Thanks to improved wireless networking technology and standardized communication protocols, it’s easier than ever to collect data from sensors. Plus, silicon chips continue to get cheaper, faster and better and can be located in valves, actuators, thermostats and wall outlets to provide more memory and faster computing.
With the Internet of Things (IoT) continually expanding and easier access to cloud computing, it’s possible to transmit information, crunch numbers and use data like never before.
That means it’s time to take a fresh look at every element of a building — from small electrical switches, door locks and lights to massive chillers and boilers — as a way to gather and share information.
Most importantly, we need to re-examine the role of building automation systems (BAS) to enable the data and technology to merge and seamlessly solve problems in innovative ways, especially in smaller buildings.
Automatic morning routine
Let’s take building activity first thing in the morning. At 8 a.m., a small bank building begins to fill with people. They increase demand for heating or cooling after they get situated in their offices and desks.
In the past, the BAS would just readjust equipment so pumps would engage and valves would open in response to people coming in. Now, based on sensors, the BAS system optimizes system performance and provides the exact right kind of pressure drops in primary and secondary pumping systems, which reduces the work needed by chillers, boilers and electric motors moving water throughout the building.
The BAS works behind the scenes, automatically using valves and thermostats to adjust flow and condition that space smarter and more efficiently. Because of technology in that small zone, equipment is self-optimized.
From a valve connected to a thermostat to control hydronic water flow, we can optimize around occupancy in a particular space, then multiply it around the building and make the pumping network more efficient. Because the network is more efficient, we can determine how it impacts other HVAC equipment.
So we have self-optimizing buildings. What do we do with that information? We send it to the cloud for further analytical review and benchmarking to enhance the predictive nature of the data and the lifecycle of the building.
And here’s where aggregation comes into play: When a building owner agrees to release data to a mega source such as Johnson Controls, or even ENERGY STAR, the knowledge is shared and the benefits extended.
Smarter and more affordable
We’ve seen the results of smart, integrated buildings with top-of-the-line BAS: more efficient operations, reduced emissions and financial savings. Advanced BAS can even help a building quality for LEED credit.
But these top-the-line systems are often portrayed as being for high-end, highly complex buildings, leaving light commercial buildings, such as offices, retail establishments, medical clinics, restaurants and big-box stores, without options to reach the same efficiency goals. BAS has been portrayed as too expensive, too complex and too difficult to install for smaller scale enterprises.
Light commercial facilities would like to have the same experience as larger enterprises. And with the components that work together to create systems becoming more affordable, the software becoming more user-friendly and the installation process being simplified and improved, we’re seeing this shift become reality.
The investment in technology doesn’t just mean operating facilities at lower costs but also having the proof to support this investment, an often critical aspect in smaller buildings with smaller budgets. Through dashboards, we have greater insight into what’s happening.
We can see in black and white — or better, in colorful dashboard graphics — that the building is operating more sustainably by saving energy and water. And that makes it easier to prove that we’re achieving the efficiency goals and savings we’ve been striving for.
Clearly, the payoffs of BAS and the IoT are not just for big buildings. Increasingly, mid-market, light commercial facilities are finding the need for more information and greater productivity.
Johnson Controls will soon be releasing a new kind of controls system, a plug-and-play system with a lower-cost approach that can position mechanical contractors as the end-to-end provider of HVAC/R equipment and intelligent controls.
We’re focused on removing barriers for mechanical contractors and giving them what they need so they feel confident in suggesting this plug-and-play controls approach. They’ll be able to promote their expertise because installation is easier and they can offer a dramatic increase in system information to provide
They’ll be able to promote their expertise because installation is easier and they can offer a dramatic increase in system information to provide the best value to their customers. Contractors won’t have to be programming experts to put a smart system together.
Making it as easy as possible will help promote adaptation:
- Only simple configuration settings need to be set because intelligent default values for control parameters are preconfigured at the factory
- No field programming is needed
- No software tools are required
- No control vendor installation labor is required
- They’ll have the ability to embed fault detection and diagnostics to assist and solve mechanical and controls issues
- Increased flexibility accommodates a building’s unique features and needs
- And we’re providing remote connectivity and notification anytime and anywhere
There’s more to do as we determine the most important metrics and determine how to best connect disparate systems in smaller buildings.
And that’s what innovation is all about: Finding a problem and figuring out how to solve it. Let’s not waste any more time.