Buildings – Plugging the Performance Gap

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

What do The Titanic, London’s Millennium Bridge, and The Leaning Tower of Pisa have in common? One answer is that as structures they all failed to “perform” as expected. The Titanic, designed with the latest technology to achieve a success  rate of approximately 100% safe Atlantic  transits, actually achieved a disappointing 0%. The Millennium Bridge, fine and inspiring though it was, failed to take account the consequences of perfectly natural, if little understood, human behaviour – the tendency to walk in sync on a naturally moving structure – with potentially alarming consequences. It had to be radically re-engineered before reopening in 2002.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, which I was able to climb last month, failed in the most fundamental requirement of most buildings – staying permanently upright – though in some-ways of course this very failure was the secret of its long term success and certainly the main reason that people like me still pay good money to climb it more than 800 years after it first started leaning.

When buildings fail to deliver the intended results, we talk about a “performance gap”. While this can embrace many areas including cost, safety and comfort, we tend to talk about this particularly where energy performance is concerned. This reflects the fact that energy performance is at least ostensibly a goal of most of those involved in the design, construction and management of buildings, and that as energy prices rise and concerns over the impact of greenhouse gas emissions become more acute, the sense of urgency can only increase.

Some of the reasons for this are highlighted in a useful new book “How Much Energy Does Your Building Use?” by Liz Reason (Dō Sustainability) whose launch I attended in London last week. The book highlights examples of buildings initially hailed as energy efficient which spectacularly failed to live up to their reputation. It also shows how these failings can emerge at any stage of the building process from initial planning and design through construction, commissioning and occupation and operation, and considers how these problems and shortcomings can best  be addressed and avoided.

What I want to focus on here is one central question: How do we know how our building is actually performing, let alone how it is likely to perform in future? The key here is information, which needs to be collected and then analysed, not just to show us any obvious performance issues but also point to potential problems or just unusual patterns that deserve further investigation and explanation.

This points to a central role for Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS). These are offered by a wide range of suppliers, including most of the major Building Automation providers, and present wide ranging functionality. Central to almost all of them is the collection and analysis of data, sometimes in prodigious volumes. A well implemented BEMS enables you to keep track of what your building is actually doing, irrespective of what it was intended or expected to achieve.

'Performance gaps' in buildings are nothing new...

‘Performance gaps’ in buildings are nothing new…

Another way in which the performance gap points towards BEMS is that while the value of BEMS has been widely recognised for some time in the retrofit market, especially for the huge mass of buildings constructed in 1960 – 1990, there has sometimes been a tendency to assume that more recent buildings, being generally built to much higher standards, can, to a degree, “look after themselves”. If a building really is “zero energy” then what is there to manage, at least from an energy point of view?

However, if there are basic failings in the design itself, the way it has been implemented or commissioned, or the way the building is operated in relation to its actual usage, then the performance gap can loom up large and un-ecological as a fire-breathing dragon. Sometimes the failings can be obvious: a stiflingly uncomfortable office can jump up and hit you as much as a wildly wobbling bridge. But in other instances, energy wastage is less obvious. Real performance issues emerge only when the actual data is collected and analysed over time.

This month BSRIA publishes the latest update of the study “BEMS Market 2014 Q2 :Developments in Europe and the USA”, a study which, with its regular quarterly updates, helps you to keep up to speed with the newest developments in this exciting and important area.

Who Will Rule the Smart New World?

While Analysts’ predictions of the next big developments in Technology have become as much a January tradition as are hangovers and the task of hoovering pine needles from the carpet, it is often even more illuminating to look at what is actually happening, but which may be “hidden in plain view”.

Henry latest

While BSRIA has been reporting on and working with developments in building technology for decades, two recent trends have become clear:

  • The pace of development is accelerating, as buildings move increasingly into the IT mainstream, with elements such as software becoming as important as the more ‘traditional’ electronic and mechanical aspects.
  • Other areas of smart technology are not only developing apace, but are converging, in ways that are both predictable and perhaps more surprising.

