Next Generation Building Operations

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This section explores how the next generation of smart building operations, functionality and maintenance is utilizing the (IoT) internet of things to operate at full interconnectivity, functionality and efficiency. Smart building , operations, functionality and maintenance capabilities cut energy consumption and CO2 emissions, reduce maintenance costs and extend equipment lifetime. Various systems offer actionable insights, drive fewer complaints from occupants, decrease the need for unscheduled maintenance and reduce energy costs and carbon footprint. In the time of pandemic or other extreme events, smart buildings may offer autonomous operation.

This section explores how the next generation of smart building operations, functionality and maintenance is utilizing the (IoT) internet of things to operate at full interconnectivity, functionality and efficiency. Smart building , operations, functionality and maintenance capabilities cut energy consumption and CO2 emissions, reduce maintenance costs and extend equipment lifetime. Various systems offer actionable insights, drive fewer complaints from occupants, decrease the need for unscheduled maintenance and reduce energy costs and carbon footprint. In the time of pandemic or other extreme events, smart buildings may offer autonomous operation.

For many people, the idea of a SMART building creates, and implies an image of a building with complex IoT applications that can only be understood, integrated and operated by a cadre of highly trained facility, IT, project management professionals . A similar apprehension existed with the first generation of buildings with BAS (Building Automation System)— i.e. an intelligent system of both hardware and software, connecting heating, venting and air conditioning system (HVAC), lighting, security, and other systems to communicate on a single platform. Most larger buildings today have a BAS system for significant energy saving and operational benefits it provides.

Smart Building Operations

The difference between BAS and the smart building operations

The difference between BAS and smart building operations is the ability to gather data, analyze and diagnose problems from multiple data input sources. Building automation systems (BAS) help facility owners conserve energy and optimize performance with controls that allow for examples like scheduling, occupancy and maintaining set-points. Smart building operations are just a step away from this, and simply represent a facility's ability to gather this data and change operational outcomes accordingly. The key is data acquisition, analytics, and diagnostics.

The transition to smart operations does not have to occur all at once but can be gradual and phased. For owners with a robust, and at some levels integrated BAS in their facilities today, transitioning to a smart building environment will be easier to accomplish.

The very first step is to install smart meters that can provide near-real-time energy usage data showing energy consumption, and in some cases, at what cost. This on its own has the advantage of improving a building operator's insights to save energy, reducing the carbon footprint, improving the longevity of equipment and reducing costs. Smart meters offer utility monitoring opportunities on a more granular basis toward the conservation of our natural resources. The systematic tracking and optimization of building energy consumption with visual dashboards can also help to change the behavior of building occupants. The Blueprint Chapter 6: Interfacing with City Services and Utilities provides further explanation.

The next step is to install sensors to monitor building performance in real-time. For example, industrial temperature sensors allow you to measure and monitor ambient, surface or water conditions in a room, machine or around the building, in real-time. This allows you to maintain optimum conditions and improve efficiency. Desk occupancy sensors detect and monitor the presence of people, in real-time.

The current technology, otherwise known as Big Data Analytics (BDA) and Fault Detection and Diagnosis (FDD) typically consists of a cloud-based analytical engine that receives and analyzes building data and communicates the diagnostic information, typically through a series of work orders. These are the terms used to describe the process of tracking and analyzing building performance and energy efficiency continuously and in real-time of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, lighting (for example daylight saving and shutting off lights in unoccupied zones), indoor air quality (IAQ) monitoring, smart elevators and so forth to alert the building operators of faults or inefficiencies within the building systems. To avoid being overwhelmed by too many notifications, algorithms can be put in place to prioritize and indicate the work orders that are a priority, and which will have the greatest positive impact on building performance.

Fault detection and diagnosis enable timely and targeted interventions in cases of faulty or under-performing building equipment. This equates to continuous commissioning. Smart building sensors are not limited only to energy usage problems but can also address other systems, for example, identifying water leaks, or waste bins that need emptying. In the longer term, BAS will soon become less important, as more and more equipment will be manufactured with integrated controls and sensors that can be wirelessly connected to the network and driven by a smart building software platform — like 'plug and play.

As more and more data and the skill set to collect them increase, the analytics will mature and reveal patterns and feedback mechanisms that will enable the development of data-driven knowledge and operations. Like self-driving cars, this may lead to self-operating buildings, where the analytic and diagnostic capabilities of smart buildings will allow for remote operation of the buildings. With the information relayed via the cloud about the operation of the building's heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) and lighting control systems, the building operator will be able to monitor and control the building operations remotely for energy consumption. This will also be valuable in the during pandemics. A digital twin manifestation of the building would further extend the building operators' capability to access all operational data remotely.

