February 2016

BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
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The Future: BG or BS?

Buildings Genius (BG) or Buildings Savant (BS)?

Jack Mc GowanJack Mc Gowan, CEM
The Mc Gowan Group

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An answer to the title question could come from a new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)  research effort, and a study called Buildings Interoperability Landscape http://energy.gov/eere/buildings/downloads/buildings-interoperability-landscape.  Focusing on interoperability as the path to what I call Building Genius (BG), makes real sense.  However we must overcome the industries predisposition to build and operate Building Savants (BS).

Today’s buildings are typically savant, at best.  Savants are individuals of average, or even below average, general intelligence; that are extremely gifted in one area.  Many buildings today are called “intelligent” because of systems installed, but these systems and technology are often operated as islands of intelligence.  Like a Savant, general intelligence may be below average and there is one system operating at an optimal level. Genius on the other hand has many definitions.  Its use here describes when someone is not just brilliant in one area of knowledge; but has the ability to apply intellect and creativity across multiple areas of knowledge to achieve new advances.  Interoperability, in much the same way, leverages intelligence in multiple systems (areas of knowledge) to achieve new advances in building performance.  However I believe that the definition of “Building Interoperability” must be expanded, because the current definition is derived more from its meaning when used in reference to IT not buildings.  The complex interactions required with building systems demand a higher level of interoperability, and this cannot be achieved without a robust and effective instance of Big-Data Energy Analytics.

Steve Widergren of DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who led the GridWise Architecture Council effort from its inception, and is working on this DOE Buildings effort, puts it this way.  “The connected building not only powers the business and comfort needs of its occupants more efficiently, it also interacts with other buildings and energy service providers to achieve even greater efficiency for the community.  Today this idea is but a vision as the buildings automation industry struggles to deliver such capabilities at scale.  The missing piece is a market of interoperable products and services that enable communicating equipment to simply connect and operate.  This is particularly important for small to medium commercial buildings, which can ill-afford steep integration and maintenance costs and represent upwards of 90% of all commercial buildings."  The DOE report mentioned above describes the status of interoperability in building automation, the opportunities to advance information modeling, and the need for a collective vision to drive interoperability beyond the obstacles of proprietary solutions and antiquated approaches toward an Internet of Things for energy.  Great vision!

The real point here is that there is a pervasive problem with under-resourced operational process teams in the built environment.  This author also believes that if one segment of the buildings world shows the industry what success looks like, it could just create a new paradigm that would be demanded by all building owners for both new and existing buildings.
Big-Data Energy Analytics, referenced by Steve as Information Modeling, is not just a new bell or whistle to add to buildings.  Rather, Analytics, are a new process, and set of tools, which cannot overcome the fact that building operations and management is under-resourced, but can change the paradigm for how to resource this function and ultimately drive high performance buildings from vision to reality.  In the graphic below, Big-Data Energy Analytics is shown as an enabler, along with Web Services and the Internet of Things, for buildings that are 3D Interoperable.   I am coining this term to add further clarity to the meaning of interoperability for buildings.  To achieve this functionality buildings must begin by being “connected”, but it will require more that connectivity.  3D Interoperable is made possible by tools that analyze the breadth and depth of building systems, in a three dimensional way.  Quite simply this means that capabilities must be overlaid on building systems that allow them to provide more functions than the original design, such as Demand Response.  This 3D interoperability uses Analytics to turn system data into knowledge, and to use it to implement optimization strategies that will achieve the DOE vision.  Key to this discussion is developing an understanding of how complex 3D Interop is, and, as mentioned, a good example to begin with is Demand Response.  DR requires Interoperability between the building BAS, which executes a shed sequence when it receives a message from the outside world (the utility).

This is a great example of interoperability, but DR alone cannot fulfil the vision of next generation buildings. To fulfill that vision it will be necessary to achieve 3D interoperability with all building systems; HVAC, Lighting, plug loads, etc., BAS, Metering and a host of special systems.  This notion of systems interoperating in 3 Dimensions takes straight-forward collaboration, such as that implemented between a manufacturers chiller control system and a BAS, and expands it to things like using occupancy sensors and elevator control data to determine if a building can be shut down early on Friday afternoon or if a building can take advantage of renewable “over supply” of power via pre-cooling buildings, water heating and other storage techniques.

