May 2010

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Virtual Building Energy Management
Moving to Cloud-based Building Energy Management

Michael Lavelle
Michael Lavelle,
Lavelle Energy LLC.

 Kimon Onuma

Kimon Onuma, FAIA



Virtual Realtime Information Systems (VRIS) is an application of cloud-computing. Communications is via the Internet between in-building micro-servers and remotely hosted shared servers, supplied and managed by third party virtual server vendors. Cloud-computing simplifies deployment where one to thousands of servers can be enabled in minutes for huge scaling.

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VRIS leverages the ONUMA System BIMStorm® cloud computing design processes, making possible realtime multi-discipline building industry collaboration. VRIS also uses the Virtual Realtime Operating Center (vROC) developed by Lavelle Energy that connects object data from building sensors and uses open standards for monitoring and analysis. vROC can run hundreds(+) of realtime building information feeds to hundreds(+) of users simultaneously.

The ONUMA System + vROC combination, VRIS, is the ultra realtime BIM and energy management platform. This unprecedented capability to view and manage building performance lets participants manage thousands of buildings from separate Internet connections anywhere in the world. VRIS enables Smart Buildings.

VRIS supplements and enhances building systems by providing near-realtime information about building environment and energy performance. It uses web browsers and applications like Google Earth, to enable timely access to building operating data. VRIS is sufficiently robust that key building operating data can be continuously captured and analyzed using cloud-based applications.

VRIS Architecture

VRIS simplifies the sharing of building performance information with occupants. It offers the ability to combine HVAC operating data with energy usage to create measurable data to enable “green leases”. This type of lease is often used as part of an owner or tenant effort to minimize their carbon contribution to the global warming. Effective green leases often use sub-metering to measure energy performance and VRIS can be effectively deployed in this effort.

It’s a Two-way Street

Collecting data is not enough. An effective VRIS installation also writes data back to the building automation or temperature control system. By updating key equipment control algorithms, building energy-consuming equipment can change how it operates as the day - and seasons - progress. Fixed control transitions to VRIS dynamic control.

Dynamic control uses cloud-based optimization routines to select better operating variables. If an air handler delivers constant temperature discharge air to the space, dynamic control algorithms can analyze widely dispersed space and HVAC equipment parameters to optimize performance. This type of analysis can also be done using an in-building computer but with important limitations. Cloud-based optimization apps offer the ability for a refined analysis instance to work with hundreds to thousands of buildings – sharing common experiences for the best results.

VRIS Realtime Communications

Visualizing Building Operations – See It Now with Realtime BIM

Most of us react to visual data more effectively than a table array of data. Building automation systems are limited to simple two-dimensional views of floor plans. Clever designers build two and half dimension (2.5D) images that look like pseudo room drawings. VRIS, by contrast, offers the first opportunity to see buildings in 3D using Building Information Modeling. BIM is often considered only a design tool. In VRIS, however, realtime BIM enables visualization of physical data in 3D.

BIM is more than 3D. BIM is not only used to describe the building envelope but also HVAC equipment including equipment properties. A chiller is more than just a 2D equipment image. In BIM, equipment can be described in terms of physical characteristics and, very importantly, energy performance characteristics. What is the current operating performance of a chiller or air handler, especially as it relates to the building as a whole? Does anyone know today? Unlikely. This is where VRIS raises the bar of visualizing, understanding, and characterizing building energy and environmental performance. Do it all better in BIM. Do it all best in realtime VRIS.

Onuma System + vROC Exported to Google Earth

VRIS is Realtime BIM

Combining realtime information with Building Information Modeling provides significantly more value to building owners and operators. For the first time it also gives tenants and occupants a chance to participate in minimizing building energy usage and CO2 footprint. As a practical matter, VRIS supports a variety of additional services such as realtime data, video feeds, static images, and access to maintenance and operations programs. The image below shows how Google Earth views can be combined with realtime information from building sources. This includes equipment realtime performance, like the VAV box temperature strip chart, as well as videos of internal building operations and static camera images. It all fits inside Google Earth. Data information can be limited to selected users by creating multiple views of a given building – a quick process.

vROC + Onuma Systems Esported to Google Earth

VRIS Features – Nuts and Bolts

Security: VRIS installations incorporate high security levels including end-to-end encryption. All data traffic, including between servers, is fully encrypted.

Backup: Communications loss with cloud servers can shutdown data retrieval and analysis but not impact alarming and alerting functions. VRIS applications use in-building micro-servers, as many as necessary, to create and support fully functional first-level building support. That is, alarms and alerts are generated and managed by algorithms running at the building level micro-servers. Separate communication links, such as cellular and radio, are part of the redundancy features of a successful VRIS installation.