Already smart technology is ubiquitous and affordable enough to influence every area of life from home and leisure to commercial premises to infrastructure and the most basic processes used to run cities and the governments of whole countries.

Whether it is using a smart phone to adjust your home heating or to pay your local taxes, or a smart meter to indicate the cheapest time to run a load through a smart washing machine, or smart glass that lightens or darkens in response to ‘instructions’ from a building, or smart cars communicating with traffic signals, we are seeing technologies that we have always thought of as independent interact, as the Internet of Things steadily expands to becomes the Internet of Everything.

This interaction is not only convenient; it also means that the same goals can be pursued simultaneously using different smart systems. To take one example, if we want to reduce greenhouse gases, we can use smarter and more energy efficient devices and appliances, we can manage the energy consumption of our home or office through building controls (or even by using smarter building materials), or wider society can invest in smarter grids and smarter sources of energy production. The balance of the mix that brings the best result can change depending on the situation, so they need to be interconnected.

All of this opens up huge potential opportunities for companies to emerge as leaders in the smart new world. Some of the leading automation companies are already well established here. But other sometimes surprising challengers are emerging. As information and analysis becomes more central to the smart world, including the smart built world, so software and IT services companies are seeing and seizing opportunities, and other companies are also branching out.

While the “smart homes” market may initially have been slower to take off than some expected, it is telling that Honda entered the market in 2013, and Google followed, with its acquisition of  Nest Laboratories in January 2014.

Of course growth by acquisition is not in itself enough. The much more challenging task is integrating diverse offerings into a single seamless and coordinated whole. Here the advantage will go to those companies who can develop solutions that naturally fit together, and who also understand how to develop and market them in a coordinated and holistic way.

Equally, the smart new world will rest not just on technological ingenuity and innovation. Equally important will be the understanding of the world of organisations – from private companies to governments, and on the behaviour of individuals. Each of these will interact and influence the other, often in unintended and unpredictable ways. The larger the scale of the system, the more complex and unpredictable it becomes. (It is telling that it is huge projects which interact both with governments and with a myriad of individuals that are especially liable to go wrong, as witness the debacle over the roll-out of the computerised elements of the new American Health Care system – ‘Obamacare’).

The companies that do best in this environment will need to offer the soft skills, including the social, the psychological and the political, in order to prevail.

BSRIA has just published a major new Market Study Smart Evolution 2014: Convergence of Smart Technologies: Towards The Internet of Everything which considers these questions and much more, and identifies the companies who are currently best placed, and those who are set to emerge as challengers.

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

It is a new world that sometimes appears as through a looking glass. As Lewis Carroll didn’t quite write:

The time has come to talk about the Internet of Things

Of BEMS and BACS and web attacks

On automated Buildings

And power from bricks and glass that thinks

And should smart cars have wings?…

To find out more about the study  Smart Evolution 2014: Convergence of Smart Technologies: Towards The Internet of Everything   or to order it , please contact:
Steve Turner Steve.turner@bsria.co.uk
T +44 (0)1344 465610

The Smart Response to Managing Buildings’ Energy Problems

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Issues around energy continue to dominate many of the news headlines in the UK, and are seldom far from the forefront in other developed countries. While much of the focus has been on rising domestic energy price- tariffs, the way that buildings use, and all too often waste, energy remains a huge concern. This is hardly surprising given that in both Europe and North America, buildings account for a whopping 40% of all energy consumed.

One thorny problem is the high cost of improving building energy performance, especially in a country like the UK where the building stock, especially  the residential building stock, tends to date back to an era when the principles of energy conservation were much less well understood, let alone acted on, and where the cost of improvements and renovation can be high, and the ROI correspondingly long – a daunting prospect when governments, companies and consumers are all still hurting from the financial hangover following the worst recession in decades.

