Building Automation and the Internet of Things (IOT)

A topic getting a lot of press these days (at least in the publications and on the websites I frequent) is the Internet of Things (IOT).  If this phrase is unfamiliar to you now, it probably won’t be for long.  We are headed toward a world of greater and greater connectivity and IOT will increasingly play a big part of this.

At a high level, IOT extends one of the greatest benefits of the internet now realized by humans (e.g., instantaneous global communication and connectivity) to things (i.e., machines, buildings, agricultural fields).  This reality is made possible by the integration of “smarts” (i.e., sensors coupled with a means of communications) within the things of our world.  The sensor costs and communication protocols have respectively fallen and evolved to such a degree that it is now economically and practically feasible to automate M2M (machine to machine) interaction.  It may still be a bit of science fiction, but it’s not unreasonable to imagine a future where a network of sensors in a corn field in Iowa that monitors and wirelessly communicates the current moisture and nutrient levels of the soil to kick on the irrigation system when necessary and/or alert the farmer via a text message to apply more potassium.

IOT, as fascinating as it is at this early stage, is really just an evolution of what has been going on in the building automation industry over the past three decades or so. “Smarts” have been in buildings for quite some time now.  A simple example of this is the lowly room temperature sensor that communicates to a controller that its max set point has been exceeded.  The controller, in turn, receives this information and communicates to an actuator that it needs to open the damper it controls allowing cool air to enter the room.  This damper will remain open until the temperature sensor’s reading falls below its set point and the controller sends a signal for it to close the damper.

The next generation of building automation, influenced and enabled by IOT, will differ in both scope and scale from its historic form described above.  In the future, it won’t be commonplace to simply measure the temperature of a room or CFM of fresh air being brought into an office building.  Nor will a building be able to operate in isolation as as single energy consuming entity.  IOT will bring more connections both within a building and links to the world outside.

Looking at changes within, sensors of all forms and fashion will monitor and control nearly every aspect of a building’s life.  From lumens of sunlight coming through windows used to adjust the output of artificial light produced to kWs being drawn out of each wall socket used to mine overall energy savings, the scope of a building’s automation system will grow exponentially with the help of IOT.  In-line with building automation’s traditional goals, these changes will continue to drive down the operational costs of buildings while increasing their comfort, safety and usability for its occupants.

Coupled with industry trends like smart meters, distributed energy and Demand Response (DR), IOT will also dramatically impact the scale of building automation.  Buildings will no longer operate (i.e., consume energy) in isolation as the electrical grid begins to predict demand spikes and sends signals to heavy users (i.e., commercial buildings and factories) via smart meters to ramp down non-critical loads or pay hefty usage fees via variable rate billing.  We may also begin to see buildings viewed not just as consumers of energy but also producers as distributed, grid-tied power (typically in the form of onsite solar, wind or geothermal production) becomes more commonplace.  In this scenario, the building automation system along with its smart meter may work together to decide if it is financially beneficial to consume the energy its “power plant” is producing or sell it back to the grid at any given moment.

I personally am very excited about the role building automation will play in the future IOT.  In many ways, this industry has been the proving ground for the concept of a world of connected things.  Just as we have in the past, I foresee Kele evolving along with this trend of increased connectivity to always be there with the best solution and support for our customers.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the future of IOT and the role that Kele can play.

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