Rethinking Integrated Building Systems

Oct. 19, 2009
New integrated BAS technology can provide continual building commissioning, ensuring that building controls are operating efficiently and effectively.

Building owners and operators often do not have the necessary dedicated personnel to solve problems. As a result, there’s a tendency to solve building comfort and operational problems through simple triage vis-à-vis disabling BAS control loops or disabling equipment schedules. This approach is neither efficient nor effective. It simply recreates silo systems and applications that the BAS is supposed to integrate and make more economical and energy efficient.

A newer strategy is to utilize integrated systems that leverage embedded intelligence, such as decision-making algorithms with a centralized control point, to simplify building management processes. The new algorithms perform automated data analysis to identify problems and suggest solutions using built-in expert systems from a visual point of reference, such as computer-based visual dashboards. The new systems are designed to automatically perform building commissioning on an ongoing basis, but without the time, disruption, and cost of a commissioning project.

Building commissioning is the process of ensuring that all building subsystems, including HVAC, plumbing, electrical, fire and life safety, and building security, are operating as originally designed. Building commissioning is a quality-assurance process. Normally, a commissioning firm is involved from project initiation to project completion. While the service methodology can vary from firm to firm and project to project, the basic formula for successful building commissioning involves a synergy of pre-construction review of design documents for compliance with the owner’s performance requirements, periodic site observations during the construction phase, and systems testing as the project nears completion. While the practice of building commissioning is still fairly new in the construction industry, it has quickly become common practice as savvy building owners and developers seek substantial returns on their properties. The ultimate goal for a commissioning effort is, therefore, to deliver to the owner a project that’s on schedule and under budget, and to deliver a building with fully operational and optimized systems on the first day of operation.

A key concern, however, is how to maintain commissioning on an ongoing, go-forward basis once the building is in place or retrofitted. A building can always be re-commissioned, but integrated BAS technologies are emerging that allow property owners and managers to deploy control strategies to contain costs and create and enhance operational efficiencies for approximately the same cost through real-time, centralized control that provides commissioning on a continual basis. This centralized control is aided through the deployment of integrated, Internet-enabled building systems.

Converged, Integrated Networks

No other technology has had as profound an impact on the building automation technology market as the Internet and the benefits provided by ubiquitous and integrated information technology and standards, such as Ethernet, TCP/IP, and XML. Bringing together open communication protocols for control devices and IT provides building owners and operators with options and functionality at cost levels that were never possible before. The goal is to create an open, integrated infrastructure that supports real-time control systems, enterprise applications, and information flow.

The fundamental technologies required to develop a converged network are available in the market at present. There are companies and technology suppliers delivering the various components, technologies, and services, as well as total solutions, which make a building intelligent and green from concept to operation. With a unified approach to monitoring, building systems can change the underlying infrastructure without changing the enterprise-level reporting mechanisms. This heterogeneous infrastructure creates more competition among technology vendors, begins to generate savings more quickly, and can generate an ROI payback of 2 to 3 years rather than over the course of a decade. The goal is to provide executives, managers, and staff with the information necessary to make better decisions more quickly on a real-time basis.

Building owners and operators can save energy by enhancing connectivity and visibility to all of the applications in use in their properties. It’s been estimated that, with an incorrectly configured or calibrated BAS, an estimated 20 percent of a building’s energy can be wasted. A completely integrated BAS installation, however, can provide energy savings similar to what can be achieved through re-commissioning, with typical savings ranging from 5 to 20 percent.

Using an IP network to connect all of the key elements of building services and communication systems, such as telephony, core networks and their applications, and wireless connections, offers tremendous potential for cost savings and improved functionality. Integrating intelligence is not only desirable, but it’s becoming a mandatory requirement to provide building services that offer the best solutions and the simplest connections to real-time, web-based data that can be leveraged by the corporate enterprise.

Fully networked systems indeed transcend integration to achieve interaction in which previously independent systems work collectively to optimize a building’s performance and constantly create an environment that’s most conducive to the occupant’s goals. According to integrated building professionals, the convergence reflects an evolution of the building systems to an IP network, the financial advantages of building owners to integrate their systems, and the important role of the building systems in controlling energy usage and costs.

