What can the Smart Grid learn from
Building Automation Systems?
Although the scalability of the two industries differs, the general principles and fundamental goals remain the same.
BSc BE (Hons) (Melb)
The smart grid is evolving at a rapid speed with billions of dollars of
investments and many players entering the market to capture a niche.
The building automation system (BAS) industry has grown at a
significant rate in the last decade driven by open protocols and web
architecture. Two different industries but one fundamental goal
of sustainability to achieve energy efficiency while preserving global
commodity resources. What can the smart grid learn from the BAS
industry? What are the similarities”?
Figure 1: Smart Grid and Building Automation Synergies
Over the last decade building automation systems have transformed from
“just another piece of equipment in a building” to a proactive system
which has become the fundamental driver to energy efficiency in
buildings. BAS have evolved from simple analog systems on separate
networks to large networks integrated to corporate IT networks with
data served via web architecture. Applications have transformed
from simple desktop software to enterprise based web applications with
large capacity for data capturing. Open protocols, led by BACnet and
LonWorks have been the key driver for the evolution. The plethora
of data from the various metrics of the buildings has opened up a
market for data management and mining to display useful data to the
correct audience at the right time. Open source projects such as
Project Haystack are leading the way.
In a macro level the smart grid journey has similar parallels to the
BAS growth over the last decade. The fundamental concept of the smart
grid is the automation of the power distribution model to distribute
power smartly and control the usage from the utility to consumer. This
includes the automation of substations to end consumer meter management
systems to publishing useful data upstream to the both retailers and
consumers via web technology.
Figure 2: The high level architecture of smart grid and building
Although the scalability of the smart grid solutions are much larger
compared to BAS solutions, the primary purpose and high level
architecture remains the same. Therefore, what can the smart grid learn
from the BAS industry?
- Get the Basics Right:
Prosperous niche business
opportunities can lure a vendor to design and develop solutions at a
rapid pace to outdo the competition. The key to a competitive advantage
for a vendor is a differentiated product either by new technology or
features. Therefore it is natural to devote large resources to
develop the differentiated feature leaving limited resources for the
fundamentals. We have seen too many BAS vendors deliver cutting edge
solutions but having issues with the fundamentals. For example the
implementation of the PID loops is the backbone of building automation
and control. However, how many vendors have a logical and user friendly
mechanism for tuning these loops? Not many. Therefore it is vital the
smart grid vendors implement the basics not only correctly but also to
be second nature to the user. The smart grid concept is not about
introducing brand new product or technology; it is adding another layer
to the power distribution model that has existed for 100 of years. For
example the primary functionality of an electricity meter is collection
of KWH usage of a premise. Therefore when introducing automated meter
collection mechanism, the fundamentals of data accuracy and reliability
must be maintained. As with BAS development of a digital direct
controller, the basic concepts of robust implementation of real time
clocks, watch dogs, data read storage, ability upgrade firmware, future
expansion of memory banks etc… must be designed with great thought and
care. As the scalability of the grid solutions is in the millions of
in a network it is vital the fundamentals are right and robust to avoid
millions of dollars in losses and backlash from the end users.
- Open Protocols: The backbone of the BAS
growth has been the introduction of the open protocols. The smart grid
space has introduced and is using new high and low level open standards
such as IEC standards, openADR and Wimax. It is vital the smart grid
vendors evaluate the “End to End” compatibility of the protocols when
making protocol decisions to a product range and the future
compatibility for integration with other vendors. Avoid any proprietary
protocols when possible. The thought of introducing proprietary
protocols for a vendor is tempting from the business perspective thinking
as it can lock in the customer to its product range. However, the BAS
industries have proven the future business opportunities from open
protocols far outweigh the view of locking in the customer. The BAS
industry has clearly demonstrated that open protocol products can
integrate and share data with other industries to open up a plethora of
business opportunities to provide value added solutions to the
customer, on top of its core product range.
Web Architecture: All the smart grid
solutions should be designed with web based architecture. Many BAS
vendors transformed solutions from desktop based applications to web
based solutions by adding layers and hooks, allowing marketing to
promote web base solutions. However in practical use these applications
had many flaws compared to pure web architectural design such as
limited functionality and having to use both the web and desktop web
application to complete the solutions, increasing project deployment
time and causing user frustration. As with the open protocols,
the web architecture will also provide future business opportunities to
the vendor by integration.
- Commissioning: The fundamental issue in the
BAS industry is the lack of commissioning of the solution. In the
building construction life cycle, BAS is generally the last piece of
work to be completed and combined with reduced construction programs,
limited commissioning durations and a lack of expert personnel
collectively leads to poorly commissioned systems. The smart grid
industry will face similar pressures for tight time lined programs. The
industry needs to develop standards to govern the original
specification and commissioned results to make sure required work is
operating as expected. But more importantly greater resources need to
be devoted for the process.
- Change Management: Technology is evolving at
a pace where the general human being cannot keep up its growth.
Therefore it is vital to change management procedures to educate the stakeholders,
especially the end users of the products. The smart grid and
BAS solutions are just a technological enabler for the goal of
sustainability. The stakeholders will need to know how to use the
technology but more importantly accept the technological change to
achieve the full goal. The objective and its benefits need to be
communicated clearly and concisely to the users.
The smart grid will be an exciting and rewarding journey over the next
decade. As it continues its growth, it can learn from the BAS industry
in many ways to not only get the solutions right but to do it better.
Although the scalability of the two industries differs, the general
principles and fundamental goals remain the same.
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