Solving the sustainability challenge: building management system

Schneider Electric

Monday, 01 February, 2021



Solving the sustainability challenge: building management system

The building management system (BMS), or as it is sometimes called, the building automation system (BAS), is a critical tool for operating a building safely, efficiently and reliably. However, a hyper focus on energy efficiency and sustainability combined with fundamental changes in tenant needs and expectations are straining traditional BMS implementations, pushing them to grow and evolve.

At the same time, advancements in cloud computing, IoT, analytics and artificial intelligence are leading to new and broader capabilities. With these as underlying technologies, next-generation BMSs become the integration and aggregation tool for all the building’s data across multiple business and operations technology (OT) systems and sensors. By managing and controlling all the building’s OT in concert with each other, energy and operational efficiency can be maximised while enhancing occupant productivity and wellbeing.

Three factors driving the evolution of BMSs

A typical traditional building has a BAS/BMS that is limited to HVAC and perhaps lighting, access control and power monitoring. The facility manager and their operations team use it simply to monitor for problems and do basic controls. Working from within a silo apart from the IT department, occupants, business units and corporate real estate, their focus is mostly just making sure the building systems function on a day-to-day basis. And that work tends to be highly manual and labour-intensive.

Building owners become wholly dependent on seasoned expert facility managers with lots of tribal knowledge to make sure things keep working. Maintenance is calendar-based and reactive. Tenants and occupants have no control or insight beyond what they might physically experience while in the building. All complaints, requests and service orders come through the facility manager. Each building is managed independently from other buildings that might be part of an organisation’s real estate portfolio. This traditional model is going away. Both societal and technology factors are driving the evolution of BMSs from being primarily an HVAC control system to being more of a smart building system integration platform for proactive monitoring, control and automation.

Change is being driven by three fundamental factors:

  1. Increasing demand for efficiency and sustainability.
  2. Changing tenant/occupant requirements and expectations.
  3. Emergence of newer IT, IoT and smart building technologies.

Increasing demand for efficiency and sustainability

Without question, buildings have a significant impact on the global environment. According to the World Economic Forum, the real estate sector uses more energy than any other sector and is a growing contributor to CO2 emissions. Buildings consume about 30% of the world’s energy according to the IEA, via their construction and operations, and account for almost 40% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental impact aside, building energy use has a significant impact on operations’ budgets. In fact, it is estimated that roughly one-third of total non-fixed operating expenses go towards energy consumption. As a result, there is growing regulatory, financial and social pressure on commercial real estate firms and building owners to reduce energy consumption and to ultimately decarbonise their building operations.

This pressure, which is increasingly a requirement, to reduce energy use means there’s a more intense need for detailed energy monitoring and real-time controls. Carbon pricing schemes such as carbon taxes, emissions trading systems (ETS) and results-based climate financing (RBCF) are providing pricing signals or the incentive to be creative and exhaustive in efforts to use building controls to reduce building energy consumption. This includes actions like participating in grid services, selecting among different energy sources based on time-of-day pricing, and controlling power and lighting based on knowing operational status of hard-wired and plug loads, utility price signals, room occupancy, weather data and so on.

Far from just controlling HVAC systems, a BMS today needs the ability to monitor and control all powered systems in the building to fully optimise energy use throughout the entire site. Traditional BMS systems are not well positioned to do this. A modern, next-generation BMS provides the tools needed to fully optimise energy use and comply with growing societal pressure and governmental climate regulations.

Supporting future technology evolution

Implementing the right building management system means a building will be more energy efficient, easier to maintain for the facility manager and more compelling for its occupants than it would be otherwise. But equally as important, it needs to evolve and grow over time.

Here are three examples of emerging technology trends that next-generation BMSs will capitalise on or help facilitate:

  1. Digital Twins are software representations of the equipment and physical space in a building. They can be valuable in both construction and operations for better maintenance and change management but have been slow to gain traction as aggregating data from building systems silos is traditionally cumbersome. A building management system designed to be an open integration system with native cloud connectivity paves the way for more scalable creation and dynamic maintenance of Digital Twins.
  2. Artificial Intelligence can yield valuable insights and even lead to full automation of building systems. Advanced models could allow for autonomous control of the building, which has been shown to be more effective than rules-based HVAC controls for energy efficiency, for example. Natural language processing will enable FMs and occupants to interact with building systems in a completely new way. Data orchestration will continuously optimise processes and enable self-adaption of building systems to meet the needs of people/environment. Like Digital Twins, AI is not mainstream in buildings today, and a big reason why is the difficulty of normalising and accessing the many different sources of data needed to train and implement it. A building management system with the characteristics described in this article is a huge step towards unlocking an AI-enabled future.
  3. Grid Efficient Buildings are defined by the US Department of Energy as those with “next-gen sensors, controls, connectivity and communication”. The vision for these buildings is that they give the occupant a better experience while also benefiting the electric grid and balancing the supply of renewable generation. A next-generation building management system is prepared to fill this need and coordinate with other sophisticated cloud-based software (such as ADMS) to optimise across community eco-systems.

The evolution of BMSs is driven by pressure to improve energy efficiency, changing occupant expectations and the existence of newer IT and smart building technologies. Expanding from simple HVAC controls to being a smart building integration platform, next-generation BMSs are a critical tool for operating the entire building — or even fleets of buildings — safely, efficiently, reliably and in a human-centric manner. A next-generation BMS enables users to take advantage of powerful new technologies that will simplify and improve management and control capabilities by being more proactive and eventually automated.

With the expertise of Schneider Electric, users can capture the power of an all-digital, all-electric infrastructure for a more sustainable, resilient, efficient and people-oriented building. Discover Ecostruxure for Buildings — a next-generation IoT solution that features a scalable, secure and global architecture to create future-ready smart buildings. To find out more, visit se.com/au/buildings-of-the-future.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Balazs

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