3D Interoperability

There is no definition yet for 3D interoperability in buildings, nor an explanation of how it would work, but that’s exactly what the Analytics community is developing.  It might be helpful to know that this Analytics community is made up, in great part, of the best and brightest BAS Contractor / Integrators.  This community is actively engaged in the effort, but one of the most difficult issues is that truly open building systems remain in the minority.  For this reason there are interim steps that must be taken just to achieve building connectivity.  This is because building owners face ongoing challenges in procuring truly open BAS, and related HVAC / lighting systems.  Further there is a lack of standardization for data modeling between individual BAS, as well as between BAS’s or any building systems.  Most readers know that this means the first step for Analytics integrators is to implement middleware technology that establishes communication between building systems, which we call connectivity.  Again though, Connectivity does not mean that information shared by systems will be understood by each, so the next step for Integrators is to use the middleware to “discover” points in the various systems that need to be accessed, and then map those points between the systems.  Once points are mapped, Integrators must document units of measure, naming conventions, etc., required to enable data access for Analytics from all these various sources. Of interest for this article is that this process not only enables data access, it can also establish the foundation for 3D Interoperability.  However accessing data, though complex, is much simpler than executing coordinated control sequences across multiple systems.  The first step in that effort is to determine where building performance optimization algorithms will reside and execute.  Some of these can be integrated to local BAS and other control systems by enabling a two-way flow of data that could send “Analytic Control Variables” to local systems.  This is exactly how the Open ADR standard enables Demand Response via BAS.  Control sequences operate within a BAS that look for a DR event variable, and then they execute a shed sequence, generator start, etc.  Full scale Building Optimization will likely require that control sequences also operate in middleware devices, or some new breed of building-wide optimization controller that resides between the BAS, middleware and other building systems.  The overarching process for data access, and ultimately 3D interoperability, is time-consuming and costly, so it is very important to establish a standard for data semantics.   Data standards would greatly simplify sharing / accessing data, and also sharing control variables for 3D interoperability.  Project Haystack  http://project-haystack.org/ is one organization driving for such standards to make this process seamless and automatic, but in the end development of 3D Interoperable algorithms, tools and systems will be another evolution.

contemporary Integrating a holistic automation ecosystem that is 3D Interoperable will require stable building / system operations. This author is convinced that Big-Data Energy Analytics is the essential tool to achieve this stability, and that these tools must be used by a well-resourced building operations team.  That team can leverage these tools to optimize performance, and to be ready for 3D interoperability in the future.  For the first time, with Analytics it is possible to know about much more than an Alarm, it is possible to understand why the alarm occurred and how to improve systems for efficiency and mission (supporting the work that is done in the building) benefits.  Using Analytics and 3D Interoperability with a platform that enables the BAS to approximate self-learning algorithms will have far reaching impacts on building performance.  Clearly the recommendation from Analytics tools include energy, fault diagnostics and detection plus more, and a BAS cannot implement all recommendations, but it can elevate functionality and building performance to much higher levels. Having the DOE put a spotlight on this issue and bring together industry experts to pursue new best practices for 3D interoperability would be a great impetus to drive for meaningful change.  It is also this author’s belief that the industry would be very receptive to this kind of think tank effort.

For readers who want to learn more about these topics; download and read the DOE study.  Other DOE resources are available on the DOE Buildings-to-Grid website at http://energy.gov/eere/buildings/buildings-grid-integration.  It will also be important to follow the DOE efforts as they unfold.  My new book; Energy and Analytics: Big Data and Building Technology Integration for The Fairmont Press http://www.fairmontpress.com/hardcopy-books/energy-and-analytics-big-data-and-building-technology-integration , and AEE Big Data seminar http://www.aeeprograms.com/Realtime/BigData/ are also excellent resources for readers.


Jack McGowan is Principal with The McGowan Group.  He is former CEO of Energy Control Inc. (ECI), an OpTerra Energy company.  McGowan is Chairman Emeritus of the U.S. Department of Energy GridWise Architecture Council. He is a Senior Fellow with the Governing Institute working on energy, sustainability and Smart Cities. He is Founding Co-Chair of the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology Building to Grid Working Group.  McGowan has been an industry leader in Building Automation and Energy Services, while also working with utilities, government and industry across the U.S. on Demand Response and Smart Grid Projects. The Association of Energy Engineers has named him a Fellow in 2013, admitted him to the “International Energy Managers Hall of Fame” in 2003 and named him “International Energy Professional of the Year” in 1997.  Under his leadership, ECI won a 2008 American Business Award sponsored by Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal as Best Overall Company in the U.S. with less than 100 employees. McGowan is an author with 5 books on Fairmont Press and Prentice Hall and has published over 200 articles.  McGowan is an internationally known energy, buildings and technology expert, and was chosen by his peers as 2006 Visionary at the Builconn Intelligent Buildings event.  He was named Newsmaker of the Year by automatedbuildings.com in 2007.  


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