Building Diagnostics - Building automation systems function first as diagnostic tools

Feb. 11, 2002
Energy Strategies Special Report - Part 6 of 6
By Clara M.W. VangenWhen it comes to building automation systems (BAS), the debate continues between open protocols vs. proprietary systems, BACnet™ vs. LonMark®, fully integrated systems vs. standalone operations. What the answer is to any of these controversies is as individual as the buildings in which these systems are installed.Perhaps the greater dilemma is the level of satisfaction in service that these systems provide. According to An Overview of Building Diagnostics, a study conducted by John House, mechanical engineer, and George Kelly, chief engineer, in the Building Environment Division at Gaithersburg, MD-based Building and Fire Research Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the future success in building automation systems has less to do with the sophistication of the BAS and more to do with the sophistication of the system operators.Building diagnostics – as House and Kelly refer to building automation, or even more specifically energy management and control systems (EMCS) – should be the paramount reasoning when choosing the correct system for a facility’s specific needs. With an almost infinite variety of high-quality, scalable BAS on the market, it is imperative that building owners and facilities professionals understand that simply installing the most sophisticated system on the market does not ensure the success of that system or its ability to meet the expectations of the investor.Identifying the service and performance needs/expectations is the starting point, followed by an analysis and evaluation of the current systems’ operating efficiencies or inefficiencies, as the case may be.In their study, House and Kelly cite several reasons why these systems often fail to provide anticipated returns on investment in the form of substantial energy savings. Keeping in mind that current BAS systems monitor and report the status of operating systems, they offer the following examples of why these systems appear to fail to perform:·        Minimum number of sensors used to monitor and report on specific areas.·        Data collected is often overwhelming to untrained operators.·        Operators do not recognize early warning signs of pending systems failure.·        Lack of training/knowledge about sophisticated systems control strategies, which leads to an overuse of inefficient manual overrides.The answers to these dilemmas are found in the future of technology, as well as the education and experience of the operators of these systems. There are no substitutes for installing adequate monitoring sensors, understanding the importance and functionality of evaluating systems data and analysis, and proper ongoing training of all systems operations managers. All should be considered part of the life-cycle investment of the system.The future of BAS will continue to battle the controversies of open protocols vs. proprietary, BACnet vs. LonMark, and fully integrated systems vs. standalone – though one thing is destined to change. House and Kelly predict that building automation systems will become so sophisticated that they recognize the symptoms of a pending failure and self correct the problem without any operator involvement. Ultimately, how this technology will impact the facilities professional will remain to be seen.Clara M.W. Vangen ([email protected]) is technologies editor at Buildings magazine.

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