The building energy management space is constantly evolving. BuildingIQ VP of product and marketing, Steve Nguyen, identifies the four trends most promising to the Australian market.
The concept of creating a digital twin is not particularly new, but over the past year the tech industry seems to have been on a mission to digitally replicate the world around us. While this is referring to the broader use of virtual reality and augmented reality, the creation of a digital version of an existing building’s physical infrastructure can be a real asset in the energy management space.
The digital twin of a building is composed of a combination of thermal models, occupancy models, comfort models, and the weather. This provides a transparency into a facility’s performance from an energy consumption perspective. The digital twin is further enhanced by the addition of machine learning and cloud computing to create a learning system whose output provides insight into the predicted behaviour of a building.
This information cannot be obtained from merely observing models by themselves. The digital twin of a building is the first step in creating a responsive building design. It can show how a structure will react to numerous variable changes in real-time.
Why is this important? There are many reasons, but one of the most pronounced is the integration of renewables. By 2020 —now only a few years away— the Australian Government is aiming to have large-scale renewable generation of 33,000 GWh integrated into the power grid, which would make up 23.5 per cent of Australia’s electricity generation at that time.
Creating a responsive, built environment can serve as part of the solution to overcoming the intermittency problem of renewables when there is no wind or sun. The availability of renewable energy is a real-time variable that will need to be considered. Accounting for power source by a building is only possible through a digital twin that leverages the capabilities of machine learning and the power of cloud computing.
The way a building can incorporate a digital twin is through the Building Management System (BMS). It’s not meant to replace —but rather augment— its abilities. If the digital twin can control aspects of the building through the BMS, it can turn that system into a very powerful IoT (Internet of Things) solution. This powerful combination —digital twin plus BMS — is a tremendous boon to the building industry.
Innovation is spurred by competition. Legacy players within the energy management and building management space limit competition with the products they create. Technologies aren’t agnostic, but rather tie a building to the legacy player it chose for future upgrades. This limits a building’s options for implementing new technologies.
Building-by-building, established mechanical system (BMS) providers can be successful on an asset-centric strategy.
However, increasingly, commercial building owners are looking at energy from a portfolio perspective. It’s not uncommon to find a portfolio in which buildings have implemented multiple brands of mechanical infrastructures or BMS solutions.
While it may work for each building individually, an agnostic, future-proof solution is needed to unify the assets. For energy management, energy-as-a-service or comfort-as-a-service are examples of such a solution. This strategy optimises existing infrastructure investments rather than rendering them obsolete.
These services can be customised to each building’s existing infrastructure and upgraded as needed through the cloud. This also provides a pathway to leverage data from IoT devices. The data from the system along with new IoT hardware, makes the overall system exponentially more powerful and beneficial to the owner.
Software solutions that sit atop the existing BMS allow multiple buildings’ energy management to be taken to a cloud-based platform —providing a portfolio-wide view of energy efficiency and preserving investments in all BMS assets, while lowering capital expenditures.
BIS Shrapnel indicates that there could be as much as nearly 64 million square metres of small, low-rise office buildings (generally under 10,000 metres) in Australia, with much of this stock not having undergone energy retrofits and having original HVAC systems. This presents a significant opportunity for reducing energy consumption through IoT solutions.
Although traditionally viewed as a gateway to unify portfolios, IoT solutions are also allowing small- and medium-sized buildings to leapfrog traditional BMS offerings in favour of pure IoT configurations. These buildings are untethered to legacy players and don’t have an onsite operations team nor strong vendor relationships. This provides the flexibility to use IoT solutions to outsource energy management.
IoT-type BMS have two key characteristics that were not part of the rationale behind the design of traditional BMS. The first characteristic is that it’s about the data. While the hardware still serves the crucial function of controlling the space, it is also there to generate data for cloud-computing, analysis, and diagnosis.
The more data pushed to the cloud, the better. The second characteristic is that cloud-control is “the new black”. In a complete rebuttal of traditional BMS-think, the software should control the system externally. Taken to an extreme, the hardware is a commodity.
The advancement of technologies and objectives within the energy management is redefining the facility manager’s role by turning them into enterprise application managers. With the continued acceptance of software tools and cloud-based services as fundamental tools to be included in a facilities manager’s quiver, this shift is clearly taking place.
The acceptance of software-based solutions are further accelerated as a new generation —that is more accepting of the use of this type of technology— comes into the facilities management workforce. There is nobody stronger or more capable
Technology will not replace the facility manager. Instead, facilities managers will be at the leading edge of adopting tools that can augment their abilities rather than replace them. The knowledge that facilities managers provide is irreplaceable.
They know the nuances of the buildings and tenants they work with, and provide valuable context that would be impossible to get through data alone.
There will be a stronger acceptance of IoT solutions within a building as a data system within an organization. As it becomes more of a data network, it will become more of an enterprise application and recognized as an opportunity for generating free cash flow.