A combination of building automation and AI would further support a self-operating building that requires little to no human intervention. There are other advantages to using AI apart from a remote operation. AI would also be able to most efficiently maintain balanced thermal equilibrium[1] in a building under any circumstances while at the same time ensuring occupant comfort, saving money, and reducing the carbon footprint.

There are still barriers to smart buildings. They include a general mistrust of artificial intelligence and the significantly higher cost of deploying AI-powered platforms. While there is some progress, there is still some work to be done to integrate protocols for various types of equipment used in smart buildings. Machine learning algorithms and more advanced statistical algorithms are also being developed to perform increasingly complex learning processes. Notwithstanding, the challenges, the use of artificial intelligence in building management is a strong trend and the adoption of artificially artificial AI-powered BMS platforms is projected to increase especially in new design and construction.

Due to the widespread of cloud-based applications and smart building technologies, which are now linking cyber and physical infrastructure, cybersecurity controls are increasingly essential to protect occupants, building infrastructure, and smart building functions against cyberattacks. The Blueprint Chapter 4: Cybersecurity and Privacy Risk Management explores further this issue.

From preventative maintenance to predictive maintenance

The same integrated sensors that provide performance data — historical and in real-time — support a more predictive maintenance program by detecting failures before they occur. For example, the data may show that a fan coil unit has been running at 100% output for more than one month, at higher measured sensor temperature and therefore requires maintenance activities earlier than planned.

A review of the work orders that have been issued for each piece of equipment will identify the equipment that may soon need replacing. This proactive monitoring of devices and end points has a high return on investment for labor and product replacement. This then can be included in the capital plan. Another intelligence can be provided to the facility Inventory systems such that if one of the parts scanned out of inventory is taken for use, a replacement part is automatically ordered. This can create a recommended spare parts list to be kept on hand.

New Developments in Operations and Maintenance

Digital Twin

Looking to the future, many buildings and their systems will be replicated digitally via a so-called "digital twin", either as detailed graphic representations or in the form of data, so that whatever occurs in the building will be visible and controllable virtually and in real-time.

Digital Twin in the context of the built environment refers to a digital replica of physical assets (physical twin), places, processes, systems, and devices. This digital data can be used for a variety of purposes including building design, space management, operation and maintenance, the gathering, analysis and diagnostics of property data, creation of new services, and more. The digital representation provides both the elements and dynamics of the building in its entity, including systems and devices, as well as operation throughout its lifecycle[2].

While a digital twin consists of an exact representation of a building in the format of digital data, the easiest way to comprehend the data is by using a 3D model. This dual representation can cause confusion with BIM. BIM data enables collaboration and visualization during design and construction, but not during operations and maintenance. Thus, to create a digital twin for new construction it is possible to start with a BIM model based on the construction information (plans and data for the building). A digital twin represents how people interact with the built environment. It uses automated sensor technology for information updates to reflect real-time changes. For existing buildings the digital twin can be created with real-time sensor data from the building management system, data from HVAC systems, lighting, fire, security, and other environmental sensors, as well as data about the assets of the building and the people who use it, such as tenants, occupants, building staff, visitors, and other roles. This creates a rich virtual information model of an entire building, which allows for detailed and accurate analytics of maintenance data and asset usage optimization based on financial impacts and costs. This helps to operate buildings more efficiently by helping predict and avoid unexpected costs, identifying system inefficiencies and better estimating when replacement parts are needed. Running simulations on a digital twin reduces risks and helps system engineers make better business case for changes to the system[3].

Facilities Informatics and applied technology

Facilities informatics (FI) is the intersection of facilities, IM/IT, and management practices to improve operations, based on facilities-related data, information, and knowledge[4].

Facilities informatics has its origin in the medical field to organize and understand patient data – individually and in the context of population trends, for example, when a cluster of patients covered by different physicians may be experiencing similar conditions.

At the level of the individual patient, it keeps track of medical information electronically; informs physicians about how a patient's condition, local or remotely, is changing over time; provides insights during the diagnostic phase and the care process including information on potential treatments; automates pharmacy requests, and facilitates effective and constant communication between the patient and physician.

For hospital managers, this data offers a better understanding of the workflow of their hospital so that they can plan for predictable, not-readily noticed patterns in patients, and react more quickly to situations that are trending out of normal bounds.

