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Echelon recently released findings from an online survey showing that that majority of planners intend to integrate lighting, HVAC and security systems into a common platform. This was hardly a surprising finding and nor was the statement that almost half of building automation projects today involve legacy systems running multiple protocols from different vendors. The conclusion given that multi-protocol and converged solutions will be key to extracting optimal benefit from the emerging Building Internet of Things (BIoT)” aka IoT, confirmed for us that their respondents were realists and that they had not been overwhelmed by the hype that of BIoT.
Almost half the survey respondents indicated that more than 50% of their building retrofit projects involve multiple protocols such as BACnet, LonTalk, DALI, C-Bus, Modbus, KNX, etc. that currently do not intercommunicate.
Integration of different siloed building services can be achieved through joining them together at the top end through specialist software products such as Tridium’s Niagara Framework. Whilst this solution has its limitations it is a practical means of reducing operating costs that boost energy efficiency while increasing comfort for people in the building. For existing buildings this solution is likely to continue for many years to come for building operators are unlikely to be able to justify the case for ripping out the existing systems and migration to single BIoT platforms.
For new construction projects BIoT is a much more technically and financially attractive solution, not least because it lays the foundation for the long term viability and future for buildings and this is where it will be first exploited. But is it today a viable technical and commercially proposition?
The answer is no despite all the hype from the scores of research reports about the opportunities to realise the technical market potential, few provide any details about the technical and commercial challenges that still have to be overcome.
BIoT Networks will place huge demands on nodes and the network infrastructure, creating significant engineering challenges and the need to look at the total end-to-end network solutions. A comprehensive understanding of the scale of the data capture devices and the diverse locations transmitting information to the supervisory and analytical software and Big Data needs to be satisfied. A single solution will not be able to service the vast array of sensor types and network characteristics, while at the same time also achieve optimal performance and use of resources to meet the needs of all stakeholders.
Wireless networks will be critical for the application in existing buildings, and the loads required will need energy harvesting systems sufficient for many hundreds of sensors and controllers. Further development work needs to be done on this if BIoT is going to cost effectively deliver the solution.
The good news on all of this is that today’s engineers are trained and prepared to tackle these challenges so BIoT will happen; but not as quickly as some market research companies say. The bad news is that the routes to market necessary to implement BIoT are not in place yet and the role and responsibilities of the players in the decision making process will need to be changed because these are different for each of the major building services. The contract for the Building Energy Management System (BEMS) is part of the mechanical contract, Lighting is organized through the low voltage electrical contract and Security is bid separately through a Security Consultant Designer. We then have a multiplicity of relatively smaller contracts including fire detection and voice evacuation, lift controls, electrical power back-up, communications, parking, utility meters, vending machines, energy management, water management, landscaping/irrigation, digital signage and by no means do these encompass all the different types of devices and elements you might find in a building. All of these data sources will eventually need to interface and work within the BIoT network.
So in the medium term future the BIoT network needs to work alongside current building automation systems being implemented gradually with priority given to those services that can deliver the most benefits and highest ROI. With time the BIoT network will be scaled up and interface with all the services that the building owner requires.
At the same time we expect to see a gradual consolidation in the number of protocols used within the different building automation systems and for some of them to be used across the different services .This will allow more direct integration between these services so that both the product and installation cost can be brought down and simplify the interface with the BIoT.
Our research into lighting controls has shown that one platform could be used for both HVAC and Lighting in medium sized and small commercial buildings for each new LED fixture can now be a node on an intelligent network turning off the lights when people aren’t around or dimming them when exterior light can be harvested. But those sensors can also be used to harvest other useful data about temperature, occupancy and their surroundings that have many other applications not associated with lighting but other environmental controls, security and safety; delivering value add services for the business enterprise.
Having struggled for the last 15 years to get all the environmental services in buildings to work together we have now reached a point where connectivity can be achieved directly through IP allowing the BIoT to become a reality. Having completed 2 reports on LED Lighting and Lighting Controls we are convinced that LED Lighting controls could now act as a catalyst for the opening up of the BIoT; however the network will require time to develop and achieve this – http://www.memoori.com/portfolio/smart-buildings-the-lighting-controls-business-2013-to-2017/
The case for retrofitting buildings with LED lighting has become very compelling and wireless technology has negated the need for control wiring so reducing the installation cost. This will result in LED lighting controls being installed in many more buildings that don’t have building energy management systems. Our research has shown many instances where bus-based lighting controls have taken the responsibility for controlling HVAC services but this has been on relatively small to medium sized projects where heating and cooling has been achieved through a combination of chilled beams and natural ventilation. This has required blinds to control solar gain which falls into the low voltage category and has been engineered and designed through the electrical contract and not the mechanical, as is the case with BEMS.
Whilst fully comprehensive BIoT is still some way off, much is being done to meet the technical challenges and the capability to deliver a solution is not in doubt. LED Lighting control is leading building automation into BIoT and could well take a number of other building services with it; whilst consolidation in the number of communication protocols will help to speed up BioT implementation.
* Our definition of BIoT is the overlaying of an IP network which connects all the building services; monitoring, analyzing and controlling without the intervention of humans.