September 2014

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The New Math in BAS

… where 1+1+1 = 0

Andy McMillanAndy McMillan
Strategy Consultant
BACnet International

Contributing Editor

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Business success in the building automation systems industry comes from aligning with the fundamentals of how the industry works.   Fundamental characteristics of the current BAS industry include:

So, how well would a currently successful company do in a world where we add a few things to the BAS industry equation?   Let’s start by looking at three things we can imagine adding.

+1  …Economic value trumps energy savings

LEDs are very efficient light sources but they are much more than that.  Beyond being efficient they are also dynamic in that they can readily provide intensity variation, color temperature variation and even absolute color variation.  As LED lighting marches down the semiconductor cost curve we’ll find that taking advantage of LED dynamics adds little to the cost of light sources.  With that in mind, we should expect companies with deep knowledge of light and how it affects people to create “light recipes” designed to have specific impact on behavior or task performance.  Implementing such recipes will deliver benefits like improved educational outcomes in schools, increased sales in stores, shorter stays in hospitals and higher productivity in offices. This will create an irresistible rush to implement automation projects where the focus is enhancing the economic value of buildings rather than just energy savings. 

+1  …Lighting-centric Automation Projects Become the Norm

Lighting will take center stage in automation projects for a couple of reason.  First, automation projects motivated by the desire for dynamic lighting will lead to more and more projects being led by lighting focused suppliers rather than HVAC focused suppliers.  Second, LED lighting developers are embedding sensors and networking capability directly into light sources.  As systems are deployed with these light sources the center of gravity for information gathering will shift to lighting systems.  Building automation is going to become a lighting-centric, information-rich industry.

+1  …Controls Programming Goes Away

Controls today are complex and require trained staff to implement useful systems.  That has been acceptable historically because the pace of retrofitting buildings with controls has been limited by the cycle of mechanical equipment replacement.  With the rush to take advantage of dynamic lighting the current cost and time of controls programming will rapidly become unacceptable.  So, a “no need for programming” solution will evolve to fill the gap.  And, in case you’re tempted to think that controls are too complicated for that to happen carefully consider the changes over the last 5-10 years in photo editing and casual video sharing.  Those used to be complicated, too.

= 0  …A Wakeup Call for Successful Companies

So, let’s stop and consider our new industry equation.  Starting from today we add three elements to the industry mix.  Looking at currently successful companies, how much will their current success contribute to the odds of them remaining successful?  I would suggest the answer is near zero.  After all, how many of them could continue to operate in their current business models when energy savings are not so important and most customers don’t need specialized controls development or programming?  How many of their controls product lines will remain relevant when networking, in-space sensors and “intelligence” are just part of off-the-shelf lighting?  Again, it seems to me the answer is near zero.


contemporary Of course, all of this is just an interesting speculation unless the industry equation really does change.  So we have to ask ourselves, “How likely is it, really?”  Before you try to answer that question, I would encourage you to join me at the BACnet International Annual Conference in October.  Stop by at 8:00am on Tuesday October 7th for session T1.SS at NFMT in Las Vegas.  The session is titled “LED Lighting:  An Automation Armageddon.”  We will discuss concrete proof points for each element of the new math in building automation and we will explore the key question: “Just how likely is it, really?”

*QED - The urban dictionary:  An abbreviation of the Latin phrase "quod erat demonstrandum". It literally translates as "which was to be demonstrated", and is a formal way of ending a mathematical, logical or physical proof. Its purpose is to alert the reader that the immediately previous statement, which naturally was arrived at by an unbroken chain of logic, was the original statement that we were trying to prove.

As always, the views expressed in this column are mine and do not necessarily reflect the position of BACnet International, ASHRAE, or any other organization.  If you want to send comments to me directly, feel free to email me at


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