A similar approach is now being developed for buildings and facilities management. The goal of facilities informatics is to develop wisdom from data to inform decision-making processes related to energy, maintenance, and capital programs. Some examples of facilities informatics applications include the design, development, implementation, maintenance, and evaluation of:

  • hardware options
  • communication protocols for the secure transmission of facilities data
  • electronic facilities record systems (regionally, provincially, territorially, or nationally)
  • evidence-based decision support systems
  • classification systems using standardized terminology and coding
  • work management systems
  • facilities monitoring systems (e.g., computer-controlled BAS/EMS systems)
  • digital imaging and image processing systems
  • geospatial systems
  • telework and mobile technologies to facilitate and support remote diagnosis and treatment
  • Internet technology for engaging customers
  • methodologies and applications for data analysis, management, and mining
  • facilities information data warehouses and reporting systems
  • business, financial, support, and logistics systems

Facilities informatics can be viewed as a parallel to Enterprise Data Management (EDM), which is starting to be used by many organizations to integrate, govern, secure, and disseminate data from multiple data streams, including data that is being safely transferred among partners, subsidiaries, applications, and/or processes. Similarly, building data, for example from sensors monitoring energy and environmental conditions are increasingly becoming part of this process.

Channeling buildings and facilities data through the same data processing and storage as the organization data may cause conflicts between the organization's information technology (IT) and operation technology (OT) departments. The building data are being generally viewed in the IT world as low-grade data susceptible to hacking and the threat to cybersecurity. To progress and overcome such perception increasingly requires IT/OT personnel to work together.

Reduction of peak demand and increased resiliency

Peak demand is a period in which electrical power is needed for a sustained period at a significantly higher than average supply level. This often causes power "blackouts or brownouts”. Fortunately, it only occurs a few times a year usually on the hottest days or coldest days of the year, depending on the geography. However, with increasing frequency of weather events due to climate change such events are becoming more frequent. Traditional peak demand reduction techniques rely on cutting or reducing the use of certain building equipment such as elevators or A/C. Smart buildings may extend peak load reduction capabilities by offering the possibility to limit the need to invest in additional capacity to supply peak demand while improving the use and efficiency of existing resources. The Blueprint Chapter 6: Interfacing with City Services and Utilities further addresses how consumers can reduce or shift electrical usage during peak periods.

The integration of distributed energy resources (DER) in buildings that are 'grid partners' with utilities increases resiliency. For example, integration of microgrid consisting of photovoltaic modules, battery banks, and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) can reduce the peak load of the building as well as satisfy the PEVs load. The control strategy offers operational flexibility and the ability to take advantage of off-peak energy rates. This can be achieved through exploiting power generated onsite, local energy storage system, and the operational flexibilities of the PEVs via the vehicle-to-building alternative[5].

Building interaction with the grid.

While climate change is losing its no.1. priority to the pandemic, both the pandemic and the climate crisis are problems of exponential growth against a limited capacity to cope. In the case of the coronavirus, the danger is the number of infected people overwhelming health care systems; with climate change, it is that emissions growth will overwhelm our ability to manage consequences such as droughts, floods, wildfires, and other extreme events[6]. The current brief reduction in emission due to coronavirus will not stop other catastrophic events which are already in motion. We need to build resiliency on all fronts. One such measure is a smart grid and transactive energy where buildings will be the heart of the future grid.

Smart Grid is an electricity supply network that uses digital communications technology to detect and react to local changes in production and usage. Changes in a Distributed Energy Resources (DER) network may be caused by the uneven generation by the renewables (wind and solar) as well as changes in usage by the energy consumers. To operate the smart grid needs both economic and control mechanisms to balance an electric power system. Such a mechanism is transactive energy.

The benefits associated with the Smart Grid include more efficient transmission of electricity and faster restoration of electricity after power disturbances as well as reduced operations and management costs for utilities, and ultimately lower power costs for consumers. Combined with renewable power and storage it also provides great resiliency which in times of pandemic or other catastrophic events increases the grid coping capacity. The capability to respond to the changing condition, "talking to the grid" requires a smart platform solution capable of supporting the management of a wide range of applications, including heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; electric vehicles; and distributed-energy and whole-building loads. Platforms such as VOLTRON[7] are rapidly being developed and tested. They will be capable to respond to occupants' needs, produce and store energy, and communicate with the utility, grid and other buildings.

Smart grids have the potential to boost resiliency and catalyze the efficient and sustainable use of electricity. Real-time access to supply and demand transactive energy platforms, enabled by smart grids, could deliver a value of $632 billion to society higher than any other individual digital initiative[8].

Low voltage, Power over Ethernet (PoE) and DC microgrids

One concern that is now emerging is that digital technologies such as those used by occupants (particularly streaming) are warming up the planet. These are currently responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and expected to double by 2025 to reach 8%, which is equivalent to the current share of car emissions[9]. To counteract this trend is therefore important to look at other ways to decrease the energy consumption of buildings.

