January 2011

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Technologies that will win in building automation
The convergence of IP and building automation networks is undeniable and enables the integration of diverse applications and systems.

David Lamarche

Director of communications

There hasn’t been this much innovation in building automation in a while. Here are a few technological breakthroughs that we know quite well and that should get a lot of attention at the upcoming 2011 AHR Expo.

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Lighting and HVAC in one controller
Sometimes, industries take strange routes. The separation of HVAC and lighting control is one of them. Despite the lack of any technical or customer satisfaction rationale behind it, HVAC and lighting are still being installed separately, on parallel systems. In some cases, with a lot of controllers, gateways and headaches, HVAC and lighting are bridged to a central building management system (BMS), but not before extensive hardware and software costs.

The lack of flexibility of application specific controllers has lead to unequal HVAC and lighting control penetration rates, the coexistence of incomplete parallel systems and, ultimately, less energy efficiency and energy savings. Fortunately, more flexible, intelligent and polyvalent controllers can now manage both.

For system integrators, to manage HVAC and lighting simultaneously with a single controller means reduced hardware, installation and logistics costs. For end-users, it means better return on investments and shorter payback periods.

System integrators that use one controller, instead of two for every room, can underbid competitors that are stuck in a separate HVAC and lighting building automation offering. This technology will win.

Smart cities: building automation and smart grid combined
The building automation and smart grid markets are seen as distinct. Their respective ultimate goals are the same; energy efficiency and managing demand-response. Their playing fields are adjacent, and partially overlap. Building automation is perceived as small scale interior management, while smart grid is perceived as large scale external data aggregation.

In reality, building automation and city infrastructure (e.g. street lighting and water metering) require the same level of control, monitoring and metering. It only makes sense to re-use existing management systems for both building automation and city infrastructure. In fact, ASHRAE strongly believes that BACnet should play a leading role in the evolution and implementation of the smart grid.

In a recent pilot project, modified building automation controllers were embedded into new LED lampposts. Precise control and programming maximized the energy efficiency of the LEDs. The controllers networked wirelessly and enabled wireless connection to nearby water meters. Remote monitoring and control was achieved by connecting a single controller to Ethernet. The Ethernet connected node wasn’t atop a lamppost, but on a nearby building. Building automation and smart grid technologies can be combined to offer a unique centralized management system for both city buildings (e.g. Town Hall, Police/Fire departments, etc) and infrastructure.  Why manage two separate systems when one combined system will do? Plus, city personnel are already familiar with the building automation system which would reduce training costs.

Cities that renew their lighting infrastructure can seize the opportunity to not only add more control and energy efficiency to their lights, but also setup the entire communication infrastructure necessary to hop on the smart grid. This technology will win.

IP backbone/systems
The convergence of IP and building automation networks is undeniable and enables the integration of diverse applications and systems. Just to name a few, IP can connect energy metering & management, building automation, video surveillance, access control, and even fire & alarm systems. Managing several, or all of the above, from a single interface can offer unprecedented levels of reactivity and cohesion between systems.  It can also reduce overlapping software, labor and training costs. This is why IP enabled controllers and building management systems will win.

The real wireless advantage
Wireless technologies provide their full return when they add to building automation systems; not when they build parallel systems to it. There are three manners in which wireless becomes a building automation essential.

Wired and wireless combined
In order to avoid setting up parallel systems, wireless solutions must also offer wired options. A building automation controller providing wireless inputs and outputs must also offer wired I/Os.

Bidirectional wireless
There is a key distinction between partial and complete wireless building automation solutions: unidirectional or bidirectional control. Partial solutions rely on receiving only – getting notifications about the values and status of sensors. This isn’t sufficient for today’s building automation.  Complete solutions, with bidirectional control, provide all the control power of wired building automation without the wires; receiving and transmitting values, status, commands, alerts and more. Building automation is all about control, which is not provided by receivers. If the wireless solution you are looking at is not equipped with a functional transceiver, you’re not getting bidirectional (inputs and outputs) control.

Wireless networking
Wireless networking is an oft-overlooked benefit of wireless in building automation.  Using such feature in high ceiling environments, such as factories or industrial buildings converted into offices, can result in considerable savings. In one retrofit case, 40% of labor time was saved, mostly due to wireless mesh networking between controllers.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Wireless solutions that are truly made for integration in building automation systems will win.

Bringing IT know-how to building automation
You can buy a Smartphone for a few hundred dollars. You can buy a Netbook for 300$. You can buy a 4GB USB key for 6$ and a 6GB stick of RAM for 40$. Now, if you look at your controller, which you’re paying the amount you’re paying, it’s probably boasting between 64kb and 1MB of RAM, and between 1MB and 2MB of storage. There’s a discrepancy there that borders on the absurd. Building automation can benefit greatly from leveraging IT know-how; namely to offer more powerful and flexible solutions.

Controller-embedded gateways and servers
By adding storage, processing power and memory to building automation controllers, they can be enabled to do much more than they used to. They can host protocol converters/gateways and servers. With embedded gateways, controllers can simultaneously manage multiple end-device types, such as wired and wireless end-devices, without the need for external modules or complex system architectures that rely on several zone gateways.

With embedded servers, controllers can now host their own building management system. This opens the door to reducing expenses related to dedicated servers and software installation. Small and medium buildings that couldn’t afford the long payback periods of traditional BMS are now open for business to building automation.

In a situation where third-party integration is necessary, to a BACnet IP system for example, controllers that are also gateways and servers can perform their own system integration. They are stand-alone if needed, and more easily integrated to other systems if required. This is what the power of IT opens for building automation. It will win.

For more information about all the features, functionalities and applications discussed above, visit www.can2go.com.


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