All of this means that institutions, companies and households need to look at smarter ways of coping with high-cost energy in buildings that are often not ‘designed’ to be energy- efficient.  Here at BSRIA we have just completed a regular update of our report into Building Energy Management in Europe and North America, which has given us the chance to review some of the key current developments. As part of this, we looked at 17 of the leading suppliers to this market.

One immediately striking conclusion is that all of the leaders incorporate a level of analytics, in some cases as part of a wider portfolio, in others as their central specialised offering.  In one sense this is not surprising. If you want to improve a building’s performance then you can either take a direct physical approach– for example more energy-efficient construction or insulation, or cheaper or more environmentally friendly energy sources – or you can take steps to change the way the building uses that energy, which means interacting with its occupants and their requirements in an intelligent way, which in turn requires that you have all relevant information to hand. We can expect these analytics to become increasingly sophisticated, with buildings “learning” based on usage and performance over time.

This also helps to explain another striking finding:  that most of the suppliers in this sector now offer some level of on-going commissioning. Improving building energy performance is a continuous undertaking – reflecting the fact that buildings’ usage patterns and the behaviour of their occupants will themselves change over time, as processes and equipment become more, or less, efficient. In providing or supporting an on-going service, companies become less like suppliers in the “traditional” sense, and more like partners, providing consultancy as well as software or hardware. In some cases the service supports the actual procurement of energy and management of energy suppliers.

Another capability which is fast becoming a “must have” is the ability to offer a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, with all of the advantages in terms of cost model, maintenance, accessibility and flexibility.

wmi-thermostatAs buildings become increasingly integrated into the wider “smart world”, Demand Response, already well-established in parts of the USA is being taken up more seriously in Europe as well, with an increasing number of BEMS suppliers supporting  the move to automated demand response.

While the problems faced by large commercial buildings clearly differ in important ways from the light commercial sector and from residential buildings, there are likely here as elsewhere, to be important elements of crossover. Some suppliers are also providing differently scaled BEMS solutions and energy management is already one of the central elements of most “smart home” solutions.

Barring a sudden surge in cheap, readily available and environmentally friendly energy, which still sounds like a dream scenario, we can expect BEMS to continue its rapid advance in importance, increasingly integrated into related areas of Building Automation, and of Smart Grids.

To find out more about BSRIA’s updated study “BEMS Market 2013 Q4 : Developments in Europe and the USA”, please contact Steve Turner on +44 (0)1344 465610 (Steve.Turner@bsria.co.uk)

If Buildings Could Talk to us…

It was really only a matter of time:

This blog was written by BSRIA's Henry Lawson

This blog was written by BSRIA’s Henry Lawson

Buildings are where we typically spend the greater part of our time, both at work, and often as not outside of it.  They already consume about 40% of the energy used in most advanced countries. They represent a huge proportion of our investment, both as individuals and as a society.  For centuries the technology of the day has been deployed to make them more efficient, comfortable and healthier for their occupants.

The surprise is surely that it has taken so long for information technology to really  move centre stage in our buildings. While smart homes remain, at least in most countries, a slightly geekish luxury item, many of us already spend our working day in environments managed by quite advanced  building automation systems, which aim to maintain a safe, secure and comfortable environment.

As building systems become more sophisticated, the more critical it becomes to be able to collect information about the state of the various components, and how they are interacting.  Accordingly, leading building automation and controls (BACS) suppliers, including Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Schneider Electric and Siemens have increasingly been making software available in order to process and make sense of this information.

In this they have been joined both by some of the big enterprise software players, but also by a host of  comparative newcomers. A key factor here is that the amount of data and the complexity involved can be quite large. It is easy to see that if you are in the position of managing a large portfolio of buildings, perhaps as a facilities management company, then if these buildings are automated then you may have to analyse a large volume of data to ensure that your estate is performing efficiently in terms of energy usage, costs, maintenance schedules, etc.

