Babel Buster Network Gateways: Big Features. Small Price.
"Jack" Mc Gowan, CEM
Computer based control systems for buildings have experienced many changes. In the last year I have had the opportunity to speak at several national conferences held by automation companies. Being in front of those audiences offered a rare opportunity to ask a simple question...do you remember when building automation or direct digital control products were called “energy management systems”? Perhaps it is a sign of age, but that does not seem too long ago. More to the point, with projections of $80 per barrel oil, it is time to focus on the energy and cost benefits of automation again. It would appear that those sentiments can be found elsewhere as well, because energy is a very hot topic.
A great pass time is watching industry trends and surmising what they mean for the industry at large. A key trend from this vantage point seems to be a renewed focus on automation for energy management. The technology is dramatically enhanced from 1980 and, with the advent of Web-hosted software, functionality eclipses even the most ambitious ideas of that time. There are many examples of interest, but consider a colleague that uses real-time metering from his building automation system for energy billing. This hospital user completed a request for proposals to purchase electricity in a deregulated market. The low bidder was based several thousand miles away and had difficulty getting billing data from the local retail company. The solution… this energy manager accesses meter readings from his building automation systems and web publishes them, via email, to the electricity provider every 24 hours. The building owner creates his own utility bills using an energy management system!
Energy Management Systems in the new millennium are far more capable in other ways too. Significant events in this industry over the last three decades are many. Perhaps the most thorough resource to learn about these developments is an electronic magazine www.automatedbuildings.com. This site is unparalleled as a clearinghouse for data on these systems and the industry. Another excellent place to access data on building automation for energy, is the series of conferences sponsored by Energy and Power Management along with its’ sister publication Engineered Systems. Two Building Automation events have been held in 2006, and energy has been a central topic at both events. The breadth of topics in the energy arena reinforces the new definition of energy management systems. Four or five years ago Web browser interface was the hot feature, but today that is a minimum requirement for any system on the market. Another major trend is that it is no longer a given that all system components will come from one manufacturer. This is partly because many of the systems that are installed are extensions to existing systems. According to Frost and Sullivan, the Building Automation, formerly Energy Management, system industry is a $5 billion per year business. Therefore it is likely that many systems will be installed that must interface to equipment already installed in other parts of the building or campus. This process of “interfacing” systems is commonly called Integration, and its goal is to make these systems interoperable. The BuilConn Forum www.builconn.com has been the leading source of information and networking for integration and interoperability. The Building Automation forum sponsored by Energy and Power Management also offered excellent content for everyone in the industry that is trying to understand this technology http://bnpevents.com/ES/BAC/index.htm.
Interoperability and the discipline of System Integration have spawned a whole new specialty within the automation or EMS business. It was mentioned that the systems in one building or campus are more likely to come from multiple manufacturers. The industry has made a major effort to make this process simpler by adopting standards for data communication including BACnet™ and LON. These standards have become household words in the business and, though confusion still abounds, the idea is that a new system extension that conforms to the same standard will integrate more easily. This is partly true, but often integration requires some highly specialized work. The System Integrator completes that work using special software, hardware and information technology based tools, such as routers and gateways. Specialty contractors have evolved to System Integrators. Specialty manufacturers have also evolved such as Tridium, Gridlogix and other companies offering related products. An analogy might be stereo systems, in the late 1950’s they tended to be pieces of furniture that were assembled and sold by one company. By the middle of the next decade stereos had been broken into components and amplifiers came from one company, speakers from another, etc. Products from Tridium www.tridium.com and FieldServer www.fieldserver.com aide in the integration process by providing a means to talk to multiple systems with various protocols. The Jace can also be a Web Server to simplify Internet access from one location to various systems. Another solution of this type from Gridlogix www.gridlogix.com is working together with Cyrus Technologies http://www.cyrustech.net to implement a very aggressive campus wide network of building automation systems at the University of North Carolina (UNC).
Mention of UNC is the ideal springboard for expanding the discussion of EMS to the next frontier...Enterprise Energy Management. Toby Considine of UNC is the Chair of the oBIX movement. The oBIX (Open Building Information Xchange) Web site www.obix.org states that oBIX is “a focused effort by industry leaders and associations working toward creating a standard XML and Web Services guideline to facilitate the exchange of information between intelligent buildings, enable enterprise application integration and bring forth true systems integration.” The focus here is energy information, not the full spectrum of data that oBIX envisions, however it is clear that a standard like oBIX will allow a whole new generation of energy tools on the Web. As noted above, the initial drive for EMS technology was to save energy, but the strategies in those days were quite simple. System strategies focused on better and more efficient use of equipment in buildings to save energy and cost. Over the last two decades with deregulation of electricity and the availability of sophisticated software packages, the concept of integration is expanding to encompass the management of energy demand in the building, energy supply to it and energy information documenting the entire process. Numerous Web-hosted and standalone tools are hitting the market for this purpose, and a key requirement for much of this technology is access to data from the EMS and even control of equipment connected to the system. Over the last year and a half this column has covered GridWise, and the functionality here is in direct alignment with that discussion. GridWise encompasses a continuum of activity that will result in an interoperable electric grid, capable of using EMS, Web and other technologies for smarter use of energy. A simple example is demand response, which has been demonstrated as a very effective tool to avoid power disruptions, and uses Internet-based communication to EMS’s to turn equipment off at critical times. Turning the equipment off sounds like “doing without”, but with the power of an automation system it is possible to control the equipment so that occupants do not even know the load has been shed. This is possible by implementing strategies such as thermal storage, on site generation and strategies that can switch off non-essential loads. Leveraging the power of building systems to reprise Energy Management as the focal point for automation is today’s reality. More importantly however, Intelligent buildings must also be Energy Smart buildings. Combining the benefits of automation for energy management with GridWise functionality is the first step toward evolution of a Smart Grid. The prediction here is that the future will see integration of Smart Grid technology with oBIX and EMS Smart Building technology to evolve a smart enterprise. Given the relentless volatility in energy costs, this technology will be essential to help building owners control costs without sacrificing the vital work that must be conducted by their occupants.
About the Author
Mc Gowan is President of Energy Control Inc., an Energy Service Company and System Integrator. He is an author and has published 5 books including “Direct Digital Control” on Fairmont Press. The Association of Energy Engineers named him “International Energy Professional of the Year” in 1997 and admitted him to the “International Energy Managers Hall of Fame in 2003. Mc Gowan sits on the Energy User News Technical Advisory Board, the GridWise Architecture Council and is a Contributing Editor with www.automatedbuildings.com.
[Click Banner To Learn More]
[Home Page] [The Automator] [About] [Subscribe ] [Contact Us]