Scalability: VRIS, by definition, must be able to deal with near realtime information from not hundreds but thousands of building simultaneously. This type of scalability requires more than raw computing power. It requires the ability to minimize bandwidth using simple realtime publish/subscribe techniques. HTTP is out. XMPP is in.

Smart Grid Participation: Demand Response providers and utilities now use a variety of communication methods to signal the need for demand reduction. All of these methods can now be combined into VRIS.

Aggregation: Now buildings can be linked together as part of an aggregated approach to demand management. Utility and Demand Response commands can be delivered to buildings in a seamless manner using in-building micro-servers to implement the commands.

Micro-grids: Building automation systems and local energy sources, such as solar panels, generators, and battery packs, can work across traditional boundaries using short messaging packets over the Internet as part of VRIS.

Operating Information Overview: VRIS can leverage Google Earth at a high level where placemarks change color to show energy or operational questions. Click to zoom to the details. View thousands of buildings in near realtime.

Open Standards: VRIS is based on open standards entirely. Connections between other communication standards are handled through protocol converters enabled through a vROC wrapper.

Equipment Documentation: Current methods use PDF files listed by category or other attribute. VRIS provides a direct connection between a 3D image of the equipment and all related support documents. Only VRIS can provide this type of simplicity and visual association.

Drawings: Today’s building drawings are either printed or in CAD files. Threading through these files takes time because there is no way to visually associate them with a physical location. VRIS resolves this problem by creating 3D BIM building images in the ONUMA System and in lieu of multi-layered CAD drawings.

Tenant Participation: Google Earth files (KMZ) can be quickly created for a variety of tenants and occupants using VRIS-generated BIM data. Views of specific spaces can be delivered for restricted access on a need-to-know basis. More interestingly, Google Earth images can update in near realtime (dynamic updates) the same as in web-based realtime views with VRIS. This makes current building information, like energy usage and equipment efficiency, available to a wide variety of participants. For the first time realtime building information is presented in two well known and simple to use applications – web browsers and Google Earth.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] ONUMA System and BIMStorm®

The ONUMA System is a web-based Building Information Modeling software. Using the BIMStorm® cloud computing design processes, realtime multi-discipline building industry collaboration is possible. The ONUMA System promotes open standards while mashing-up industry knowledge. The building, geo-spatial and energy industries use the award winning web-based BIMStorm® process for planning and design because of its strong visual capabilities that resolve complex relationships and environmental issues.

ONUMA implements BIM as a web browser application. ONUMA BIMStorms are the first opportunity for hundreds of users to simultaneously participate in building design using BIM over the web. BIMStorms have been used as collective collaborations by users around the world – designing buildings for today and the future in near realtime.

The ONUMA System is involved with building design, master planning and, now, realtime building information modeling. Realtime BIM is the evolution of buildings designed in BIM to buildings operating in BIM. This transition is moves BIM beyond its roots and expands the opportunities to use BIM designs in daily building operations.

Lavelle Energy and vROC

VRIS leverages vROC for realtime information access. vROC uses XMPP for communications with protocol wrappers for connection with any realtime equipment. vROC is fast. No data polling is used. All information is handled through publish/subscribe methods to keep data traffic at a minimum.

vROC is domain based. Multiple vROC micro-servers in a building interactively cooperate within their own domain. If one goes down the others automatically handle that functionality. Further, vROC supports building domains linked to outside Cloud services for transparent building-to-cloud communications.

vROC installation is simple. Plug the vROC micro-server into the building network and it immediately creates a connection to the vROC cloud server. No need for IT setup and no need to create special firewall rules. Reverse connection from outside the building to the vROC micro-server is instantaneous to simplify data communications and support. Forget IT hassles.

vROC is secure. All data traffic is encrypted to 256 bit SSL/TLS levels – the same as banking. This is end-to-end full encryption supported by security certificates.


VRIS moves building automation from simple web-based applications to 3D visual information. It improves data throughout and extends realtime data to multiple simultaneous users without incurring significant data transmission overhead. Users looking for the next opportunity in building energy management computing should consider VRIS as the logical successor to today’s technology.

About the Authors

Michael Lavelle is a principal in Lavelle Energy LLC. He has been working with building automation since the mid 70s when so-called automation ran on 4 bit microprocessors. You can reach him at

Kimon Onuma, FAIA is an architect and a software architect who has been a leading proponent of open standards to improve productivity and reduce waste in the building and energy industries. Pasadena, Calif.-based ONUMA, Inc. has won numerous awards for its significant contributions to multiple professional associations.


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