Direct Current (DC) microgrids and Power over Ethernet (POE) may offer a solution. Solar panels produce DC current, which is what computers, LED lighting and electric cars use. The advantage of a DC microgrid is that it can supply renewable energy to supply these end uses. Many innovative DC-run building components are now coming onto the market. For example, smart DC motors are being installed to replace inefficient and unintelligent AC induction motors on HVAC. These are more efficient, provide better control and are more durable than variable-speed-driven motors, which throttle back power by inducing a current in the motor, but which produce heat and other side effects from the electrical resistance. An example of a PoE building is the Marriot Hotel in Fort Worth[10]. DC microgrids can supply not only buildings but entire cities.


Operational Savings

Incremental investments in smart building systems and their operation and management offer a good return on investment. Given that the main role of building managers is to save money gain and retain occupants, it is therefore not surprising that the main focus has been on energy savings — energy being a key controllable item — with energy management and information systems for energy monitoring, measurement and verification (M&V), demand management and HVAC optimization.

Admittedly, smart building technology requires a certain level of capital expenditure for installation, migration and interface with often dissimilar existing building automation or control systems. However, the cost of upgrades pales in comparison to the operational savings. As building components and installations become cheaper, and smart buildings need less on-site, hands-on operations, owners, occupiers, and investors in real estate are starting to realize that these systems are becoming essential to remain competitive in the marketplace.

For example, a large, global financial services firm installed low-cost wireless sensors and controllers on its branch facilities, which numbered in the thousands, to enable remote monitoring and control of HVAC and lighting systems. Energy savings averaged 13 percent annually, while savings from fewer maintenance technician visits added another 5 per- cent in overall operating expense savings[11].

In the short term, the business case for smart buildings is bolstered by the energy-savings potential of strategically chosen smart building features, and accurate service history and asset condition, which enables maintenance activities to be more efficiently scheduled, and accurate maintenance logs to ensure that operators only pay for work that was completed.

Operational savings appear to offer even greater savings with fault detection, equipment predictive analysis, predictive cleaning and so forth. Since every piece of equipment can be monitored and dealt with based on work orders, this provides a record of how many work orders have been issued on each piece of equipment. These records help to identify which equipment may need to be replaced as part of the capital plan. All of this dramatically reduces the time and cost of operations and maintenance with efficiency gains of fifty to seventy percent. For example, Microsoft is already using AI to improve operations on its eighty-eight-acre campus. Microsoft now also operates one hundred percent carbon neutral. Because buildings emit forty percent of carbon, these are the kinds of savings that are needed to fight the climate emergency and help cities and states meet their goals, such as in NYC NYSERDA's Retrofit NY or California's Low-Carbon Buildings Bill AB 3232.

Thanks to extraordinary payback periods of one to two years, it is no wonder that owners and investors are installing smart systems and engaging smart building management services to optimize the performance of their portfolios and maintain a competitive edge leasing faster because of lower operating expenses than their peers, and commanding a better price on sale.

Smart buildings also contribute to Return on Investment (ROI) that includes jobs, tax revenue, and higher quality of life. The Blueprint Chapter 1: Benefit, Value and Return on Investment (ROI) Considerations provides further explanation.

Incremental capital expenditure that offers a rapid return on investment (ROI)

Organizations that want to make their portfolio smart, do not have to do it all at once. A smart building expert can review the portfolio to identify the best ROI opportunities for example, from adding smart sensors and controls to existing equipment. As wireless technologies avoid the need for costly hardwiring and renovation, relatively small and incremental upgrades can give owners control of their investment in smart systems. Impressive savings can be generated in the short term as these systems reflag and reduce inefficiencies.

Here is one example. Some buildings use cool outside air or 'free- cooling' to reduce the amount of air conditioning that needs to run. If the dampers that allow the cool air to enter become inadvertently stuck in a closed position, then the free cooling may not be working at all without anyone being aware of it. Without the free cooling, the air conditioning may be using far more energy than needed, even though the occupants may not feel the difference. This situation could go undetected for months. A smart building management system would detect this in real-time and send an alert to fix the problem.

Smart building management services can also be scaled up or down according to for how many facilities data analysis and reporting the owners and investors want, with fees that are generally priced based on the number of wireless sensors and data points tracked.

None of this removes the role of property or facility managers from the equation. The advantage of allowing machines to monitor machines 24 hours a day is that it releases building operators to address more pressing tasks. This is especially valuable where many small buildings are being maintained by only a handful of facility managers.


With buildings consuming 40% of energy, smart technology will contribute to much needed operational efficiency, leading to significant carbon reduction and a good return on investment due to enhanced occupant retention and value. Smart buildings that integrate renewable energy will also become the heart of the future grid as noted in the Blueprint Chapter 6: Interfacing with City Services and Utilities. However, the integration with the cloud-based services and application continues to present security threats which can be addressed as described in the Blueprint Appendix: Cybersecurity and Privacy Risk Management Preparation Questionnaire and Handbook.