What is less obvious is that even for a comparatively modest sized building, the data can be potentially quite complex.  To get top performance from a building you need to look beyond the obvious. This means not just taking account of data from individual sensors or other information generators, but how these each  interact with one another. For example, one surprisingly common scenario is where the temperature in a given zone is fine, but only as the result of a heating system and a cooling system battling each other to standstill, wasting alarming amounts of energy – and money – in the process.

To identify these types of scenarios the system needs to be able to check very many different measurements against other ones and

The BACS Market

The BACS Market

identify relationships and correlations. And once the “normal” patterns and correlations have been identified it can then look for anomalies, which may be a warning sign that something has gone wrong, or at the very least that something abnormal has happened. Why for example, might a temperature be spiking in one part of a building at an unexpected time?

It is these kinds of challenges, as much as sheer volume that we are talking about when we refer to “big data”. Not only is this far beyond the capacity of the best human brain to process in any acceptable timeframe, it requires advanced analytical software to identify and prioritise the most important events, almost literally to “understand what your building is trying to say to you”.

A whole range of suppliers are now active in this space, and some of them at least are likely to have a huge impact on how building automation develops going forward.

Here at BSRIA, in the latest regular update to our Hot Topic study on Threats to BACS Hot Topic for October 2013,  we focus on this area, as well as taking a look at the implications of another, less fortunate, consequence of the growing importance of IT and software in the built environment: the spectre of cyber-attacks on buildings.

Threats to the Building Automation and Control Systems Market – or Opportunities?

My smart technologies team within BSRIA’s Worldwide Market Intelligence division have been looking at the threats to the traditional building automation and control systems market. But of course, what is a threat to one is an opportunity to another and we are looking at both angles of the changes currently taking place. We will shortly be publishing our findings and conclusions in a new report to be launched later this month.

The global BACS market is currently worth more than $20 billion and is continuing to grow year on year, having pulled through a global recession quite robustly. Not surprisingly, this market has in recent years been attracting new entrants. Now, new technologies, innovations and novel business models are threatening to disrupt the traditional business.

New technologies that utilise the “Cloud”, developed by relative newcomers such as BuildingIQ and Mios, as well as established multinationals like Johnson Controls and Schneider Electric are providing energy management, self-diagnosis and adjustment functionality not previously available in a Building Automation and Control System (BACS). Suppliers are now faced with the reality “If I am not in the cloud, my competitors probably will be.” There is a growing assumption that all key services and solutions should be accessible via “the cloud” but there are concerns and these are explored in our report.

As building automation becomes more IT-based, software is growing in importance, within both targeted applications and in detailed analytics to identify areas where performance may be improved. BACS suppliers need to be proactive in this area or risk becoming more commoditised and marginalised.

Suppliers of variable refrigerant flow (VRF) and DX systems are also entering the BACS market with integrated controls and rudimentary energy management functions. The market for VRF based systems has overtaken chillers globally and VRF systems are gaining market share fastest where the markets are expanding most rapidly. We have looked at how the BACS equipped VRF systems in the $9bn VRF market are affecting the HVAC and BACS markets. We analyse whether they pose a great enough threat to change the BACS market altogether or whether they are a factor that could help the BACS market. Since VRF-based systems are becoming ever more ‘intelligent’ this changes the scope for building automation. Incumbents must be asking themselves, “how long until they start offering the same sort of capabilities as high level BACS?”

Residential smart home systems from the low-voltage electrical equipment suppliers such as Jung, Busch-Jaeger and Berker are being used in light commercial buildings; interestingly 60% of such systems sold in Germany are used in the light commercial market and demand is increasing. So here too, it is smart residential controls that are posing a threat to traditional commercial building solutions.

However, is the residential value add market at risk of be snatched away from the current players by the telecoms operators and utilities, bundling remote monitoring and energy management as just further services in their offerings? And could this be the way things will go in the non-residential market too?

Threats to BACS – or Opportunities?

Threats to BACS – or Opportunities?

