March 2011

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Marco met Ken Sinclair, Publisher of at the ASHRAE meeting this year and he decided to interview him as an automation expert for his investigation of the HVAC sector for his fellowship program.

Marco Pritoni is a Ph.D. student in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at UC Davis. Prior to joining the program, Marco received his Masters' Degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Bologna, Italy and after working in industry for 6 years he joined the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as a senior research associate for a year. In 2010 he became Southern California Edison fellow and Johnson Control fellow. Currently he is working on technologies to save energy in multi-tenant light commercial buildings at the Western Cooling Efficiency Center in partnership with P&&E, SCE and Sempra Energy and on control interfaces with LBNL.

Marco interviews Ken probing to find more about
“Grid Aware” Buildings

Building Automation has rapidly morphed into a pervasive technology following the rapid changes that have occurred in web-based information dissemination.

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Pritoni:  Building automation has been around since the '90s, but if we exclude high-end applications it has not become a pervasive technology,. However, in the last few years there is a renewed interest in automation both for residential and commercial sites. What is different now?

Sinclair: Building Automation has been around since before the 90s.  I started and trained with Johnson Controls in 1968. I saw building automation go from pneumatic transmission, to hard wired logic machines, to mini computers, then to stand alone micro computers, web servers and web appliances, and now it's connecting and interacting with the cloud.  In 1975, I was part of an evolutionary Direct Digital Control system project on a large campus. I then spent 30 years as an Energy/Automation consultant so I have seen a lot of changes in the building automation, energy controls industry. We have operated an online magazine and resource, since 1999, that documents the impact the internet has had on the BAS industry.

So with all that change in mind What is different now?  In the early 1980s we could provide energy and building information to a few by telephone modem, but now more people understand and expect information on their wireless hand held devices anytime, anywhere. The cost of delivery has almost disappeared. Of course rising energy costs, shifts in government policy, and deregulation of utilities has all helped create a new interest.

A second take on all this is that Building Automation has rapidly morphed into a pervasive technology following the rapid changes that have occurred in web-based information dissemination.

Building owners need to achieve evolving energy standards and be perceived as being green.  This greatly increases their interest in automation. The words “renewed interest” is interesting as most automation systems in the early 90s were installed to replace aging pneumatics systems and were mostly justified on maintenance savings, with improved comfort as well as energy savings. These original DDC systems are still operating but need to be upgraded and made web and open protocol friendly, while moving towards the advantages of concepts such as continuous commissioning.  This presents a huge opportunity for our industry to retool and upgrade existing BAS Building Automation Systems.

Pritoni:  How can building automation contribute to energy efficiency and peak demand reduction?

Sinclair:  We now have the secret sauce to make large buildings and/or groups of smaller building interact with the smart grid. “The Energy Internet” is able to rapidly interact with the supply grid. For the first time supply and demand can talk and cooperate. Action and reaction in real time without manual intervention can be achieved.  When this is coupled with real time pricing and first wave approaches such as Automated Demand Response “ADR requests”, great changes can be achieved within our existing electrical infrastructure. “The Energy Internet” is an important solution since grid and distribution can no longer substantiality grow in major cities.

Most problems preventing today's buildings from contributing to energy efficiency and peak demand reduction are political and not technical.

Pritoni:  Can Net Zero Energy Buildings be built without building automation? What are the risks?

Sinclair: No, Net Zero requires building automation.

First let's define Net Zero Energy - "Producing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics." The term within this meaning presents only a part of the energy equation. Cooling and heating can be stored during off peak power times and the grid can gain energy back when it needs it during peak times.

For this more complex relationship to happen and to document the energy interaction contract, we need t
he Energy Internet.  Smart metering as well as a connected Building Automation system, with proven strategies, will achieve the net zero relationship. In my mind, the goal of Net Zero Buildings to shift loads to off peak, with storage of heating and cooling and on site renewable energy sources, leads to our ultimate goal to have all new buildings off the grid all together.

The risk of an automated system is that a communication breakdown, either the Energy Internet, BAS, or human, would see the binding net zero building contract not met.  Penalties or dropping to the contracted load would be required by the building. The risk should be completely on the building to perform as contracted, or get off line. This means building automation and the embedded strategies must work.

Reliable Controls Pritoni:  What is the role of ASHRAE/B2G in the dialogue around smart-grid and automation?

Sinclair:  B2G is a new arena for ASHRAE and they will need to learn to play well with others. They are well understood in the energy standards arena but turning this into a dynamic real time interaction with the grid will require operational folks with Building Automation experience, not standards designers.  I feel that education and connection to evolving energy-net standards such as those being developed by NIST and OpenADR is required. Paths of compliance need to be forged. Making history happen has not been ASHRAE's forte, documenting history into standards is what they are good at. The first B2G projects already underway need to be studied by ASHRAE to better understand their effective involvement.

Pritoni:  Commercial buildings, to some extent, are more like residential than commercial sites (relative small square footage, no dedicated energy manager, limited resources to invest). Nevertheless, small commercial buildings represent a significant portion of the total commercial area. How can automation be implemented in these sites to save energy?

Sinclair:  The new Energy Internet allows us to aggregate small loads into large loads so we can achieve the relationship the utility company needs.  This is an evolving industry that sees us using BAS, the internet, and energy metering to aggregate many small loads all over the grid into a large manageable load . It should be noted that this aggregation also is being done to manage more buildings with fewer folks - organizing buildings by function or purpose vertically to allow a new management style, while creating new virtual groups of buildings to interact with the grid. These new vertical organizations are displacing traditional geographically organized buildings. This allows virtual groups of buildings to be created and manipulated for net zero banking, or demand response within a utility's grid. The environmental impact of all the pieces of this equation is very significant.

Several web appliance type products with cloud based energy services exist to make this all achievable, and cost effective.

Marco Pritoni can be emailed at Marco Pritoni



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