Making the complex simple

Schneider Electric, BMS, BEMS, Controls
Simple energy management — Steve Harris.

We are increasingly used to information being presented in a simple way, so do we still have to endure energy reporting involving endless spread sheets, complex systems, and vast amounts of wasted time. Steve Harris of Schneider Electric’s buildings division discusses the death of the complex user interface and the rise in simplicity in how we view and access energy information.

In terms of managing a building’s efficiencies, ‘big data’ is the industry buzz phrase. It is projected to be a £17.4 billion market in 2014 and grow to £30.5 billion in 2015 (according to Wikibon). By 2020, it is predicted that more than one third of all data will live in or pass through the cloud. What will this mean for a building manager?

In addition to this shift in our way of working towards ‘big data’, Government legislation also means that older, inefficient buildings will be left behind. As of April 2018, any buildings with a Display Energy Certificate rating of F or G cannot be sold or leased, which obviously has the potential to cause real issues for building managers, who must act now to improve underperforming buildings.

Many businesses currently monitor their building’s processes via a series of spreadsheets and separate systems, all working individually. This disjointed approach makes the whole process of monitoring efficiency far more complex and time consuming than necessary. Collecting information from across a building is essentially the basis for ‘big data’. However, the key to making this information useful is ensuring that it is accurately interpreted and used to make a real difference to your environment. It should result in a better understanding of your building, increased comfort for those working in it, reduced overhead costs and a generally more efficient building.

For many building managers without the right systems to interpret it, this level of information can be overwhelming, and the prospect of translating it into actions is daunting. But it doesn’t need to be this complex — the simplicity lies in integration.

Mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones provide remote access to a building-management system.

Today’s intelligent plug-and-play building-management systems can draw information in from all parts of the building – as well as from numerous external sites. They can incorporate other factors, such as weather predictions, into the mix. This data is then organised into relevant, actionable reports, displayed on clear and simple interfaces which are tailored to suit that particular user. The open nature of such systems also means that they can be seamlessly integrated, meaning minimal disruption to a building’s fabric and its occupants.

However, an efficient iBMS is just one piece of the jigsaw; other components must be in place to achieve a truly efficient building. To gain a full and accurate picture, information must be gathered from every part of the building — from energy monitoring, to power monitoring, access, controlling comfort and tracking costs.

All systems should be monitored from one central point to enable building users and managers to access a complete window into their world — from anywhere at any time. The ability to view and monitor the performance of all of a building’s systems in this way gives rise to new insight into causes and effects, which is simply not possible when viewing systems in isolation.

Traditionally, this level of integration has come at a premium cost during both the installation and operational phases, as well as being slow to roll out. This has meant that only larger enterprises have adopted such solutions and that even with significant investment it hasn’t been possible to fully integrate it into the existing system. But this is no longer the case. Solutions can be tailored to suit each building, which can then be rolled out in line with each businesses budget, at a rate that suits them. This bespoke approach means that there is often no need to ever rip out the existing system and start again; the existing solution can be re-commissioned and updated to make it run more efficiently.

Again, making the whole process of managing a building easier is being able to utilise smart-device technology to manage your building. With a smart phone or tablet device, a building manager can layer further software over the BMS to give remote access so that they can easily log on to adjust their building. This can be a major benefit for an estate spread across a large geographical area as it can drastically reduce response times and gives instant access to the control system of any building at any time.

Schneider Electric’s SmartStruxure solution and SmartStruxure Lite solution iBMS have the ability to provide the right information to the right people at the right time, maximising energy savings and improving employee comfort levels. Additionally, our Building Analytics service makes recommendations based on three metrics (occupants’ comfort, maintenance impact and energy cost) making it easy for building and facilities managers to make the right decisions. Integration is the key —and it doesn’t just stop at the BMS.

The ability to view and monitor the performance of all of a building’s systems from a central point gives rise to new insight into causes and effects.

For example, Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure solution architecture unites each of a building’s domains as one to bring power, data, process and machines, building control (iBMS), and physical security together. This enables building managers to optimise energy efficiencies across each domain and take a top-down view of their entire building or enterprise from a single dashboard that can be controlled remotely from a smart phone, tablet, or onsite from a PC.

With many businesses often tasked with doing more for less, building managers must look for increasingly innovative, long-term methods of lowering overheads in order to improve efficiency and reduce energy consumption.

The question is now no longer ‘if’ but ‘when’ building and business managers will upgrade their monitoring systems and embrace digital technology. Gone are the numerous complex reports; in their place are simple, user-friendly dashboards that can be tailored to provide them with the right information, at the right time, wherever they are. The future of simple energy management is already here for the taking.

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

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