Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.
Thomas Hartman, P E
It has now been a decade since Ken Sinclair left his real job and embarked on his grand dream to make a difference in this world by using his many experiences to direct a publication aimed at helping all of us do a better job applying emerging network based building automation strategies to operate buildings more effectively. I’m sure over the years Ken has sometimes wondered whether it was worth it all and whether his efforts are really making a difference. At this ten year anniversary point I think it is a responsibility carried by those of us who have been associated with automatedbuildings.com to reflect on the effect his publication has had on us, and the industry in general, and to try to provide some thoughts and advice as to how effective it has been and where to go from here.
For me this time of reflection has been shaded by recent events that do not appear particularly positive in so far as the connected future automatedbuildings.com has been championing. Here is my status report for the industry in abbreviated form:
The current (and I believe continuing) volatility in energy pricing is trumping virtually all other energy concerns and is tilting the larger political focus toward finding new sources of fuels at the expense of supporting the development of efficient end use solutions that a “connected” building environment can provide.
It is also becoming clear that consensus organizations such as ASHRAE are becoming paralyzed by the polarization that accompanies climate and energy issues, and as a result are becoming less and less active as useful driving forces in employing advanced connectivity concepts to improve building performance and efficiency.
Meanwhile energy companies and some utilities are plowing some of their oversized wealth into unprecedented and carefully orchestrated lobbying efforts that are aimed not only at the political establishment, but also directly at society, to try to convince us that they are the ones who will lead us out of this new energy crisis with their mostly self serving approaches.
Finally, government and private building energy efficiency initiatives appear to have been captured by the energy service company (ESCO) lobby and increasingly seem to believe this old model (that never worked all that well) with its outdated strategies is the solution to for their energy reduction and climate preservation goals and targets.
Whereas many thought (and some still do) that the recent increase in oil prices would become a wakeup call resulting in a new focus on applying network technologies and connectivity approaches toward improved building efficiency, what we have seen in recent months is not that at all. Instead a change of focus appears to be developing with an almost panic driven level of intensity toward finding ways to improve the availability of energy resources. I find similarities today with the poor decisions that were made in response to the original energy crisis years that occurred more than 30 years ago. Then, thoughtful planning was largely ignored and short term measures dominated the building industry that were aimed at ensuring energy supplies for building use were developed almost without regard to cost. The very characteristic of energy use by buildings – energy is not a major cost factor in building operations – that has worked against efforts to reduce energy use in times of moderate energy cost, now proves itself true by displaying that it doesn’t really change that equation in times of high cost either. Today’s energy picture is debunking the theory that higher energy costs will automatically lead to improved building efficiency.
With that no-so-bright picture of the current industry situation, am I suggesting that automatedbuildings.com has not been effective? Not at all! To the contrary, while the rapidly escalating costs of energy are not playing into the hands of those of us who see connectivity leading to improved building efficiency as a genuine solution to the current energy crisis, it certainly is not hindering such efforts. At least it is easier to talk about energy issues, and when we do come upon those still rare responsible individuals that are both capable and interested in exploring new approaches, the motivation is greater than ever for them to engage with our new ideas to carry them forward into connectivity focused designs and projects.
Meanwhile, those of us in the industry have been well served by Ken’s efforts with automatedbuildings.com to bring together the best and brightest talent and ideas. Automatedbuildings.com has not only provided those ideas and contacts for potential partners, products and procedures to help us push our network based energy efficient strategies forward, but it has also played an important role in developing the community of industry professionals that will eventually lead our new connected industry when – not if – the movement for transforming the building industry to the connected era finally succeeds.
The move to connectivity in our building stock has been a struggle. Many of us had no idea it would be as challenging as it has been. And the end is still not clearly in sight. But through it all, it has been particularly helpful and even invigorating for me to link to automatedbuildings.com each month and find a host of new and original ideas and thinking about the networking and connectivity issues of the day – to find people and products that are working to support the kinds of improvements many of us know are desperately needed in this industry. For this alone, automatedbuildlings.com has been a powerful resource that I am thankful to have.
If Ken Sinclair thought he was about to ride a wave of connectivity into the building industry when he started automatedbuildings.com, he was not correct because the industry is still looking for that wave. But automatedbuildings.com has and continues to help build an important movement within the industry that will move us forward to a much needed connected future whether or not that wave ever actually develops.
When I look back over the ten years of automatedbuildings.com, I am reminded that the more things change the more they stay the same. The vision I outlined in one of my first contributions to automatedbuildings.com titled “Network Control – A New Paradigm for HVAC”, that buildings can operate much more effectively with only a fraction of the current energy use is still largely unrealized. But thanks to Ken Sinclair and automatedbuildings.com, this and many other visions of a connected building industry have been shared and have become much more widely understood so that better products, better design procedures, and better construction teams are being developed to help realize them. More than anything, what I have realized in the last ten years has been how complex a task it is to transform the building industry into the connected information technology age. Automatedbuildings.com has been invaluable to help us all along on the issues and ideas needed to fully develop that process.
As the title of this article suggested, the key task in moving forward is making sense of what is going on in and around the building industry to determine how best to drive it forward. While the industry is still not well organized in this important pursuit, it really has never been any closer to an understanding of what needs to be done and how to do it than it is today. So my thought on this anniversary is to thank Ken Sinclair and automatedbuildings.com for helping me make sense of it all for the last ten years and to encourage Ken and his publication to continue doing so into the future. That is the valuable service that automatedbuildings.com provides to our industry and from this reader and contributor, it is a very necessary and useful one indeed!
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