMS is the series of manual steps involved in determining the need for and/or creating a corrective/repair work order. Why not have critical BAS alarms (or even notifications from an integrated facility analytics system) directly send requests to the CMMS to set up and generate workorder requests? This integration should be two-way so that the BAS alarm notification is not repeated while the workorder is being processed and the work performed, and then is only cleared when the CMMS informs the BAS that the workorder’s task has been completed.
Buildings that use security system cards (or biometrics) to allow for occupant access provide opportunities for more efficient HVAC and lighting control. The security system could send a message to the BAS and lighting control systems whenever an occupant accesses the building after hours. This message would include information about the location in the building where the occupant normally works. This would index the HVAC and lighting in the occupant’s work area from the unoccupied to occupied modes of operation.
Other opportunities may arise as security system technology advances further. For example, advances in digital security cameras (and the associated software) are showing the promise of determining building occupant counts on not only a building-wide level but also zone by zone. This information could be used by the BAS for improving the operation of demand-controlled ventilation vs. that provided by CO2 sensors (which have their issues).
IT & Electrical Systems
IT equipment (e.g., servers, switches) are inherently ready to be integrated (via the SNMP protocol). Electrical components (switchgear, panelboards, UPSs, ATSs, PDUs, etc.) are increasingly likely to have digital communications capabilities (typically via Modbus). There are many intelligent building opportunities with this equipment. The BAS can be used as a hub for not just monitoring these systems but also the forwarding of possible maintenance alarms to the CMMS or operating information (e.g., energy usage) to facility analytics software.
More intelligent building ideas can be found if you apply this type of “imagineering” to each building’s unique operating requirements, especially those that differ from that of a typical commercial (i.e., office) building. This is especially true for data centers, hospitals, airports, etc.
What’s the Challenge?
Many intelligent building integration opportunities are unique to a specific building and/or building owner. Therefore, the integration work involved will be one-off and subject to the risks involved in attempting something with which a BAS contractor (and the other contractors/suppliers) has little or no prior experience. I know since I have attempted to implement or am in the midst of implementing some of the above ideas, but don’t let that stop you!