Harnessing the power of Big Data
The flood of information produced by today’s building management systems can be the power behind usable and actionable information that saves energy and money. Roger Woodward of Tridium discusses how.
The magnitude of intelligent devices and Internet technologies now installed in our buildings has created a proliferation of data. Such is the increase in the volume, velocity, and variety of data produced that ‘Big Data’ is becoming the new frontier in building energy management.
Buildings and their components such as lighting, chillers and air-handling units now have the capability, through sophisticated building energy management systems (BEMS), to produce information on energy consumption, performance and maintenance. Today’s building manager is presented with a host of facts and figures about the performance of every facet of the space he or she oversees.
By its very definition, Big Data is too large and complex to manipulate or interrogate with standard methods or tools. A recent study in the US by Forrester Research concluded that most companies are analysing just 12% of the data at their disposal.
But there is a growing recognition by building owners that data on energy use should be treated as business-critical information. Large amounts of information now flowing into the energy-management field are set to give building owners and operators in-depth knowledge about building performance and the power to optimise it.
One hurdle to overcome is the challenge of linking together disparate systems from different manufacturers. Different sectors of the building-services industry use different protocols or even proprietary communications protocols, so there can be difficulty in pulling these strands together to achieve fruitful analysis of Big Data. The challenge is equally true of new-build project or in existing properties.
Solutions such as Tridium’s Niagara Framework offer an IT solution for the BEMS industry that makes the task of gathering data from pulse or smart meters and across numerous protocols much more straightforward. Reaching across all common platforms, open and proprietary, Niagara forms a bridge between energy data and the end-user. This is truly where BEMS and IT are crossing paths successfully to bring data that was once lodged firmly in the plant room to web-based tools with simple user interfaces.
The benefits to the business of this ability to collate and use data become clear. Each lighting fixture in a building may have within it at least 40 data and command points. This presents a host of opportunities for data analysis that previously may not have existed, and affords the building manager a level of control that can mean faster energy monitoring and reduced response times to changes that need to be made.
Similarly, in a project whereby environmental control is a critical issue, such as data centres, a monitoring framework that can oversee the performance of chillers, air-handling units and identify where server racks are beginning to rise or fall outside the optimal conditions, and then send that information directly to the BEMS to act on it, is a tool that not only provides a safeguard against downtime issues but also shows the route to a higher level of energy efficiency.
A further benefit of operating on a framework capable of handling vast waves of data is the use of demand response. This means reducing demand at times when supply is also constrained. Demand response shifts the timing of a user's energy consumption, or temporarily reduces it, to match signals from the National Grid. Thus the load on the Grid is reduced at times of stress.
Energy users who offer this service receive a payment from the National Grid. It is a cheaper and far less polluting approach than paying the power stations, and it benefits both National Grid and business energy users. In the USA, where it can be accessed by consumers as well as businesses, households and businesses using automatic demand response earned over US$ 2.5 billion in 2012.
Response services react automatically to changes in the grid frequency, responding in a matter of seconds. This fast response is important since payments from the National Grid are related to response times. They must, therefore, be based on high-quality software that is specifically designed to do the job. One example of this is dynamic demand, which has been developed by demand response specialist Open Energi and which is based on Tridium's Niagara Framework.
Such advantages are helping the industry to acknowledge Big Data not as a reservoir of unfathomable information but more as an asset to the bottom line. All it takes is the right tool to harness it.
Roger Woodward is vice-president and managing director of Tridium EMEA.