March 2008
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Green Intelligent Buildings – a Brief history

The original concept of Energy Management, which later became Building Automation, started in earnest as a result of the OPEC oil embargo in 1973.

 Paul Ehrlich & Ira Goldschmidt
Building Intelligence Group

As published

March Issue - Column 

Building Automation and controls are a key part to any commercial building project. Within Engineered Systems this is recognized with this column as well as a regular supplement called Green Intelligent Buildings.

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So what is a “Green Intelligent Building” anyway? It is interesting to step back and look at what has happened in the commercial building industry over the last 35 years. The original concept of Energy Management, which later became Building Automation, started in earnest as a result of the OPEC oil embargo in 1973. Up to this point we gave little thought to the cost of energy or of the idea of sustainability. The dominant mechanical systems were constant volume with reheat, and control systems were primarily pneumatic. Building systems tended to be elaborate designs often with large built up air handlers, and refrigeration plants.

At the time buildings tended to be over designed, over-ventilated, and energy efficiency was rarely an issue. Then overnight, the price of energy shot up, and we suddenly started looking at ways to reduce the sting of the monthly bill. Early attempts included placing plywood panels over outdoor air inlets. New companies sprang up offering a new product called an energy management system that would schedule, cycle, and shut off equipment. These systems did result in a decrease in energy costs, however it was often accompanied by an increase in equipment maintenance, decrease in comfort, and in some cases, serious indoor air quality issues.

Over the years the design and application of energy management systems was refined, and with the advent of direct digital control in the early 1980’s, these systems began their evolution into intelligent, sophisticated control systems. In the 90’s we started moving toward open protocols and now the use of Building Automation is an accepted part of most projects. But as these systems progressed, energy costs actually started declining, and interest in energy-efficient systems waned.

Today, however, we see a new public interest in the topic of sustainability. Suddenly green is the new black. This concept of sustainability is much broader then just the efficient use of energy, it covers everything from building sites, to transportation, to water usage and material recycling. This is where the idea of Green Intelligent Buildings comes in. It is the concept of a building that not only has a bike rack, green roof, and waterless urinals, but also the systems, controls and automation needed to provide improved scheduling, coordination, optimization and usability. The sad truth is that many green buildings today are neither highly efficient or particularly intelligent, and this is a missed opportunity. We have the potential to deliver green, intelligent buildings, that are sustainable as well as delivering high performance, and low energy usage.

Where does this go from here? There are clear pushes to drive buildings to even higher levels of performance. Providing more sophisticated, connected, and optimized control systems will need to be a major part of that effort.
Recent work from ASHRAE has resulted in a series of new efficiency standards and Advanced Energy Design Guidelines (see The recently passed energy bill – titled the “Energy Information and Security Act” includes programs for improved efficiency of Federal Buildings, and Schools, along with a new consortium on Net Zero Energy Buildings. The good news is that this movement toward truly sustainable, high performance buildings will open new opportunities for us to design and deliver Intelligent Building systems including optimized controls, integration and connectivity. The bad news is that we are now tasked with understanding and delivering these systems!

Learn More:

There is a great opportunity to learn more about Green Intelligent Buildings at the upcoming GIB Conference which will be held in Baltimore on April 2, 3 2008. This event will feature a keynote speech on the Energy Information and Security Act and will have numerous workshops and seminars focused on key areas of new technology, design, planning and delivery of building automation and connected systems. We look forward to seeing you in Baltimore for this event. For more information and to register for the conference see .

About the Authors

Paul and IraPaul and Ira first worked together on a series of ASHRAE projects including the BACnet committee and Guideline 13 – Specifying DDC Controls. The formation of Building Intelligence Group provided them the ability to work together professionally providing assistance to owners with the planning, design and development of Intelligent Building Systems. Building Intelligence Group provides services for clients worldwide including leading Universities, Corporations, and Developers. More information can be found at  We also invite you to contact us directly at or


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