Conventional buildings suffer from the inability to communicate and intelligently manage the large amount of data that they possess and generate. A converged, integrated network solution, on the other hand, allows a higher level of connectivity for a variety of products from multiple manufacturers. This results in benefits, such as cost effectiveness; process improvements in facility automation, monitoring, and management; and more efficient real estate portfolio management. Streaming building control and utility data into a shared network enables optimum management of facilities by connecting various silo systems and applications.

Legacy system incompatibility, outdated information, a lack of historical data, proprietary system architectures, and dysfunctional operating processes are some of the hurdles that can be resolved by streaming building control and utility data into a shared network. This enables optimum management of facilities by connecting various systems and applications. The following examples highlight the benefits of using a variety of technologies for increased efficiency, cost savings, and asset management.

Example No. 1: State of Missouri

Driven by a new administration committed to a statewide sustainability program in 2005, Missouri consolidated its real estate portfolio by integrating operations, maintenance, lease management, real estate management, design and construction services, and capital planning. The goal of the new administration was to manage its portfolio enterprise and lower the cost of ownership by addressing energy efficiency, cost of deferred maintenance, operating costs, space utilization, and asset management.

The state achieved this by integrating individual systems and buildings into a common user interface level. Operational activities in various building subsystems can be monitored to detect inefficient operating conditions, allowing for corrective action to be taken.

The aim of the project was to bring rapid, quantifiable cost savings in five key areas: 1) utility bill management, 2) automated enterprise monitoring, 3) facilities communication infrastructure, 4) portal collaboration, and 5) business process management implementation and improvement.

To manage its portfolio and reduce cost of ownership, Missouri had to determine what it owned in terms of facilities, locations, conditions, value, office space (leased and vacant), capital needs utilization, energy usage, and cost of energy. Integrating buildings and systems at a common user interface level enabled operational activity monitoring to detect inefficient operating conditions and allowed corrective action to be taken to bring buildings back to normal performance patterns.

This visibility over facilities and assets has enabled Missouri to achieve an annual savings from the combined projects in excess of $35 million per year, an expected ROI of about 1 year on the investment, and a measurable reduction in the state’s carbon footprint. The state had been spending $300 million annually to operate its building stock.

Example No. 2: Ave Maria University

Situated on a 908-acre campus in Florida, the Ave Maria University campus has 500,000 square feet of facilities, serving nearly 500 students and 200 faculty and staff. By resorting to single-party technology contracting, integrating systems management into a single network, and avoiding unnecessary and redundant cabling characteristic of conventional campus design, Ave Maria University has optimized capital budgets and time to achieve an outcome that is smart, scalable, and financially beneficial over time.

As a result, Ave Maria University saved more than $1 million in building costs by eliminating the redundant wiring and cabling of multiple isolated building systems, reduced staffing costs by enabling IT to assume tasks of building maintenance staff with an estimated $350,000 savings annually in human resources costs, and enabled significant efficiencies in utility usage with an estimated $600,000 in annual savings.

Example No. 3: Rogers Centre

The Rogers Centre in Toronto is a world-class sports and entertainment complex that holds between 5,000 and 60,000 spectators. The complex contains approximately 7,000 lighting fixtures distributed over a total area of 1.4 million square feet. By combining addressable networking technology in conjunction with advanced control hardware and software, this retrofit was designed to maximize energy savings and provide an ROI that exceeded customer expectations.

The Rogers Centre facility had an electricity bill exceeding $3 million annually. Currently, cost savings have reached $325,000 annually, generating an ROI of about 2.5 years. By the time the new BAS project is fully implemented, it’s expected to generate a 76-percent savings in lighting energy expenses. With energy reductions of 3.7 million kWh annually, the project will have reduced its dependency on the energy grid equal to the energy required to power more than 400 homes in Toronto.

The above examples demonstrate how smarter, integrated building systems can be leveraged to achieve better control and efficiency over resources. Rethinking an existing BAS implementation or pursuing a new integrated solution should be considered for new and retrofit commercial building construction projects.

Rawlson O’Neil King is communications director for the Ottawa, ON-based Continental Automated Buildings Association (www.caba.org).

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