However, opportunities exist in numerous areas, including in integration and convergence of diverse systems. BACS and in particular, building energy managements systems and services (BEMS) penetration in to the existing building stock is still very low and the opportunities for refurbishment are simply staggering. Perhaps the good news is that for the most part, these new markets remain highly fragmented. We are witnessing heightened activity in the areas of partnerships, mergers and acquisitions. This is enabling companies to broaden their scope of offering and to leverage their core skills and follow the rapid evolution of the market.

Our new report analyses these changes and provides information on how the BACS market is coping with the changes and the wider opportunity to expand “beyond BACS”. Supported by facts, figures and enlivened by charts and illustrations, it will be presented in an accessible PowerPoint format of some 60-70 slides. It draws on BSRIA’s long standing expertise in built environment.

Choosing your BEMS

Wireless vs. wired – which is best?

Chris Monson, Strategic Marketing Manager of Trend

Chris Monson, Strategic Marketing Manager of Trend Controls

When installing a building controls system or building energy management system (BEMS), businesses want the most efficient, economical and environmentally friendly solution available to suit their requirements. But how should you choose between applying a wired or wireless connected control system? What’s the difference? And what are the benefits of each? Guest blogger Chris Monson of Trend Controls gives his opinion:

The cost difference

When it comes to making building control decisions, the major  factor for selection and installation apart from appropriate usage is usually cost.

The cost for installing wired or wireless systems is largely determined by two things: parts and labour. These are in turn influenced by the scale of the installation project. The larger the project, the more parts, time and budget you’re likely to need.

Whilst the parts for wired systems may be less than for wireless, wired system installation costs for time and labour are much higher when you factor in the additional costs for wiring and cabling. Because of this, wired solutions are best suited to smaller scale projects.

Conversely, a wireless system has only one fixed overhead – the main receiver module – no cabling or lengthy installation required. Numerous sensors can operate with one receiver module, making wireless the most cost efficient solution for large projects with four or more sensors. A typical example of savings:

  • 4 wireless sensors plus 1 receiver will cost 30% less than fitting 4 wired controllers and wiring them back to the receiver
  • 12 wireless sensors cost approximately 50% less than a wired system
  • Installing 32 wireless sensors would save over 60% of the cost of a wired system

The technical advantages

“Never mind the cost – which one will actually work better?”

If the cost is not a hindrance, the prime considerations for any project are basic funtionality and use. So what are the techinical advantages and disadvantages of wired and wireless?

Wireless temperature sensors contain a thermistor sensing element and transmitter. Both are encased in a standard wall mounting/plant type enclosure, and up to 50 sensors can interact with a single receiver unit. Remembering the advantages of wireless for large scale projects, a single receiver unit can be positioned up to 100m away from the sensors, so technically wirless can offer a very flexible solution. If correctly specified and configured, wired is a technical equal, and is not as susceptible to signal disruption. If disruption is a concern, most BEMS can be set to give and alert in the event of such a problem. ZigBee style networks are especially designed to avoid frequency disturbances and clashes with other devices, and were creared in the late 90’s when installers realised that WiFi and Bluetooth were not sustainable wireless solutions. As such, the mesh system uses 2.4GHZ radio frequency, making it flexible and reilient – if one node breaks, others in the circuit can still communicate.

Alongside cost advantages and ease of installation, using wireless systems offer another obvious, technological edge – wireless is wireless, instantaneous and also ‘plug and play’. This makes upgrading systems and introducing new technologies much simpler. Though regular maintenance such as battery changes need to be factored into the time/cost equation.

Deciding between the two

Before any decisions are reached, building should first be audited to determine the most suitable solution – it is advisable to test how well wireless signals can be received and how likely distrubances are. If this is an issue wired may be your only option. After this, choosing the correct BEMS system depends on the size and usage of the building, the scale of the project and company budget. As a general rule larger more extensive projects are typically best suited to wireless solutions.

This article was written by BSRIA member Chris Monson, Strategic Marketing Manager at Trend Controls in the UK.

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