Why are today’s intelligent buildings so dumb?

BMS, BEMS, control, energy management, Schneider Electric
Adding the ingredient of intelligence — Steve Harris.

Over the past decade there has been growing interest in the ‘intelligent’ buildings market. Such buildings have been billed as the answer to mounting energy consumption and the accompanying costs — intuitive, automated systems which help managers gain control over how a building is functioning. In reality, intelligent buildings are only now becoming true to their namesake, having delivered little actionable data in the past. Steve Harris of Schneider Electric’s buildings division, examines why.

As far back as the 1990s, the construction industry has been obsessed with the idea of intelligent buildings. In recent years, stringent Government targets and rising bills have led to demand for buildings to produce actionable data, turning intelligent buildings from a ‘nice-to-have’ into a reality. In 1999, a paper by Emerald Insight noted that ‘there is a general agreement that intelligent buildings are not intelligent by themselves, but can furnish the occupants with more intelligence and enable them to work more efficiently’. Nearly a decade and a half later, this statement remains true — a building is only as smart as the intelligence it provides.

When that paper was published, a smart building probably consisted of handfuls of disparate systems, providing reams of spreadsheet data around energy usage — but little else. Not surprisingly, there are probably still many buildings in the UK relying on these dated information silos from meter data, energy monitoring or even power and security management — with little integration.

We are now seeing a trend whereby data is paramount. So called ‘big data’ has been a buzzword for some time, but it really does have the power to transform how a building runs and how much energy it consumes. Cloud computing has changed the way that data is processed and stored — meaning that an incredible amount of data can be generated, interpreted and used to make a real difference to how a building runs. For example, today’s intelligent analytics software can analyse and monitor each individual piece of equipment, understanding how it should perform and reporting when it underperforms, and prioritising key actions for maintenance by energy use, carbon, cost and occupancy comfort. Additionally, such systems can even use weather data to make predictive adjustments to HVAC.

So why now?

As well as the swift advances in technology, energy usage has become a pressing issue over the past few years. Emissions from buildings currently account for 36% total UK GHG emissions, and the Committee on Climate Change predicts that there is scope for emissions reductions by 2030 of 74% in this area. Energy is also the largest controllable operating expense in a building; lighting and HVAC alone contribute to 70% of a building’s energy usage.

This isn’t just a trend in large buildings either. According to IMS Research, 2013 could mark the turning point for intelligent solutions in small to medium sized buildings. We could be about to see a whole new untapped market choosing building-management systems.

As well as energy usage, we are also seeing a need for improved tenant comfort. In a school or office, a comfortable atmosphere creates a better working environment which is key to productivity. In a healthcare facility, which demands inflexibility around air quality and temperature, power and maintenance, creating a comfortable atmosphere for recovery is as important as keeping the costs down.

The latest BMSs are designed to give control back to people in the building — individuals can manage small areas with room controllers, allowing a better level of employee comfort, while whole buildings and estates can be managed via a centralised system. This enables facilities managers to take pre-emptive actions before employees become uncomfortable.

Schneider Electric’s Building Analytics service takes the concept a stage further by making recommendations based on three metrics — occupants’ comfort, maintenance impact and energy cost.

The building managers of today are still overwhelmed with large volumes of data delivered from each of these systems within their buildings, much of which is duplicated, on a daily basis. In effect, many are left data rich, but information poor. Even the new-build premises of today may have the right systems installed, but if they don’t communicate with each other effectively, the building cannot be managed properly.

BMS, BEMS, control, energy management, Schneider Electric
There are probably still many buildings in the UK relying on dated information silos from meter data, energy monitoring or even power and security management — with little integration.

To solve this problem, the data from each of these systems needs to be collated into one central point, enabling users to make informed decisions about reducing overall energy consumption and increasing efficiency.

Traditionally, this level of integration has come at a premium cost throughout both the installation and operational phases, and is slow and complex — meaning only the larger enterprises have adopted this level of technology and fully integrated their building’s systems.

Historically, the end result is a system that is limited and difficult to manage. Indeed there has never been a seamless solution which offers true integration with one common user interface. Schneider Electric’s StruxureWare software overcomes this shortfall by feeding from different building systems to offer proven, risk-free integration that is simple, quick and cost effective to install.

In addition, to address these challenges and embrace the move into a digital age, Schneider Electric recently launched SmartStruxure solution and SmartStruxure Lite solution, which are building-management systems for both large and small-medium sized enterprises, made up of hardware and software which combines engineering, installation and services, ensuring facilities are energy-efficient and effectively managed. Not only is the system highly cost effective during both installation and operation, it also has the ability to provide the right information to the right people at the right time, maximising energy savings and employee comfort.

Simplicity is at the heart of today’s intelligent buildings. Intuitive user-interfaces help encourage tenants to re-claim control over their building, as well as incorporating data into one easy-to-understand stream.

Accessibility via the web is also important, enabling building and facility managers to keep track of the building’s energy usage from anywhere.

Finally, accurate reporting is at the heart of a BMS. Buildings nowadays have to be transparent when it comes to how energy is being used and how money is being spent, and in-depth reports help tenants, owners and managers to keep on top of energy usage and make real energy savings that will have a positive impact on their surrounding environment, employee comfort and bottom line.

Steve Harris, UK sales and marketing director of Schneider Electric’s buildings division.

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