The role of Haystack Tagging in enabling Plug-and-Play Controls

Internet of Things

There’s a significant but underserved segment of the market, characterized by small square footage and low complexity commercial buildings. Collectively, this segment represents up to 40% of commercial energy costs. 

These buildings require a non-traditional approach to BAS, much like we’re seeing in the residential market with smart homes. The development of plug-and-play intelligent devices and software applications that “just work” out-of-the-box to reduce to installed cost of controls upgrades will be essential if we are to achieve significant carbon reductions across the vast number of smaller commercial buildings across the UK. The standardisation of metadata offered by the widely accepted Project Haystack open standard enables smart devices to self-describe the data they generate, which enables configuration wizards to rapidly integrate multiple subsystems into a complete solution. Data format standardisation is also vital for then communicating the building performance information northbound to cloud applications used for managing such buildings remotely.

Small building market opportunity

As smart devices continue to proliferate in our personal lives, we can now easily add thermostats, sensors, cameras, and other controls to our homes. This is raising our expectations for the way workplace environments operate. The segment of the commercial building market that includes small to medium sized buildings is often called the “mid-market”. Examples of these types of buildings include local government buildings, small offices, leisure sites, small retail, and restaurant premises.

The mid-market is long overdue to be fitted with more intelligent controls that can better optimise energy use and assist with maintenance issues. Market penetration has traditionally been relatively low due to the cost and complexity of implementation. Innovative products like those being developed for the smart home market are needed to create cost effective solutions for the segment, except that a more systems-oriented approach is needed since the smart home device market is currently far too fragmented and siloed.

Small buildings can be smart, too

Just like in larger buildings mid-market buildings there are typically multiple sub-systems, including air conditioning, heating, lighting, energy monitoring, solar, and more. There’s a huge opportunity for building managers and owners to benefit from a unified building management system much like their larger building counterparts already can. Currently most buildings have separate proprietary controls & management of each of these sub-systems with little or any data available remotely. There are multiple benefits to be gained from a more unified and connected approach; these include simplification of scheduling, more effective alerting of fault conditions to for managers, more cost-effective occupancy-based control, and improved occupant comfort from improved temperature control. Overall, the improvements in operational efficiency and reduction in energy costs can achieve a payback of two years or less in many cases. This has been proven by existing proprietary solutions that have been implemented with wireless devices when retrofitting into existing buildings but solutions that can integrate a much broader range of existing devices and protocols is necessary to achieve wider adoption. Also essential will be a simplification of the commissioning process. Drawing from the smart home analogy, an appliance approach that uses templates and wizards can greatly simplify the integration process. This out-of-the-box auto-configuring experience will make such smarter solutions more attractive for contractors and installers. Software that can auto-generate simple dashboards, with easy-to-use applications for scheduling, alarming, and system control, as well simplifying secure remote connectivity without the cost and complexity of setting-up VPNs, has the potential to revolutionize the way we manage mid-market buildings. This is not a pipe dream – the “next-generation” software developers such as J2 Innovations with the FIN Framework microBMS technology provides the basis for controls suppliers to deliver such solutions to the market today. Currently very few control devices and sub-systems fully self-describe the data they communicate so templates can be quickly created to add the extra metadata so that the system can self-configure when integrating existing sub-systems or devices.

Small buildings can be plug-n-play with Project Haystack

Chris Irwin
Chris Irwin

Ideally controls manufacturers need to include support for Project Haystack’s standard in their future products so that when their device or system is connected to the IP network it is automatically recognised by the overall site management software. Various companies providing IT infrastructure services for larger buildings are already proposing that specifications require that all services equipment to be connected must comply with an open standard for sematic tagging and data-modelling like Project Haystack, so as to simplify the integration process. Specifying an open protocol such as BACnet or KNX is not enough, because skilled engineering time is still required to make such systems work. For smaller buildings this cost completely blocks the deployment of smarter integrated systems because the contractor channels can only cope with a much simpler “1,2,3” step-wise approach to commissioning. Adoption of Haystack by equipment manufacturers would massively help in the mid-market segment, even if only at the level of documenting the data tags required for their specific equipment item since this would make template creation in the management software much easier. This new approach helps software applications to dynamically “learn” smart devices and utilize their data. Through the self-describing nature of the metadata, the “meaning” of the connected devices can be interpreted and automatically generate content, such as the dashboards mentioned earlier.

If the templates for each connected device or sub-system include a responsive web graphic, the user experience can be automatically made available on a phone or table, which matters since this is increasingly how managers want to be able to interact with their buildings. Using tags and their relationships, dashboards are dynamically generated. Tags can also be utilized to automatically bind device data to control routines. Project Haystack enables this “just works” functionality that is so badly needed for the mid-market.

Small smart buildings can be connected too

As more and more small to mid-sized buildings become integrated and intelligent, getting them connected can bring additional value. Like the residential analogy that utilized IoT to connect your smart devices to the cloud, this technology can now be applied to connecting smart buildings. Using open protocols such as MQTT and Haystack, the full value of the mid-market big data can be realized.

In summary, by taking an appliance approach and leveraging Project Haystack, the control & management solutions for the mid-market buildings can be transformed to provide easy to deploy, securely connected user-friendly solutions that can help us all contribute to reducing carbon emissions and avoiding wasteful use of energy.

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