\ Make your building smarter
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Make your building smarter

By Paul Fitzgerald for America's Backbone Weekly

Creating an Internet of Things from a network of old, analog gear is time consuming, but the rewards for doing so can be big really big. Utilizing big data to make a building smarter will allow your business to run more smoothly and comfortably, saving you money on everything from heating and air-conditioning costs, to overall electricity usage.

The Facts on Big Data
There are huge opportunities to working smarter, not harder in terms of data usage to save energy in your building stock. Forty-one percent of all energy consumed in the United States is by residential and commercial buildings, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Among U.S. commercial buildings, 38 percent of that energy is consumed by HVAC systems, collectively producing 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to research.

In the 70s, most commercial buildings in the United States were built with automated HVAC systems, which put machinery on schedules and alerted engineers of any broken equipment. But those systems weren't designed to work with every manufacturer.

Whether working to make old buildings "smarter," where some machinery can date to the 30s and 40s, or at newer campuses or businesses, where construction spans the previous three or four decades, HVAC equipment and their networks can be a complicated mix of devices and protocols. While no easy task, creating a naming convention for each device across dozens of manufacturers, hundreds of models and several networks, cataloging every stream of data they create and every action they can perform turns cumbersome amounts of data into insights.

Meet Project Haystack
However, some projects are so complex and costly that firms like Microsoft have not gone much beyond smartening up its own building stock. Indeed an open-source effort called Project Haystack, a sort of Linux or Wikipedia for the building industry, is also taking shape. Like the Wikipedia user can in turn be a contributor. Project Haystack is where engineers help map the labyrinth of building controls in their free time. When all the data is gathered together in a common database, the buildings alert decision makers.

From controlling locks and lighting intensities depending on the time of day, to ensuring refrigerators and coolers are the correct temperatures and that fire extinguishers remain at correct pressures, smart buildings will revolutionize how property is managed in the future.

Smart Buildings Work
But just because the building is "smart" does mean there's no need for human oversight.

Even after Microsoft implemented these capabilities at its Seattle "City Center" building, a programming error caused all of the building's HVAC systems to come online at once each morning, instead of sequentially, causing a 4-megawatt electricity spike that cost the company $22,000 in demand charges. But instead of a costly fix, it took only minutes to reprogram the system.

Keep in mind, however, that many business and home needs are not on the scale of a 26-storey office tower. At the most basic level, smart buildings will deliver useful services that make occupants productive illumination, thermal comfort, air quality, physical security, sanitation at the lowest cost and environmental impact over the building lifecycle.

Connecting the building's systems is a starting point. The next step is ensuring great connectivity with the people who manage the building and its systems: budget constraints and staffing challenges rule out difficult training and steep learning curves. Additionally, a truly smart building provides intuitive tools designed to improve and enhance the existing efforts of the people on the ground.

As electricity grids evolve toward real time pricing, we are getting closer to a world in which consumption will be billed based on the actual cost to produce the electricity at the instant it is used, instead of the average cost over long time periods.

The Basic Checklist for Improving Your Building's IQ

  • Optimized cooling and ventilation equipment costs the minimum amount of money to provide the comfort level desired.
  • Matching occupancy patterns to energy use means that a smart building will run leaner (and save money) when there are less people inside.
  • Proactive maintenance of equipment along with continuous analysis of systems in play will detect problems in performance before they cause expensive outages.
  • And if you're really savvy, battery options like Tesla's wall-mounted rechargeable unit allows dynamic power consumption by taking signals from the electricity market and altering usage in response, or charging its batteries during the evening to use during peak hours.

The process of making a building smarter with big data is time consuming, yet there are so many benefits. So, how smart is your building?

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